By SHELLY WILKISON
With the promise of a growing community often come entrepreneurs and dreamers seeking opportunities and good fortune.
Such was the case with Don McFerren when 14 years ago, he moved to Liberty Hill from Cedar Park and sought to start an auto repair business. Very quickly, however, he discovered there were bigger things in store for him when a “series of blessings” changed his life.
While Liberty Hill Auto Center has the expertise and experience to repair any make and model vehicle, and recently added state inspecitions to its long list of professional services, McFerren says it’s much more than that.
“In here, we share truths whether they are under the hood or of the heart,” he said. “The first thing I see when someone walks in here is a broken heart, and we talk about the broken car.”
McFerren’s Christian testimony is a powerful one that is intertwined in the birth and growth of his business, and the friendship of local men whose spiritual guidance continues to be a strong influence.
When he first began looking for property along State Highway 29, he met Don Bebee, who at the time lived in the house that is now Tina’s Cottage. Bebee owned the land where the Auto Center now stands.
“He came outside when he saw me walking around. Next thing you know, we had agreed to a price,” McFerren said.
“The next few months were God sent,” he said.
McFerren found a metal building that was half built, found someone to erect it at an affordable price, and then went to work to do all of the general contracting himself. With knowledge gleaned from his father, he installed his own plumbing within a short time and then began the task of erecting the walls on the office area.
As he looked over the lumber and tried to plan where to start, he saw Bebee walking toward him. Bebee, who now owns Liberty Buildings, asked McFerren what was next.
“Then he smiled and said he had something that might help,” McFerren said.
When Bebee returned from his house next door, he was wearing a construction bib and had a pencil behind his ear. Bebee was a general contractor for 30 years, and he stepped up to help McFerren build the building. For the next four months the two men worked side by side from daylight to dark.
“And the whole time, he (Bebee) was talking to me about God. I wasn’t saved then,” he said. “I have a mechanic’s mind, and having faith in God was a hard concept for me — to believe in something I couldn’t see.”
At the same time, McFerren’s wife was attending First Baptist Church in Liberty Hill, and as the days passed, men from the church began dropping by the shop offering to lend a hand — each one arriving with skills that were needed at that very moment.
“That was the visual part of my salvation,” McFerren said. “It was the most amazing thing I ever saw.”
Years later, McFerren says Liberty Hill Auto Center has developed a reputation as being the garage with a big heart for its customers. Not only does it have the tools and expertise to repair most any general problem, mechanics take their time to deliver quality work.
“I believe in quality over quantity,” he said. “I’ve always tried to provide high quality work, and that might take longer to produce, but we are very thorough.”
He said he has technicians on staff as opposed to lower-paid employees trained to get vehicles in and out fast.
Careful attention to each customer’s problem has kept his Liberty Hill business smaller than big city repair shops that promise fast service.
“With fast service comes a greater margin for error,” he said. “We are always focused here on doing the job completely and accurately the first time.”
McFerren served in the US Navy six years where he was trained as a mechanic to work on engines. After leaving the Navy, he went to work for PepsiCo where he spent five years working on company fleets. He later went to work for Don McDavid Acura in Austin where he gained experience working on all types of vehicles. That experience led to 10 years as a mobile mechanic where he took his service directly to the customer. Today, he said he can handle all vehicles, from motor homes to dump trucks to the smallest of cars.
Through the years, he said it has been the reputation of his work and the trust of returning customers that has sustained his business — even through some tough times when he struggled to pay taxes and make ends meet.
“In all these years, I’ve never done one thing to market my business,” he said. “Years ago, I paid $15,000 for this sign on the street and that’s all I’ve ever done.”
The familiar red and white sign has caught the attention of many passersby having car trouble over the years.
McFerren believes he was in the right place at the right time to help those in need. He tells stories of those who claimed God led them to the shop — not just to repair a broken car, but to help heal a hurting heart.
For 10 years, McFerren hosted a prayer group in his garage that became a place where men in the community met every morning to pray for their families and each other. At one time, he said as many as eight men were meeting regularly to pray before starting their day’s work.
“One year we had more (people) saved in our bays than three local churches combined,” McFerren said.
Before the Christmas holidays, McFerren’s longtime friend Bebee introduced him to Michael Stein of Regal Services GT, who was looking to open a state inspection station in the growing Liberty Hill area. Stein said he had trouble maneuvering through city red tape to build a new building, so he discussed the possibility of bringing the service to McFerren’s auto center.
Stein, who lives in the Marble Falls area and runs a successful state inspection business in Georgetown, plans to open additional locations in the coming months — including one in Hutto.
“This is a value-added service we are bringing to Don’s shop,” Stein said. “We have the equipment, we take care of the management and paperwork and we deal directly with the State.”
Stein said he has an employee — a certified vehicle inspector — at Liberty Hill Auto Center who is there eight hours a day, five days a week to do inspections.
Stein said the local inspection station at Liberty Hill Auto Center has already earned high marks from the State of Texas and he is confident that his partnership with McFerren will be a good fit for years to come.
Also a military veteran, Stein and his partner in Regal Services both served in the US Air Force for 30 years before retiring and going into business together. He said he tries to hire fellow veterans whenever he can — a way of doing business that McFerren said he admires.
“I think that says a lot about Mike and his partner,” McFerren said. “He employees outstanding people.”
McFerren, who for 10 years has volunteered as a coach for the Liberty Hill Youth Soccer Association, played soccer for the Navy. His love for the sport and commitment to the community has led him back to the fields season after season. This year, he is coaching a U19 select team for the league.
Liberty Hill Auto Center, which is located at 13000 State Highway 29, is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday. Call them at (512) 778-6007.