Thursday, September 17, 2015

He's been repairing cameras, flashes
from Hendricks County shop for 35 years

Tucked behind the front row of trees in a quiet, modest wooded area of Avon, Ind., behind Kingsway Christian Church, just a mile north of the heavily traveled U.S. 36 and less than a quarter-mile west of Dan Jones Road, is a place photographers -- in the Indianapolis area and beyond -- should get to know when they need repairs to their gear.

It's the home of, where Bob Kilbourn fixes most models of cameras and flash units. It's an affordable and reliable alternative to the expense and/or long wait involved when packing and shipping malfunctioning gear to the manufacturer for repairs -- especially after a warranty on the equipment has expired. Bob's been doing this kind of work for more than 40 years, 35 of them from his current shop.

I found this out recently when I consulted Angie's List for ideas on where to take a malfunctioning Canon 580EX II electronic flash and decided I didn't want to wait forever by shipping it to Canon, not to mention bearing the typically expensive repair bill and the hassle of shipping. The first place to turn up on the list that Angie's gave me was the shop in Avon, which I had never heard of.

I perused the shop's reviews on Angie's List, all supportive and complimentary, then checked out its website. It offered an online form for customers to explain the gear's problem and obtain a repair cost estimate. I filled out and submitted the form, explaining that I had already obtained a replacement part (a built-in, flip-out plastic diffuser panel, which had snapped off when accidentally brushed against an immovable object).

Bob responded the next day by email and offered me an estimate. Because I already possessed the replacement diffuser panel (which cost me $14 online from, he said, the repair labor would cost about $58.50. He mentioned that I could mail him the flash or drop it off at the shop, if that were more convenient.

I've driven through the heart of Hendricks County via U.S. 36 on several occasions and wasn't excited about "revisiting" traffic logjams and endless traffic signals the highway was known for. So I studied possible alternate routes and came upon a way to limit driving on U.S. 36 to about two miles or so near the end of my trip. The shop was not easy to find (more about this later), but I got there on Monday, Sept. 14, and dropped off the flash unit. Bob notified me the following afternoon that it was fixed and ready to pick up. I was awed and amazed.

Huh? Just one day?

When I got there to pick up the flash, he told me that a second issue I had alerted him to -- a nonstop flashing of the data on the 580EX's LCD screen -- was unrelated to the broken diffuser panel. (In the form I had submitted, I reported that the incessant flashing on the LCD screen began about the same time as the panel broke off.) Bob said he fixed the flashing LCD screen problem, too (there was a jam of some kind in the main flash unit compartment, he said) -- and would not charge me extra.

Huh? He wasn't going to try and squeeze more money out of me?

This guy immediately got my favor. My newspaper reporter instincts kicked in, and I began to ask him about his business.

Bob has been fixing camera gear since the early 1970s, as the "about us" page at his website explains. He has been at his current location, 7701 E. Hendricks County Road 100 North, since 1980 or thereabouts. It's a place he selected, he said, to be near Kingsway Christian, which he attends. In fact, the church is next door to him ... and owns the land on which Bob's driveway sits. Bob said he built much of his home and shop himself, tackling the work bit by bit whenever he could.

About that driveway ... Bob's house and shop are set back from 100 North a good distance, and access is by a gravel road (left) dissecting some of the church's 70 acres. The church's main campus and a portion of open recreational grounds is to the east (left, in this picture, which looks south) of the gravel drive, and the remaining recreational land (currently, there's a softball/diamond, scoreboard and soccer field on it) is to the west. Bob says Kingsway granted him a permanent easement for the strip of land he uses for the driveway in exchange for land that Bob had owned -- when he first bought the real estate to build his home and shop -- between the church and Country Meadows senior community, which is south of the church on Dan Jones Road.

I mention all of this to help explain why, because of setback distance and the aforementioned trees in the wooded area, you can't see Bob's home or shop (which is in a building separate from the house) from 100 North. And that's important if you are looking for the shop for the first time. I missed the shop on my first drive by, and I also missed the words "Camera Repairs" affixed to a mailbox on the north side of 100 North (across from the gravel road entryway) to help visitors find the place to turn. Bob said he used to have a bigger sign on the mailbox, a sign with an arrow pointing in the direction of the gravel drive, but the mower used by the school across the street kept brushing against the sign and knocking it down.

First-time visitors also should know that once you turn onto the gravel road, it goes a decent distance before taking a pretty sharp bend east (pictured at right) in front of the trees, and that you have to travel a little ways more to find the home and shop, which will be on your right.

A final oddity in the story of Bob's home and shop is that his property is located in the tax jurisdiction of Hendricks County government, even though he is surrounded -- the adjacent church and senior home included -- by properties within the boundaries of the incorporated town of Avon. "They (Avon) didn't want me because I'm too small, I guess," Bob said, "but that's OK with me. The taxes are not as bad this way."

When we chatted on the day I picked up my 580EX, Bob mentioned a couple times that he stays very busy with his business. He does not need to advertise (Angie's List tried to get him to do so when it called him after receiving several positive reviews about the business), and he doesn't need publicity to drum up new customers.

But Bob had no objection to me doing the blog post ... and agreed to pose for the picture I took of him at the desk of his shop (above), and he had no problem with me photographing the building exteriors (all of the photos were taken with an iPhone, which explains the lack of sharpness on the available-light image of Bob above). I asked him if he's had any local stories written about him or his business, and he said the weekly Hendricks County Flyer community newspaper did separate pieces on him -- one published around 2000, and another about seven years after that. That's all he's aware of, he said.

He's been doing repairs for so long, that not only does he have a loyal core of local customers, but people throughout the United States and other countries trust him enough to ship him their gear for repair, he said. He showed me a list where he's checked off states from which he has received customer equipment to fix, and there are only a handful of states with no checks next to them. Among the missing are Hawaii, Alaska, North and South Dakota, Rhode Island and West Virginia ... and possibly Nebraska (I had only a quick glance at the list, so I'm not positive about Nebraska).

I asked him if there is one state outside of Indiana where he gets a particularly heavy volume of repair work. He said yes.

"Arkansas," he said.

He saw my face transform into a look of puzzlement, so he explained. Much of that is attributable to a repair business in that state that also is so busy that it cannot handle the demand, so it refers people to Bob for the kinds of repair work Bob likes to do, which, as best as I could determine, is just about everything. He says, simply, "It's fun; I enjoy it."

Bob also showed me a printout of a current work "to do" list (it's the piece of paper on the counter in the picture of Bob above) and said the bottom two-thirds of the customers on the list -- a good two dozen or so, it appeared -- were from Arkansas. "I stay pretty busy," he repeated, smiling.

You might think that with such intricate knowledge of how camera gear is put together Bob would be an accomplished photographer himself, but he says that's not so. "I can appreciate a good photo when I see it, but I can't really (compose) a shot. My wife is the photographer here." He also says he's so busy fixing gear, he doesn't have time to develop picture-taking skills.

Bob also says that he if were to recommend a model line of gear to someone first starting out in photography -- strictly on the basis of how easy the gear would be to repair, he noted -- he would pick Canon, although he is very high on Sony's line of digital lens reflex and mirrorless cameras. He picked Canon, however, because Canon has no qualms about selling replacement parts to shops like his. That is not the case with Canon's biggest rival, Nikon, which requires customers to deal directly with the manufacturer or a Nikon-authorized dealer or repair business, he said.

In the realm of lenses, Tamron is another manufacturer that won't sell parts to shops like his, Bob says. I found that out when I mentioned to Bob that the zoom barrel sticks on a Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 lens I own. I no longer use the lens, but I'd like to get it fixed so I could either sell it or pass it on to my children. Bob said it's possible that the problem in my lens could be from a loose piece of hardware (a tiny screw, for example) that is blocking the barrel from turning. If that's the case -- i.e., no replacement parts would be needed -- he said he could fix it. He said there is never a cost to diagnose the issue if it's a simple problem, so I'd have nothing to lose if I brought it in ... well, other than the time it'd take to drive out there again.

One thing I did not get into discussing with Bob were the other services his business provides, at least those listed on the website -- i.e., copying or transferring film and recordings from VCR and mini-DVD to regular DVD. I have quite a few family recordings, mostly on VCR, that I've wanted to preserve on a more secure medium. Maybe some day  ...

Note: After dropping off my flash for repair Monday, I revisited nearby Avon Town Park. Pictures from that shoot will be in the next post.    

Above: The words "Camera Repairs" and the shop's house address are affixed on both sides of this mailbox on the north side of Hendricks County Road 100 North, opposite the gravel road that accesses Bob's shop, which is on the south side of the road. 

Above: If you're westbound on Hendricks County Road 100 North headed to Camera Repairs and come upon the entry to the Forest Common addition, you've gone too far. Turn around and go east and look for the gravel road on your right.

Above and below: These pictures of Kingsway Christian Church's recreational grounds are west of the gravel road.

Above and below: Kingsway Christian Church, 7981 E. Hendricks County Road 100 North, plays an important role in the story of Bob Kilbourn's Camera Repairs business since it opened at its current site in 1980. Bob selected the site to build his home and shop so he could be close to the church, of which he is a member, and the church granted him a permanent easement on its property to put a gravel driveway to access his property. The church owns 70 acres at the southwest corner of 100 North and Dan Jones Road. The campus includes a school attended by 600 students in grades preschool through eight.

Above: Country Meadow senior community, another neighbor of Bob Kilbourn, as seen from a church parking lot.

Above: Bob once owned a portion of this property (which looks west from one of the the church parking lots) that extended from his house and shop to Dan Jones Road, land that he once envisioned using for a driveway to access his buildings. He eventually traded the land to the church in exchange for the church granting him a permanent easement on a different piece of church property, around the corner off 100 North, where he put in a gravel driveway.

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