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Traverse City Workshop Destroyed After Fire, Along with Priceless Cars and Antiques

Nickels’ Automotive Wood Restoration has been repairing classic car bodies since 1972 in Traverse City. Sunday morning, the workshop was destroyed in a fire. The owner, Michael Nickels, and his wife were camping outside of town when they got the call.

“We got a call through our security system that a fire alarm had been set off in the shop and that they had already dispensed fire apparatus for this spot,” Nickels says. “We jumped in our car and we hustled over here from the other side of town.”

Their son woke up to tell them the 8,000 sq. ft. shop was on fire.

“He came through the door and he said the shops on fire, the shops on fire,” says Nickels. “He looked in one window and saw flames looked at another window and saw flames. He opens the door and there it went. In about 35 minutes the whole building was engulfed.

“By the time we got here we crossed High Lake and Supply Road and we could see  the flume of  smoke and I said honey that’s us,” he says. He says it took 42,000 gallons of water were used to extinguish flames, and five different agencies were called in to help.

Nickels loves his job restoring classic car bodies. He’s repaired auto bodies for over 100 classic station wagons from all over the country. He’s even done some high profile projects.

Customer vehicles were lost in the fire as well as priceless family items.

“My dad’s military uniform was here he served in World War Two in the South Pacific,” says Nickels. “Mom’s nurses uniform from 1928… just can’t replace that stuff.”

He also lost a 1947 station wagon that was reminiscent of Mike’s childhood family vacation out west.

“It was a tribute to my mom and dad and our history. Parts from all over the country came together to make this final product.”

Three vehicles are saved from the debris so far.

“We were able pull out 3 cars,” Nickels says. “I had a 1983 Chrysler town and country around the corner and I could drive that one out the second thing pulled out was a 1942 military ambulance that I got of out of a cornfield in Iowa and restored. It’s the only one that’s left. They made less than 100 of them.”

A customer’s 1953 Buick was also pulled out in time.

The investigation into what happened is ongoing, though they have a general idea of what part of the building the fire started from. Salvation Army brought groceries for the family, friends and firefighters on scene during the fire.

The Nickels family thanks everyone for the support and hopes people will share their memories in a note or photo for an album. Mike’s son is also requesting donated tools so his dad can get back to doing what he loves.

“Everybody has a loss sometimes,” says Mike Nickels. “You never know when that’s going to happen and you just have to reach out and touch someone. It’s a simple gesture.

“Be ready for the hug, be ready to get it and be ready to receive it. We’re strong. We’ll come back. There’s no reason any of us should be at each other’s heels, we just need to love one another.”