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Nearly a year has passed since an arson fire damaged Rod's Towing & Repairs in Putney, on Oct. 9, 2021. Over the past year, employees have been rebuilding section by section trying to get the business fully back in operation. On Saturday, Oct. 8, 2022, they will be holding a celebration to honor the community for its support while they have been repairing the business from the fire.

PUTNEY — It’s been almost a year since Rod’s Towing and Repairs burned to the ground, the victim of a still unknown arsonist.

But the Winchester family is nothing if not feisty and resilient, and this Saturday they are putting on a “grand reopening,” a community celebration, as a thank you to their supporters for helping them survive their year of hell, which included the death of a nephew from heart trouble and a serious automobile accident involving their grandchildren.

“It’s been a hard year,” Julie Winchester said Thursday.

There will be music — Putney’s Stockwell Brothers (they played at the original 1967 opening of the station) — as well as apple cider doughnuts from Green Mountain Orchard and hot and cold apple cider from Harlow’s. There will be 150 gift bags, Julie Winchester said, and prizes and gifts. People should bring lawn chairs and spend some time, she said.

“The Stockwell Brothers still have spark,” she said.

Winchester said Thursday that the past year has been harder than she could ever imagine, but at the same time the family was surrounded by the love and support of the Putney community. People donated $50,000 in the weeks after the fire that allowed the Winchesters to buy equipment that was lost in the fire. People also donated labor while the station was being rebuilt, and people helped in many other important ways, Greg Winchester said. People started buying gas at the Putney station as a way to support the struggling business, Julie Winchester said.

The town of Putney has also been great, he said, with help on the permits the business needed to rebuild. The family had to rebuild on the same footprint of the original shop, to avoid triggering Act 250, the state’s land use law.

While the combination gas station and auto service station in Putney has been operating since Feb. 14 (December 2021 for the gas pumps), Winchester said they are still limping along with only three operational mechanics’ work bays.

Two more bays, which are in the tall rear addition of the rebuilt building, will be operational in two weeks, she said. The main office, which is currently located in a temporary trailer at the front of the business, will move to the rear of the building in part of the new high-ceiling bays. And there will even be a lunch/breakroom built on top of the office, she said.

Winchester’s husband Greg, the son of founder Rod Winchester, predicted it would be close to another year before everything is rebuilt and in place.

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The Winchesters said they have something special to celebrate as well: they recently completed purchasing the business from Greg’s father, the original Rod of Rod’s Mobil. There are eight family members working at Rod’s, ranging from Julie and Greg to their daughters, Lyndsay and Laryssa.

On Thursday morning, the three bays were busy, and there was a long line of cars parked in the yard which represented Thursday’s appointments, Lyndsay Winchester said.

Lyndsay, whose hair was dyed a bright pink on Thursday, said she’s been working at the family business virtually all her life. Her first job was at age 4, pumping gas. On Thursday, she was doing inspections.

Rebuilding the distinctive gas station and auto repair shop has cost $1 million, Julie Winchester said, and has involved plenty of hard-nosed negotiations with the company’s insurance company. It hasn’t been easy, she said, noting she had another appointment later that day to discuss their insurance policy.

Greg Winchester quickly rattled off a long list of things that still needed to be rebuilt or moved from a temporary location, and Julie Winchester also said there was a lot of outside work to be done too, including making the outside of the building more secure.

The waiting room for customers needs to be re-done, and is now full of messy piles of equipment, and computers. A day earlier, it had even more tools and equipment in it, the Winchesters said.

The family said they are still waiting for progress on the arson investigation.

“We’re just going to leave it on them,” said Greg Winchester, although the family thinks that the group of arson fires in Putney and Marlboro last fall in all likelihood were connected, somehow.

Police did arrest two teenagers, one from Brattleboro and one from Dummerston, and they were charged with the arson fire of a home on Shag Bark Hill, which is within walking distance of Rod’s. But since the teens were juveniles, their cases are confidential. The Shag Bark fire took place only a few days earlier than Rod’s fire on Oct. 9.

The arsonist set a pile of tires on fire in the back of their building, and within minutes the entire building was ablaze, Julie Winchester said.

Saturday’s grand reopening starts at 1 p.m. and runs until 4 p.m. Classic Rod’s t-shirts will also be available for purchase.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com.