If you think this column is a thinly veiled way to give a shoutout to the mechanics who have kept my questionable fleet of cars running for the past 25 years …

… well, it is.

It’s certainly not because Plowgian Auto Repair, located at 4031 S. Highland Drive, asked for the publicity. Their P.R. firm didn’t get involved because they don’t have a P.R. firm. Advertising to them is making sure the letters on the sign out front don’t fall down.

Besides that, finding cars for them to work on is not a problem. On any given day, their parking lot looks like the evacuation of Dunkirk. Cars strewn everywhere, the scene reminiscent of the Yogi Berra line, “Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.”

But every day, the hordes keep showing up, and if you ask Larry Plowgian and his son, Jeff, to reveal the secret to their success — their well-orchestrated customer service game plan, as it were — they shrug and look at you like you’ve just asked them to explain quantum physics.

After thinking it over, Larry manages an answer of sorts: “If you’re running a business and it’s got your name on it, you take a lot of pride in what you’re doing.”

* * *

This is a story about a family that has been fixing cars almost since the automobile was invented — dating back to the day in 1908 when 13-year-old Aram Plowgian got off the train in Salt Lake City with his immigrant parents, Nersis and Hosanna Pilavjian (who soon removed a few vowels and anglicized their name to Plowgian).

Recent converts to The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Nersis and Hosanna were fleeing religious and political oppression in their native Armenia. They didn’t have any money, but they had opportunity. For their son Aram, who was good with his hands, that meant fixing cars, a business with very little past and a ton of upside.

His timing couldn’t have been much better. The year Aram arrived, in 1908, Ford introduced the Model T. Then, in 1913, Ford introduced the assembly line, suddenly making automobiles — and automobile breakdowns — available to the masses.

Aram worked his way up to shop foreman for the Hupmobile Motor Company on Social Hall Avenue, until Hupmobile closed its Salt Lake location (the entire high-end car company went out of business shortly thereafter).

So Aram built his own repair shop next door to his house on Wilmington Avenue in Sugarhouse. In 1928, he and his brother-in-law and fellow Armenian immigrant, George Aposhian, opened the Plowgian-Aposhian Garage.

Seth Plowgian works at Plowgian Auto Repair in Millcreek on Monday, March 18, 2024. The business has been in the family for five generations and Seth works with his father and grandfather. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News

The shop kept two families fed until the Great Depression, at which point George moved out and in 1933 opened his own shop on his in-law’s property way out in the hinterlands on 3300 South east of Highland Drive. (The original Aposhian Garage is still there; until proven otherwise, the Plowgian and Aposhian garages lay claim as the two oldest continuously-run family car repair shops in the state.)

Aram’s son Robert took over the Plowgian business from his father. Robert’s son, Larry — the current patriarch who, at 78, still comes to work four days a week (he takes Fridays off) — took over from him. Next in line is Larry’s son Jeff, who has been working alongside his dad for the past 20-plus years. Jeff has two sons, Seth and Cole. Seth, 18, is already working at the garage.

That’s three generations of Plowgians currently turning wrenches in the family business that will turn 100 in 2028.

Their staying power is all the more impressive when you consider they were run out of their first two locations.

In 1996, after 68 years at the Wilmington Avenue location, Sugarhouse exercised eminent domain to take over the property for commercial development (it’s now a Bed, Bath & Beyond). That forced Larry and Jeff to move to a location just below Highland Drive on 3300 South, a stone’s throw from the Aposhian Garage.

Then, four years ago, after 24 years in that spot, the same thing happened when Millcreek exercised eminent domain to take over Plowgian’s property and make room for the new city center.

That necessitated the move to the current location about a mile farther south on Highland Drive.

The good news is, every time they’ve relocated, they’ve gained more customers.

The old ones follow them wherever they go and new ones pop up with each move.

It’s easy to follow these guys around. They’re a pleasure to deal with, they don’t ridicule you when you forget to put oil in your car (although they also never let you forget it), they don’t tell you they discovered four or five things that are wrong in addition to the thing you brought the car in for. In fact, they talk you out of doing anything that might be unnecessary. It’s like your car is their car, and they’re aware you’re not a Rockefeller.

Larry Plowgian knew his grandfather well. He worked with him and with his dad, Bob, in the shop when he was a kid. He recalls Aram Plowgian’s constant refrain: “He would always say honesty is the greatest mark of a man’s integrity. If you’re not honest with anybody else, you’re not honest with yourself. That’s the bottom line. That’s how he did business.”

So what would Larry’s granddad and dad think if they were to come back today?

Larry laughs. “I think if they saw it now and the changes in cars with the advent of computers and stuff, they’d just say, ‘We’re going to pull up a chair and sit over there and not worry about it.’”

But I’ll bet they’d be pleased with what the kids have done with it.

Larry Plowgian points out a historical photo of his grandfather and his grandfather’s brother-in-law working at Plowgian Auto Repair in Sugar House in 1928, which now hangs in the new location of Plowgian Auto Repair in Millcreek on Monday, March 18, 2024. Larry is the third of five generations that have worked at Plowgian Auto Repair. His son, Jeff, and grandson, Seth, currently work with him. | Kristin Murphy, Deseret News