An impressive body of work

Keith “Whitey” Engesser sands down his last hood last week. Keith is closing the doors to Whitey’s Body and Glass Shop at the end of the year. BELOW: Keith and his father, Harold, spent a lot of time in the shop when the former started his career there after graduating from high school. Photo / Per Peterson

The horrifying Tracy tornado of 1968 left a path of destruction that is still talked about today.

Homes and businesses were leveled. Families were displaced. And, of course, nine people were killed in the tragic twister.

Among the unsung heroes who helped others in the aftermath was a young man named Keith Engesser. His post-tornado task was a small one, relative to the town’s massive clean-up efforts, but it was one that, in a way, would open the door to him carrying on a family business that at the end of the year will close for good.

“I came down here to help clean glass out of the cars after the tornado,” Keith said. “I think I was 12. Dad had cars sitting all over. We cleaned all the glass just so they could have something to drive until he could fix them up. I remember him saying, ‘Get the glass out of the vehicles and we’ll worry about the rest later.’”

Keith’s father, Harold, started doing body work in 1947, when lead was used to patch up cars, not plastic like it is today. He helped his son for a few years after he took over the shop in 1983, and Keith’s brother, David, also lended a hand from time to time back in the day. Keith, who graduated from Tracy High School in 1974, remembers being told by his father that he had two weeks off after graduation before the real world would start for him.

And that world was the shop.

“That’s all I knew,” said Keith. “He told me, ‘If you’re honest with a customer and the insurance company, everything would go smoothy’ — and he was right on that.”

Keith — of course, most people know him only as “Whitey,” — will be closing the doors to Whitey’s Body and Glass Shop at the end of the year. Last Thursday, he could been found working on his last car hood in that humble and always-busy Morgan St. shop that, for the most part, hasn’t changed all that much in 57 years.

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