Feature: Billy Nagler, Sauk Prairie Motor Wizard
Billy or Bill or that guy who you see walking down Broadway or turning the corner on Water and Prairie by the Eagle Inn...however you may know him in your life...if Sauk Prairie had a list of irreplaceable treasures this man would be on it.
I was in his Water Street shop the other week—a candy store if there were such a thing for motors and fans and parts—with a dehumidifier that was misbehaving. I had never met Bill or entered his place of work before. As he's hunched down over my dehumidifier listening, in comes a farmer with a motor in serious need. Billy quickly jumps up and leans in close to the motor. I watch as his fingers fly into the housing and move with the grace of lightening speed in and around and over. He's not looking at it. Within moments he knows just what is wrong. He promises to have it ready by morning.
There was no secretary answering phones or taking the motor, handing the customer a receipt, and then carefully placing the motor on a shelf with an identification tag. There was just Billy and his pure honest genius and a room full of the utmost respect.
Stories abound of Bill's abilities. Susie Morey remembers watching Billy as a youth walk by her place as her father was mowing the lawn. Like a robin looking for a worm Bill stops along the sidewalk and cocks his head towards the mower. Within moments the lawnmower is turned off and Billy's on the ground adjusting and tweaking as Mr. Morey watches in pure delight and gratitude at the sight of a sound he never heard.
You can't learn these sorts of things in school. And in fact, Bill will be the first to tell you school was not the easiest place for him to be back then. He wonders how his schooling would have been different now. Fortunately for him, he counts up to six mentors who took him under their wings and gave him the gift of hands-on, work-won knowledge. If you stop by his shop you'll see a large turquoise metal air conditioning unit that came out of the Penguin restaurant in Sauk. It was one of the first things Bill's mentors had him learn by doing and it stands today as a testament to what can come from the combination of encouragement and the fierce independence to not go by the book of what can't be done. "Everywhere I've been they've wanted me to use the system," he notes, "To take advantage of my bad eyes to get all sorts of help. Forget that."
From as far away as Indonesia they call Bill to request his services. He is an expert in of all things, sirens. And a fountain of knowledge on the very-cool-in-the-world-of-sirens—Decot Siren—which was manufactured right here in Sauk City in the 20's-40's. It's our noon whistle and a big deal to siren experts everywhere. There are at least three videos on Youtube with such excited comments as, "Prairie du Sac and Sauk City are Siren Heaven!"
But you know, I think Sauk City and Prairie du Sac are much more than "Siren Heaven." Where else would you find a Billy Nagler? How many other towns would give someone like him the room to be who he needs to be without restraint? So before he leaves these streets to that great shop in the sky I will take as many moments as I can to revel in the sights and sounds of his world. He is well-read. He is an artist. A mentor. A genius. A man who is not anything more than himself. Something we all inspire to be.
Article by Jody Kapp, Sauk Prairie Area Historical Society
Photos by Steve Ewert, Chicago
Would you like to learn more about our local people and places? Stop by the Tripp!
Tripp Memorial Museum
565 Water Street
Prairie du Sac, WI 53578
Museum open 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Can't make those hours? Call to set up your own private visit to the museum during a time that works for you - days, evenings or weekends.