He started Hecker’s Power Equipment as a single man on a shoestring budget. He had to obtain a zoning variance to open the business as well. The property had been a health food store before he moved in.
“And then I got run over out there.” Hecker’s Power Equipment owner John Hecker pointed to the street just outside his store on Weed’s Main Street as he laughed at one of the crazier incidents that’s taken place at the same little triangular building in which he’s done business for the past 41 years. He has many wild stories from his time there, just about all of which are at least briefly documented in a series of journals that Hecker has diligently kept since the year he opened his shop in Weed – 1978. The store is now all but closed as he works to clean out the remnants of his four decade career, all spent in the small building which he purchased at age 28, before he even lived in Siskiyou County.
Weed is a small town in most people’s minds, but it’s a buzzing metropolis compared to Clipper Mills, California – the census designated area of Butte County where Hecker grew up. As of the 2010 census, it boasted a population of 142. But when he was a kid in the 50s and 60s, Hecker remembered, the Clipper Mills sign said the community’s population was 10.
Hecker already had some significant life and business experience under his belt by the time he came to Weed. His father was a hard rock miner who wanted his son to pay for college by dredge mining.
He’d found gold in the area before and knew how to get to it, Hecker said. Instead, he was recruited by the nondenominational Christian organization Young Life, which ministers to youth through a variety of programs.
The job helped pay for his education at Yuba College, Hecker noted, where he spent two years, majoring in auto tech with a minor in welding. He then joined the U.S. Army, served active duty in 1970 and became a drill sergeant. He shared that he trained troops at various locations including Fort Ord, California and served in the Army Reserves for over 20 years.
In the early 70s, Hecker began working at Ray’s Hardware in Brownsville, another small community about 10 miles from where he grew up. Part of the job was working on small engines, which Hecker said he found he enjoyed more than working at the hardware store in general. He started his own small side business - Hecker’s General Repair - out of a 10 foot by 10 foot metal building on his family’s property in Clipper Mills.
While working at Ray’s Hardware, Hecker recalled, a contractor friend of his kept encouraging Hecker to visit his him in Mount Shasta. After many urgings, Hecker finally took his friend up on the offer. He showed Hecker all around Mount Shasta and Yreka and Weed, where Hecker spotted a building for sale. He made an offer and it was accepted. He noted he remembers thinking to himself, “Uh oh, now I have a building.”
He started Hecker’s Power Equipment as a single man on a shoestring budget. He had to obtain a zoning variance to open the business as well. The property had been a health food store before he moved in. The building will be 100 years old next year as far as he can tell, Hecker said.
It wasn’t the first time he’d run a business. He and his ex wife ran a Der Wienerschnitzel - the chain has since dropped the Der - when he was only 21. But opening Hecker’s Power Equipment was a different animal, as it was all his own.
Over his career, Hecker worked hard to stay up to date on his continuing education. He’s earned certifications to work on many brands of equipment, including Husqvarna, Poulan, Homelite, and Weed Eater - he pointed out that this is a brand, while string trimmer is the name of the machine itself.
He attended a Husqvarna training the morning after the Boles Fire, he noted. When he checked on his building the morning after the blaze, he said, every road was blocked and “the town was closed” so he figured he may as well go to the training in Redding. Keeping up to date on his education was also essential to keeping the shop open, he explained, as companies will only let him perform labor for equipment under warranty if his certifications are current.
Hecker maintained a sterling reputation over his 41 years repairing and selling power equipment. He has nine reviews on Google, all of which rate his business five out of five stars.
His only review on Yelp - one from 2016 - also rates Hecker’s five stars. The customer wrote, “John and the guys at Heckers took such good care of me and my limited knowledge of what was wrong with my saw. They didn’t overprice at all ... I went in there because a neighbor recommended it for my chain and I ended up with a new mower, and chain. If you ever have any issues with power equipment or you need new stuff at a great price definitely make a stop and see John and the guys.”
Hecker noted that customers were often surprised by how quickly he was able to diagnose a problem with the equipment they brought in to have repaired. And he said that was his favorite part of his job - when customers would say things like, “Wow, how did you know that’s what was wrong with it?”
He clarified that he didn’t gain all of his knowledge just by going to school and attending trainings. “A lot of this you acquire through the years,” he related.
For instance, Hecker said, there’s three things he looks for when a small engine isn’t working:
1) Is there enough compression?
2) Is there enough spark at the right time to ignite the fuel?
3) Is the fuel to air mixture sufficient to make the engine run?
“You can check those three things real quick,” he added. He’ll check the condition of the fuel and the condition of the filter. Then he primes the engine. “If it fires up and dies,” he detailed, “I know it’s the fuel system.” Thanks to his years in the business, Hecker can solve a lot of problems with equipment pretty quickly and easily.
Surely that’s part of what’s kept customers coming back for 41 years. A customer review on Google from last year happily shares, “This man is awesome!! He takes care of you quickly and at a fair price!!”
But Hecker hasn’t only been a business owner during his decades in Siskiyou County. He also spent countless hours volunteering, including a short time with the Mount Shasta Lions Club, 15 years on the board of the Klamath Alliance for Resources and Environment, and 10 years with the Hammond Ranch Fire Company in Weed. He spent about half of that time as a fire captain, and said it was rewarding to help people.
It also led to a few of the countless colorful tales he’s accumulated, like the time a woman’s broken, gravity-fed irrigation pipe was blasting water all over her property. Hecker took on the task of trying to put a PVC cap on the end up the pipe – after cutting it off square – to stop the ceaseless gushing water. “I don’t remember how many times I tried to get it on there,” he said, but he was finally successful. And his boots were full of water and he was soaked inside and out.
Hecker was also on the scene for fires at three different bars in Weed over the years , including the Night Cap - which is now Papa’s Place - and The Y Ranch House. He also donated a chainsaw to the Hammond Ranch Fire Company. It’s equipped with a carbide chain for tougher jobs like having to vent a roof, which he had to do at one point.
Forty-one years, two daughters, two step sons and many crazy stories later, Hecker is now living in Palo Cedro with his significant other, Betty.
He sends out a “thank you” to all the customers he’s had over the years for their patronage and support. He said he hopes to spend his retirement traveling a bit with Betty – they have a trip to Fort Bragg coming up.
Hecker has sold his building on Main Street and said the new owner has plans to turn it into a bar, which just so happens to be what occupied the building when it was first built, according to Hecker. He said that in 1920, 92 Main Street was a bar and barbershop. “I keep telling people it’s coming full circle,” he remarked with a laugh. He also reported that the new owner even intends to give the bar a chainsaw theme. Perfect for a town once known for its sawmills, and to honor the work of the man who served the community there for the last 41 years.