One Shop’s Strongest Bond: Of Father and Daughter

Feb. 6, 2023

Father/daughter team Cole and Swayzi Giles work side by side at their Utah shop. 

Cole Giles never went to school for collision repair. Those programs existed, but as a hobbyist already interested in cars and automotive repair, the shop that first hired him had no concerns that they could teach him everything he needed to know and how they wanted it done. And Giles is still at Cascades Collision in Utah, now a disassembly manager after 17 years pounding fenders. 

“Seventeen years of this body work, just goes by fast, that’s all I can say,” says Giles. 

While Giles received his share of on-the-job training, he came in with some acquired knowledge as well. Giles’ wife Heidi relays a story about how her husband got into collision repair in the first place. It was a chance meeting at Walmart with a shop owner who was also a fireman with Cole’s father. Cole expressed an interest in doing bodywork, and Heidi was able to confirm she knew her husband would have a knack for it. She’d seen him fix a dent in the family truck using just a two-by-four and a hammer.  

Even with that seemingly natural talent, collision repair wasn’t necessarily Plan A for him. Giles had hoped to do more restoration work, or fabrication, working on hot rods and such. But he saw collision repair as a great place to start. It was his foot in the door and the start of his education. 

Plus, he was able to keep up his other automotive interests on the side. He always had some kind of project car going at his home garage. Any free time he had, he’d be out there working on it. And perhaps accidentally, he provided the inspiration and pathway to collision repair for his future co-worker, his daughter Swayzi.  

All the Giles girls enjoyed tinkering and working alongside their dad on projects, learning all about vehicle repair and maintenance along the way. But it was Swayzi that took to it the most, offering a helping hand at home, and, eventually, into the body shop. 

“Ever since I was a little girl, my dad's always had a project car out front working on it any chance he got, he'd always go into work early, so he could come home earlier than usual so he could work on his new toy that's out front,” recalls Swayzi. “And I'd always come out, and I'm a little bit of a daddy's girl, so I always wanted to hang out with my dad and see what he's doing.” 

From the time she was about 6, she recalls, Swayzi has spent time at Cascades with her dad. It started with going with her mom to meet him for lunch. Heidi recalls a fair amount of good-natured mischief, with Swayzi swiping the occasional stray marker to write on car windows. Even from that early age she became something of a fixture at the shop. 

“I always was known in the shop, just a cute little girl just running through the shop, everyone's picking on her,” says Swayzi. “And I've always just grown up around cars. So my passion came from just seeing my dad work on them. And then building bonds with guys that still work here to this day.” 

After all those years spending time around the shop, Swayzi decided to seriously pursue collision repair as a career in high school. In her senior year she did an internship at the shop, receiving school credit for it to boot. It was two class periods every other day that she got to have hands-on experience inside the shop. It was also a brush with the disbelief that sometimes comes from being a woman in a male-dominated industry. 

“My teacher didn't believe that I was in the body side, interning, she thought I was interning with the office ladies up front,” says Swayzi. “Like, no, I'm actually around back. I'm currently tearing off the bedside off of this truck. And she came back there. And she's like, ‘Oh my goodness, you are.’ So that was pretty funny. It's funny when people don't believe that I'm, you know, in this kind of industry.” 

The reaction within the shop has been much different. Swayzi says her co-workers, many of whom she’s known most of her life, think it’s pretty cool what she’s doing and treat her just like another employee. But there was a bit of adjustment in her going from that little girl running the shop getting teased to a full-fledged member of the team. With her dad a senior employee and having been in the industry for so long, they weren’t sure how far to take the typical ribbing that goes on in a body shop. 

“They don't want to, you know, cause waves, but they think it's super cool,” says Swayzi. “And we like to give each other crap all the time, they always make fun of me because I'm short, or I haven't learned everything yet. But, you know, we all still have so much fun. And I think everyone so far that has learned that I work beside my dad, and I do this type of stuff, they think it's super cool.” 

Swayzi began working at Cascades in February of 2022, and at the time of this reporting she had been working side-by-side with her dad in disassembly for about three months. She started out in the detail bay just to get her foot in the door. She isn’t certain exactly where she wants to take her collision repair career but was currently training to be a disassembly technician and that was a suitable challenge for the time being. As she noted, being somewhat vertically challenged can make it hard to work around bigger vehicles but given the right training she’s excited about doing just about anything in the industry. 

For Cole, his own career suddenly has a new burst of motivation in getting to work alongside Swayzi. She had recently just moved out from the family home, so they get to see each other at work instead. They make a good team with contrasting styles; Heidi notes Cole is more of a quiet, head-down, get-it-done kind of worker while Swayzi can be “full of so much sass” and energy.  

A father of all daughters, Cole didn’t want to discourage any of his girls from getting into the industry, But he also wanted to be realistic with them about what they might be getting into. It wasn’t an easy career. 

“I told her not to,” Cole says. “It's kind of wear and tear on your body, stuff like that. But that's how she wants it, she liked working on cars. And I couldn't stop her. I told my other kids like, go to school, do something different, you know. But yeah, I'm excited to see her following in my footsteps.” 

Only one of the other girls expressed an interest in getting into collision repair, and Cole gave her the same talk. She listened, he said. 

“I'm the one daughter that didn't listen,” says Swayzi. 

About the Author

Todd Kortemeier

Todd Kortemeier is former editor of FenderBender magazine.

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