It was the beginning of a dream that would unfold decades later in a legacy to a father. Tim O’Brien moved his family from Antioch to the island of St. Thomas, his first chance at being co-owner of a small business, working as a “front end man” rebuilding and repairing vehicles inside Tropic Island Tires and Brakes. He worked hard at what he loved to provide for his family.
In another part of the shop his 13-year-old son Shane completed the final steps on his own first attempt at a brake repair job, something he had watched his father perform many times before.
But after an unsteady flow of repair jobs, caused mostly by the native islanders negative view of outsiders, Tim put his dreams on hold and moved his family back to Antioch, returning to Hammer Lane Tires and Brakes in Stockton.
When he wasn’t wrenching away on a customer’s vehicle, you could find Tim sitting behind his stainless steel Ludwig drum set, expressing his other love, his art, his presence as a musician. Shane and his younger brother Ryan watched and listened as their dad jammed out to some of his favorites artists Rush and The Doobie Brothers, among others. This musical influence and appreciation stayed with them well into adulthood.
Tragically, on March 4, 1995, Tim died suddenly from heart failure, leaving behind a wife, two teenage sons, and an inspiration for the future.
Nineteen years later, at the home of their mother Renee, the O’Brien brothers met up to celebrate Shane’s upcoming 35th birthday with the rest of the immediate family.
The O’Brien family has grown since the passing of their patriarch. Shane and his wife Kristina watch as their youngest daughter stands on a stepstool making fresh lemonade on her grandmother’s kitchen counter. Ryan, the younger of the two O’Brien brothers, a former LMC student with plans to re-enroll soon to complete classes for his Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification, is there with fiancée Stacey, waiting patiently for the meal his mother has been preparing.
As the family chats, one topic seems to be on everyone’s mind: 999 Harbor St. in Pittsburg, the site of the recently opened O’Briens Auto Repair, owned by Shane and Ryan.
Inside the 2,300 square foot home of their new business, a tribute to their dad, Shane puts on the finishing touches of a recent engine swap for a 1995 Ford motorhome.
“I like the satisfaction of it running after all that work,” said Shane.
Like his brother, performing an engine swap is one of his favorite jobs in his profession.
Shane is also in the process of beginning training to receive his Smog Repair License, a process he hopes to complete during the spring semester next year at LMC.
“I can’t do it right now,” said Shane, referring to the inability to perform the state regulated repairs some customers request, “I have to wait.”
A plethora of tools lay across the back work table, even more organized in rolling carts the siblings use to roll among the various vehicles. Some of the tools and equipment still have that brand new shine and luster, like their recently acquired air conditioning recharge system from Snap-On. Other tools show signs of many years of use, some with history.
“It was brand new in the box when he passed away,” said Shane as he holds up a Mac Impact Gun, one of his father’s last purchases and a primary tool the brothers still use today. “This has been with us forever.”
It took a few years for the O’Brien brothers to finally put their father’s tools to use following his death. It wasn’t until 1997 when the family moved from their home on Daisy Way in Antioch to the house where their mother still lives today that they started working on their own vehicles, beginning with what they had learned from watching their father.
“I remember Ryan pulled apart the head off his Honda and I was like, wow,” said Shane as he called one of the first major repair jobs his brother had performed. Inside the garage at their mother’s house, the brothers began working at what would eventually become their trade. Remembering back to those days, Shane added that with the use of their father’s tools they were able to start ““really fixin’ them, and digging into them.”
While the brothers work on the various vehicles inside O’Briens Auto Repair, the shop stereo can be heard over the sound of their father’s impact gun taking the lug bolts off a Dodge pickup. As Ryan’s Pandora playlist switches between a mix of various classic rock artists such as AC/DC and Led Zeppelin, Shane suddenly looks up from underneath the hood of the motorhome with a sense of dissatisfaction on his face and quickly changes the station to something he’d rather work to, thrash metal.
Ryan expresses no discontent with the change, why would he? After all both brothers have had their own experiences performing this heavier style of music together in the Bay Area bands Unawake and 3 Hrs. Old.
Like their father before them, who they still remember playing with his own band, covering songs like “Paranoid” and “Tom Sawyer,” the O’Brien brothers love performing themselves. While Ryan pursued his interests in living the role as a front man, adding his powerful vocals to lead the show, Shane pursued the role his father had so many years before, pounding away on the heads of that very same stainless steel kit.
Both brothers agree they would “rather be playing music” than work any regular 9-5 job, but as Shane looks up and around his shop he said, “I’ve made more in the last year than 3 Hrs. Old did in 10 years.”
The love for performing will never die for them, it just will have to take a back seat for now. They are just too busy with their auto repair business. Prior to their spring opening to the public, the two spent as much as 23 days in a row moving from their smaller location next door, finishing all prior jobs before moving on to the next.
“It’s a beast,” said Shane. “No way we could be here part-time and be able to feed the beast.”
Perhaps after completing their studies at LMC, and when they have the reassurance that business will continue to thrive, maybe then they will have the opportunity to perform once again in the Bay Area music scene. In the meantime, all focus remains on the family business.
“They’ve kind of taken off,” said Kristina as she talked about her husband’s success. “I hope they’re able to expand.”
An expansion would definitely be a great accomplishment for the two O’Brien brothers, but for now they are content with where they are at, or as Ryan’s fiancée pointed out, they are, “Definitely happier, both of them.”
“I’m very proud of them.” said Renee as she looks up from her stove top, finishing the last touches of the meal she prepared for the celebration.
As the family sits at the dining table waiting for their chance to serve themselves the prepared entrees, Renee describes her experience seeing the newly opened auto repair shop.
“I’ve seen this shop before,” she goes on to add, pausing to recollect a time so long ago, “in St. Thomas.”
You can still find Tim O’Brien today.
He lives on in the hard work performed at O’Briens Auto Repair.
He lives on in the sounds emanating from that stainless steel drum kit.
He lives on in his two sons Shane and Ryan as they journey through life, following in their father’s footsteps.