The 2017 FenderBender Awards: James Crosthwaite
Mentoring the Next Generation
Category: Shop Worker
Body Technician / Delong Ford Collision Center / Winnemucca, Nev.
Finding a good tech is hard to come by, but body tech James Crosthwaite of DeLong Ford Collision Center in Winnemucca, Nev., continues to prove himself every day after 40 years in the industry. He’s 200 percent efficient in a $1.1 million shop with only himself and his trainee working on cars.
Even during the busy season, when Crosthwaite works 12-hour days starting at 4:30 a.m., he never complains. In fact, Dan Plumb, body shop manager at DeLong Ford Collision Center and Crosthwaite’s nominator, says that, in most cases, he gets more done by 9 a.m. than others do in a whole day, so it was a no brainer that Crosthwaite stood out for the 2017 FenderBender Award.
His love and talent for cars didn’t come from just anywhere. His uncle started in the industry in 1925 as a carpenter and metal man and his dad followed, joining the industry in 1947 performing lead work, so Crosthwaite grew up around cars. And, currently, he has a granddaughter that is thinking of joining the automotive space.
“We’ve seen a few things,” he says, laughing about the kinds of jobs his family has seen over the years.
But his experience isn’t the only reason he makes for a great technician. His ability to mentor others and go beyond his job duties is what makes him shine.
In need of techs, Crosthwaite decided to teach one of the shop’s workers who had started three years ago some simple duties, such as taking out trash, spray-on bedliners, car washing, etc. Gradually, he taught the mentee basic repair techniques, working his way up to teaching him heavy collision work.
This isn’t the first time that he’s trained others; in his old shop in Reno, he also worked with numerous trainees. Crosthwaite says that in the old days, a tech would typically learn from “floaters,” who were great techs that bounced around from one shop to the next. You would typically learn the tricks of the trade from them, Crosthwaite says, but now that they don’t really exist anymore, up-and-coming techs need to learn from the A-techs in a shop.
While he’s reluctant to call himself a mentor, he says that teaching others has helped him step up his own game, which translates in his efficiency, something that was instilled in him from his old shop.
He says that his past employer was the one to inspire him to further his education and pass the knowledge along to others.
And that education worked to Crosthwaite’s advantage when it came time for bettering DeLong, along with Plumb’s help.
“He was just one of those guys that I only knew him for a couple of days and it was like I had known him my whole life,” Plumb says.
Plumb says that when he first hired Crosthwaite in November 2014, the body shop had declined slightly. Being in a town of around 8,000 people, Plumb says that people assume that smaller shops aren’t professional enough, so Crosthwaite helped him get the shop where it needed to be with certifications and a professional look.
Crosthwaite took classes to get the shop I-CAR Gold certified and participated in other certifications, such as the Ford F-150 aluminum certification. At one point in his career, he even completed SLV welding certification in Germany.
“Oh man, I love the aluminum repair. It’s exciting. It’s new. It’s fun to do,” Crosthwaite says.
To help combat small town misconceptions, he’s always looking for the newest trends, according to Plumb. He says that Crosthwaite will let him know right away if he finds something that the shop should be doing, especially since they both think along the same lines, in terms of shop growth.
Because the industry has become so technical in recent years, Crosthwaite believes it is important to stress to new employees that repairs need to be done according to OEM repair standards, especially when there are a lot of techs out there still repairing them as they would in the 80s and 90s.
More than anything, Plumb says it’s Crosthwaite’s ability to always jump in and answer questions was an immense help. The seasoned technician doesn’t get worried and just takes care of issues, whether it’s customer related or not.
“He’s always looking for the new products and different tooling,” Plumb says. “[He’s] someone with a real positive attitude that cares.”
And in a strange twist of fate, the next generation of Crosthwaites is poised to enter the industry under his tutelage: He plans to mentor his own granddaughter, who is joining the industry soon.