NAHANT — With 62 years of marriage under their belts, Marvene and James “Pudgy” Kasper still smile at each other’s stories stretching back to World War II-era Nahant and the business they built in Lynn.
Pudgy’s Towing and Auto Repair, Inc., celebrates 50 years in business with the Kaspers’ son, Tom, running the shop and daughter, Linda, managing the front office. Mother, father and daughter agree that Tom Kasper’s commitment and good business sense has been the driving force in Pudgy’s half century of success.
The Pleasant Street business had its humble beginnings on Chestnut Street and Western Avenue in 1968 as Pudgy’s Mobil, fulfilling James Kasper’s dream of running his own station and towing company.
James Kasper grew up near Bass Point and got his nickname from the way his mother’s friends would mispronounce the Polish word for “baby.” Marvene Kasper (née Jacobsen) lived on Maple Street but every kid in Nahant knew every other kid.
“We all grew up together and used to go skating at the rink at the relay yard,” she said.
Her father worked for the town public works department and her mother juggled housework and any jobs she could take on. James Kasper’s father was a delivery driver for the Wachusett Potato Chip Company.
“We would steal chips out of his truck and he would lose a quarter of his stock by the time he made a delivery,” he recalled.
World War II brought soldiers, big guns, and blackout curfews to Nahant. Marvene Kasper said the ear-splitting sound of the town siren meant lights were to be extinguished in homes and blackout curtains drawn to prevent lurking German submarines from spotting the silhouettes of ships against a backdrop of town lights.
“It scared the heck out of us. My three brothers and I would huddle up in a corner of the room,” she said.
GIs were a common sight in the town and they were quartered in local homes and took in movies at a theater on Flash Road until a fire destroyed the moviehouse.
James and Marvene knew each other as children and only needed a 30-day courtship after getting reacquainted to send them to the altar in 1956. James thought about becoming a police officer but his ability to tear apart and rebuild an automobile engine set him on his career path to business ownership.
“I always wanted a little red wrecker and a brick station,” he said.
Marvene settled right into tackling paperwork in the Chestnut Street station but high rents charged by Mobil ultimately convinced the couple to strike out on their own in business. They bought the former American Byproducts building on Pleasant Street in 1977 and undertook a top-to-bottom renovation.
The Blizzard of ’78 still ranks among the most memorable tows Pudgy’s trucks were called out to handle. They shuttled food around waterlogged Nahant and freed stuck fire trucks from snowbanks. Marvene also recalled the day a Pudgy’s wrecker was dispatched to Forty Steps to retrieve a car that went off the cliff.
“It must have been doing 180 miles per hour past the police station. The woman came by the shop the next day on a pair of crutches,” she said.
Nahant’s police chief, Robert Dwyer, worked for Pudgy’s for 23 years and James said he urged Dwyer to pursue a law enforcement career.
“Pudgy’s a great guy. He’s a hard-working gentleman who treated people with respect and Tommy’s been there since he was a young kid and with his father through the whole business,” Dwyer said.
Now retired and living in the home off Nahant Road they built in 1970, James and Marvene spend time with their four grandchildren and great-grandchild, but they aren’t far from the smell of exhaust and the sound of clanking tools.
James is a master antique car restorer who tackled rebuilding a 1930 Ford Model A (seen in photo) and a 1930 Packard Model 636 he spent years returning to its original beauty.
“It was being used as a chicken coop up in Maine,” he said.