Pedro Sarabia, who went by Pete, was working at a shop in Pescadero during the early 1960s when he decided it was time to move his family from Acambaro, Mexico to the United States. He, his wife and his 10 children, including Frank Sarabia and George Sarabia, packed into a blue 1951 station wagon that didn’t have enough seats for everyone to have their own.
“I’ll remember that car till the day I die,” Frank said.
After moving to America, Frank remained in Pescadero and ran Sarabia’s Auto Repair and Towing for more than 40 years. His brother, George, joined the business later on. Frank, 73, and George, 68, retired on June 30, leaving Pescadero without an auto repair shop.
“It was rewarding,” Frank said. “I was always glad to help people. ... They always call us the ‘angels of the highway.’”
Frank worked at a gas station in high school before being drafted and sent to Vietnam during the war. In May 1968, he was knocked unconscious, possibly by mortar rounds. He doesn’t know exactly what happened.
“All I could remember was just shaking, vibrating. I couldn’t breathe,” he said.
He couldn’t breathe because his lung was punctured. Then, he passed out again, and spent the next four months in and out of a coma in hospitals overseas.
After his two-year tour in Vietnam, which concluded at Fort Ord in Monterey, Frank came back to Pescadero as a Purple Heart recipient and continued working at the same gas station. He married a girl he had known since high school, Patty Sarabia, whom he wrote to throughout the war.
The pair attended Frank’s citizenship ceremony in San Francisco about 15 years ago, but Patty already thought of him as a citizen since he fought and nearly died for the United States.
In 1976, Frank bought the Phillip’s 66 gas station, and along with it came a AAA towing contract. Being a tow truck driver and a mechanic often meant eight- to 10-hour workdays coupled with long nights towing cars as far as Sacramento.
“I just finally decided I just couldn’t do it anymore,” Frank said. “I wanted to spend some quality time with the family and grandkids and not be by the phone all the time. I couldn’t go anywhere because of the phone ringing all the time. The towing is 24/7. You’re always on call.”
One of their tow trucks now has more than 600,000 miles on it. Patty joked they should get it bronzed and put it on their lawn.
“He’d come home for the last five years and say, ‘Patty, that tow truck’s not going to make it another day,’ and boom it’s back out on the road,’” she said.
Patty and Frank had talked about his retirement for a while, but one of their grandchildren, Sydney Sarabia, was astonished when she heard the news.
“I was spending the night and (Grandma) goes, ‘Your grandpa is retiring,’ and I was like, ‘What?’” the 11-year-old said, imitating her surprise at the news. “I’ve always known him as a grandpa and a tow truck driver.”
On his last official day of work, Frank and George invited the Pescadero community to stop by. They never expected the response. People brought homemade gifts, including a rocking chair and a painting, gift cards, money, cards and their kind words.
“They had us crying ... I didn’t think about that part when he said he was going to retire,” Patty said. “I didn’t think so much about the effect it was going to have on everybody.”
Ken Periat, who owns Made in Pescadero, rented the space to Frank and his brother and would often go out back to “talk and goof around.” He’s the one who made them each a rocking chair.
“Frank’s a very nice guy when he’s asleep,” Periat said with a hearty belly laugh. “No, he’s a great guy. He’s been such a big part of the town for such a long time.”
Periat also told of a time in the ‘70s when Frank chased bank robbers up Pescadero Creek Road.
“Bank robber chaser, tow truck driver, mechanic,” Periat said, listing his many titles.
Frank is working to clear the shop by the end of the month, taking breaks chatting with Periat. But he only works half days and there are no middle-of-the-night phone calls anymore.
His youngest grandchild, 2-year-old Preston Sarabia, often wakes up asking where Papa is and still cries when Papa leaves. He jumps on the couch to look out the window to see if Papa is home yet.
Now Frank can spend his retirement with Patty, Preston, his other five grandchildren and the rest of his family.
“It hasn’t totally hit me, but it feels good,” Frank said.