By C.J. Barbre

It turned out to be the wettest October on record, this one of 2004. A freak wind storm blew through the foothills, toppling trees and tearing off roof shingles.

It turns out you can't just call up a roofer and say 'Ooops, I have a leak, please come and put on a new roof, preferably today.'

So a trip to Lowes for some plastic sheeting and a staple gun was in order - to at least stop the rain from dripping on the hallway floor.

Two different local roofers had said they would show up, but a week later still hadn't. There had to be somebody available. In the Lindsay phone book under roof contractors was Dillard Construction and a state contractor's license number along with an address and phone number. Jim Dillard said he would come up to Springville the following Sunday.

When Jim and his lovely wife of 50 years, Diane, showed up on Sunday afternoon in their go-to-church clothes, he went straight to work, climbing up the ladder on the back porch to take roof measurements. His wife indicated that she wasn't real keen on him continuing to climb up on roofs (at his age), as she absently steadied the ladder, but she shrugged good naturedly. "What are you going to do?" she asked rhetorically. She was nonetheless very proud of her man. When asked later, she said, "To me he's a very skillful man, one who can improvise just about anything if he has to, and he can think up figures in his head really well."

In almost no time Jim was back down at ground level and pretty quickly figured up his estimate. He said it should only take three days once he and his assistant started. It would end up taking a couple of weeks, mostly because it rained so much, but also because they addressed some other problems such as attaching a rain gutter. He didn't ask for a dime until the job was done, and charged nothing beyond the original estimate. He did a very fine job indeed.

Stopping by the Dillards' home to drop off the check, this reporter asked Jim what keeps him doing one of the most dangerous, hardest and generally the hottest (weatherwise) jobs in construction.

It starts as a familiar migration from megalopolis story. The Dillards moved to Lindsay in 1979.

At the time this jack-of-all trades was working as a supervisor in health and beauty aids. "I got fed up and one day said 'let's get out of here.'" They were living in Long Beach. Their house sold in just three days and they were on their way in about the blink of an eye.

"Of course in '79 this was a small town. Everybody knew everybody and I was an outsider." The father of four was 45 years old and needed to find work. He said fortunately they owned some apartments, so there was income. He obtained a position teaching graphic arts at the Tulare County Vocational Institute. "My schooling was in electronics, but I never went into it." He said graphic arts was part of that schooling.

"I taught school for a year and said, 'this is not my thing.'" Jim decided to become a general contractor. Diane said, "He's very good at fixing things and has taught his sons to do the same thing."

Jim credits his own father. "My dad - I always called him 'Hey Boy,' to his back of course - he was pretty knowledgeable. If he wanted something done he would say, 'Hey boy, the car is broke,' or 'the window is broke.' He was telling me to take care of it, and I knew I had to get it fixed, and my boys have all been the same way. If they need to do something, they will find a way."

Becoming a general contractor started simply by passing out flyers. Jim said he and one of his sons started on the northeast side of town knocking on doors, seeing if people needed any work done on their houses. They didn't get halfway down the first block before somebody said they needed a roof. Jim said he gave them a cheap price and they started the job the next morning. And word spread. He said with a note of pride that they got four more houses in that same block.

"Right now we have work scheduled until July next year." The exciting news for Jim is that his middle son, Dana is coming to work with him after the first of the year. Their oldest son is an executive in Los Angeles and builds street rods as a hobby. Their younger son, Derron, who is Public Wroks Supervisor for the City of Lindsay, also builds dune buggies and off road trucks. In fact he served as a mechanic on this last Baja 500. And according to Jim, "Dana does anything he wants. He can rebuild cars, motorcycles, he can build or rebuild a house."

The Dillards' daughter passed away last year. But their sons set up a surprise anniversary party for their folks at their church, Trinity Lutheran in Exeter. "We saw so many people we hadn't seen in years and years. We had so much fun," Diane Dillard said.

She knows her man is going to keep at it. "To me he's a very caring person that a lot of people are happy with. If they're not happy with the work, he works with them until they are. He's real mechanical minded so he fixes a lot of his tools. It's the same with all of his equipment and vehicles and stuff."

Jim is very candid. "I don't want to quit. I'm afraid to quit. Ten years from now if my health holds, I will still be working. Healthwise I see people quit and six months later they're sitting in front of that dumb tube 20 hours a day," he said pointing at the television set. Jim claims not to watch, except maybe 10 minutes worth of news a day. "The garbage on them is not worth watching."

However, this 70-year-old is thrilled with the computer age, and says everything you need to know about fixing anything is on there somewhere, down to the smallest transistors.

"If you can imagine it, it can be built now. The technology is there. Old Burt Rutan built a rocket ship to take into outer space with parts scrounged from the airport. It's just unreal, but the guy had a dream."

And you know that whatever Jim Dillard decides to take on will fly as well.

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