Gun Lake Potawatomi elder and his family of black ash basket weavers
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FireLake Gifts featured item of the week: October 26 – November 1, 2015
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Hobby turns into career for CPN Director of Transportation Gary Smith

For longtime employees at CPN a constant topic of conversation is the family-like atmosphere the Tribe has created. Director of Transportation and longtime hot rod enthusiast, Gary Smith, attests to the claim made by others. Recently, Smith, who keeps the Tribe’s wheels running smoothly, sat down with the Hownikan for an interview.

How long have you worked for the Tribe?

“I’ve been here for 20 years. I started in 1995. One day I went to pick up my wife, Pam, who works at the front desk of the CPN Administrative Building. Rocky came up to us and started talking about creating a Vo- Tech for Native American students and asked me if I would head that up and if I could do it. I told him yes and started the following week.

“We never really got the Vo-Tech School off the ground, so I started taking care of the vehicles in the meantime. We had 11 vehicles total then and now we have 332 cars and pickups. I have had no formal mechanical training; I was simply just someone who liked hot rods. I’ve always worked on cars, so I knew enough to get that stuff done and have actually learned a lot since I’ve
been here.”

What does the transportation department do?

“Here at the CPN shop we do all of the light mechanical work, not any of the heavy stuff such as replacing engines. With the new cars we have bought, we have never had a catastrophic repair. I think it’s because we service them every 3,500 miles and try and take good care of them. I am also over the excess property for the Tribe so I go out and procure the excess equipment that gets donated to CPN. This is one way that we get some of our vehicles, machinery and equipment.”

How was your department grown over the years?

“This department has really grown along with the Tribe. I started out in a little shop by FireLake Golf Course until 10 years ago when the Tribe bought the old Pratt’s warehouse off of Kickapoo and Seventh Street in Shawnee, Oklahoma. I worked for about four years on my own and then hired a mechanic to help with the growing  pains we were dealing with.

“Now I have two full time employees under me, Bud and Sandy, and one summer employee, Jacob. Bud does all the maintenance on the vehicles and Sandy details all of the cars. This place wouldn’t run as smooth if it weren’t for those two.”

What got you into working on cars?

“My brother-in-law Monty Bodine is who got me into cars. When I was young he had a hot rod shop in Oklahoma City behind his house. He would work on cars for big-name drag racers back then. That’s how I got to meet a lot of those famous racers, so I was around that kind of thing a lot of the time. That gave me a love for hot rods. I’ve had several drag cars myself and what I really enjoy is the fabrication of them. I have built or owned more than a hundred vehicles and have sold them all over the nation.”

What do like about working for CPN?

“I love my job and love what I do. The Tribe has been great to Pam and I. Rocky and Linda are the best to work for and the family atmosphere here is something that I really enjoy. If Rocky would have asked me that day to work on cars I would have said no, but I’m thankful for this career and it really has been a wonderful time in my life.”