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As Troubles Mount, Car Salesman Sees Salvation in Return to Factory

Dennis Smotherman, 46, the hulking proprietor of Smotherman’s Used Cars, sits in a tiny building overlooking his modest car lot on a busy Ft. Wayne thoroughfare and bitterly recaps the events of the 1980s.

Laid off after 19 years at the International Harvester (now named Navistar) truck plant--one year short of qualifying for an early pension--he took a refresher course in auto body repair. Then he established the used-car lot on property once occupied by his late father’s well-drilling business. The first vehicle for sale was the family car.

But the used-car business, he says, is lousy: Most of the dozen or so cars on his lot are there on consignment.

Twice, Smotherman was recalled by Navistar trucking. Twice, he failed the physical exam because he has gained so much weight since the layoff.

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When he failed the second time, a year ago, his wife of 20 years divorced him and married someone else, he says. They have five grown children. He now lives with his mother.

“If I could just get back to Navistar, I’d have some security,” he says.


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