Braille Monitor February 2006
George Blackstock: The Bicycle Repair Man
by Jim Willows
Editor’s Note: The following profile was first published in the Spring-Summer 2005 Journal, an NFB of California publication. The author is NFB of California Past President Jim Willows, a retired physicist at the Lawrence Livermore Laboratories.
George Blackstock has been
a member of the National Federation of the Blind since the early 1980’s. He
is fortunate to live in one of the prettier parts of California—the Napa Valley.
He has been a bicycle repairman for some forty-four years. He operates his own
repair shop, George's Fix-a-Bike, in the city of Napa and is currently the president
of the NFB of California’s Napa Valley Chapter.
I telephoned George at his bike shop to set up an interview for this profile. While talking to him, I heard a train practically running through the shop. It turned out to be the famous Wine Train that runs several times a day from Napa past several of the well-known wineries in Napa and Sonoma Counties.
George was born in Vallejo, California, July 25, 1932. His family moved to San Diego. But upon his parents’ separation George went to live with an uncle in Arkansas. When his father remarried, George moved back to California to live with him and his new wife. They lived in Ontario, then Kentfield and finally in Lagunitas. While living in Lagunitas, George attended and graduated from high school in the neighboring town of San Rafael. During this time George was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa (RP), but he continued to use visual techniques.
Upon graduating from high school, George entered a four-year program as an apprentice machinist at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in Vallejo. He completed this program as a journeyman machinist. After working for some time, George found his failing sight was causing problems. He had picked up bicycle repair and decided to begin what is so far his forty-four-year career in the field. He got a job at Domac Bike Shop in Walnut Creek, California, where he did bicycle and lawn mower repair. He went on to open his own shops, first in Vallejo and then in Napa, where George's Fix-a-Bike was born and lives to this day.
During the time George was working as a machinist, he met Hazel, the woman he would marry in 1957. George and Hazel spent eighteen years together. Shortly after their marriage their daughter Marie was born. She now lives in Washington State with her husband and George's twenty-year-old granddaughter.
In the 1970’s George took time off from bike repair to rent and run a farm near Napa. He raised goats, rabbits, and chickens. He also had a large garden. But even on the farm George still had people coming to him to fix their bicycles. With such a loyal customer base, George eventually decided to reopen his Fix-a-Bike shop.
As George's vision deteriorated,
he contacted the Department of Rehabilitation office in Napa County. He received
training in Braille, cane travel, and the skills of daily living from a counselor-teacher
for the blind. However, not until he met his NFB friends did he receive decent
cane travel lessons. These were given by Laveda Davis, the president of the
NFB-C Napa Valley Chapter at that time. Later George went to Guide Dogs for
the Blind in San Rafael to obtain his first guide dog. His current dog is a
fixture at the bike shop.
George Blackstock is a real inspiration. He has made a good living in a field that probably only other blind people know is one in which the blind can compete on equal terms with the sighted. A recent newspaper article provided good information about George's bicycle shop but marveled that he could do well in bicycle repair as a blind man. He can, and he does.