ASHLAND – Being a “car guy” has been Lowell Krueger’s thing for most of his life.
There is one less type of vehicle in his life these days, as Krueger recently retired after 17 years of driving a bus for Ashland-Greenwood Public Schools.
Krueger started out teaching auto mechanics and welding at Ashland-Greenwood in 1985. But teaching was never really Krueger’s thing, he admitted.
“I never really liked teaching that much,” he said.
Working in a garage part-time helped pay for tuition at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and his first job after graduation was as a mechanic at Montgomery Wards.
He’d started out as an art major, switching to architecture and engineering before settling on industrial arts.
“I got a teaching degree just to be practical,” he added.
He was recruited by Louisville to teach shop classes there. He left the garage to teach in the Cass County school for six years before moving to Gretna for another six years prior to coming to Ashland-Greenwood.
When Krueger’s position at Ashland-Greenwood was eliminated, he felt it was a blessing in disguise.
“I saw it as an opportunity to start my own shop,” he said.
It was something Krueger had wanted to do for most of his adult life, he said. He was always around cars as he grew up in the Seward/Garland area. He remembers being a toddler and standing on the fender of his father’s car, looking down at the running engine.
“It was totally fascinating,” he recalled.
That incident ignited a passion for cars in Krueger. He built coaster cars and soapbox derby cars as a child. His dad gave him a Model A when he was 15 years old. He stripped it down and worked on it slowly at his grandpa’s farm.
While Krueger was in college, a fire burned the Model A’s body and frame. He acquired another body and started over, using parts that had been saved from the fire.
Krueger still has that Model A, and plans to work on it now that he has more time.
“So I’m finally putting that car together,” he said.
One of his early completed projects was a Bucket T hot rod that he built as a teenager.
“I have driven it every year since I built it,” he said. “There’s a lot of memories there.”
He has about 20 cars waiting for their turn up on the blocks.
“I stocked up on old cars for my retirement, so now I’m realizing my dream in a way,” he said.
His collection includes only American-made cars.
“I always thought of myself as a Chevy guy, but I’ve got a lot of Fords, too,” he said.
When completed, the cars will not be show cars, and they will remain in Krueger’s possession.
“It’s like selling a child,” he said with a smile. “I don’t plan on it.”
Krueger’s car collection is split between Ashland and a former blacksmith building in Garland. He will work on the cars in the downtown Ashland shop. He bought the building about 30 years ago, after it had been damaged by fire. The floor needed to be replaced and the roof was pretty much gone.
“You could see sky,” he said.
After fixing the roof, floor and exterior brick, Krueger finally had his shop. As a way to get a break from the shop, he started working as a substitute teacher for AGPS.
“Subbing actually was a lot of fun,” he said. “I didn’t have to do any prep, the teacher had it all laid out for me, and I could add my two cents.”
When a friend suggested he become a bus driver, he
decided to do it for just one year as a way to get back into the school district’s retirement system. Those plans quickly changed.
“Well, I kind of liked it,” he said.
He liked several aspects of the job, he said.
“It got me out of bed in the morning, I got to see the sun rise and get to know a lot of kids,” he said. “And I like to drive.”
Along with fixing up his cars, Krueger will also spend his retirement working on the multiple houses he owns in Ashland. A couple are rentals, but one in particular is a long-term project that has been years in the making. He has owned a two-story house on 16th and Ash streets in downtown Ashland that has been vacant for quite a while. He works on it a little bit each year.
“I want to get it done,” he said.
He will also travel, something he has not done much before. Now, accompanied by his girlfriend, Christine Devilier, he will pack his suitcase and hit the road.
“Christine is prodding me into traveling,” he said.