Robert Duren, 81, Owned Carwash Shop Where Vehicles Were Buffed By Hand

April 24, 1997|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,SUN STAFF

They didn't use electric buffers or polishers at Bob's Auto Cleaning. And those fancy car carpet shampoo machines never really appealed to Robert Duren.

At Bob Duren's shop, they cleaned cars the old-fashioned way: with human buffers and Turtle Wax; with a mound of foam shampoo and a trained professional with a bristle brush; with elbow grease and sweat.

And Mr. Duren, 81, who died Monday at the Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center from injuries he received in a car accident in November, was usually the one who applied the most manpower.

"He had the best place in Baltimore to go to get your car really clean," said Lavon Burgess, a former customer and employee at Bob's Auto Cleaning. "You knew your car would be looking good when you left there."

Often known as "Shine," Mr. Duren worked from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. six and often seven days a week at Bob's Auto Cleaning -- in oversized garagelike buildings first on McCulloh Street near Dolphin Street and later in the 800 block of Linden Ave. near Maryland General Hospital.

Bob Duren worked long hours because, simply, he liked cleaning cars and was good at it, said his son, Horace Duren of Baltimore.

"When he got finished with a used car it looked new. When he finished a new car, it looked even newer," his son said. "That's the way he cleaned it."

Mr. Duren used home remedy cleaners such as a thinned coal oil and roofing tar to clean and buff tires, a shampoo for Asian rugs for the carpets and a concoction not even known to his son to clean the dashboards and seats.

Mr. Duren, a slender man who always wore a cap, began his business in 1950 and hired car cleaners and drivers to transport cars from local car dealerships to his shop and back. His shop held only four cars at a time, and cars were always parked nearby to be cleaned.

Bob's Auto Cleaning was also a favorite for an assortment of men -- not necessarily customers -- who liked to stop by to chat and listen to music, which played continually and was often heard from a block away.

"The people he had working there made it an interesting place to go. Just talking and sitting back made it nice," said John Weatherlee, a former customer.

The shop's second location near Maryland General Hospital was perhaps the most popular, as several men usually sat on stools in front and tried to make conversation with nurses who passed by.

The heat didn't always work at the shop, and the workers often used a wood-burning stove. Once, as workers were waxing two cars, embers caught fire in the shop. It took the entire staff about 15 minutes to extinguish the blaze.

Forgotten during the fire was the wax on the cars, which tends to ruin the finish if left on more than 10 minutes.

"Everyone in the shop began to immediately wipe and wipe the cars to get it off," Horace Duren said. "Everyone was in a panic."

A native of Cherryville, N.C., Mr. Duren moved to Baltimore in 1942 and lived in the 2100 block of Ellamont St. for most of his life. He worked at a shipyard on Key Highway and for several other auto detailing businesses before he started his business in 1950.

He closed his business in 1968 and did similar work at a Lincoln Mercury dealer until he retired in 1977.

During his retirement, former customers brought cars to his home for a shine. He usually obliged.

"It gave him some pocket change, and he surely liked to do it," his son said.

Services are scheduled for 11 a.m. tomorrow at Nutter Funeral Home, 2501 Gwynns Falls Parkway.

In addition to his son and wife, the former Neta Mae Cunningham, whom he married in 1946, he is survived by a daughter, Shirley Duren; a brother, Levy Duren; a sister, Edna Duren; seven grandchildren; and five great grandchildren. All are of Baltimore.

Pub Date: 4/24/97

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