When Shepherdstown resident Carlos Niederhauser turns 70 this April, he can look back on a life that had him participating in the world's longest car rally, traveling the globe, fixing foreign race cars, developing real estate and becoming a landlord for over 100 Jefferson County properties, where he offers affordable housing.
Niederhauser is driven by his thirst for knowledge and a desire to make the world a better place. He is always trying to piece the puzzle together, whether it is the engine to a '67 Jaguar, or a condemned property.
Sonya Evanisko, Niederhauser's friend, appreciates his willingness to use his construction and maintenance skills to help people in the community.
"Not only does Carlos take great satisfaction in helping people, he loves a challenge and loves solving problems," Evanisko said.
Carlos first started putting puzzles together in Mexico, where his family moved when he was two years old.
"Growing up in Mexico, there was no waste," Niederhauser said. "You saw people picking up paper and tin and stuff because they could get money for it, and there was such poverty that people found a use for everything."
He also learned from his father, who worked in Mexico as a food scientist. Dr. John Niederhauser developed a blight-resistant potato that earned him the world food prize in 1990.
"When you're growing up with your parents, you just think, 'this is what everyone does. This is normal,'" Niederhauser said. "As time goes on, I keep figuring out how important it was. My Dad was trying to make the world a better place."
Before his junior year, Niederhauser left Mexico to finish high school at the Putney School in Vermont. That move played a major roll in the way Carlos would learn for the rest of his life.
"When I was in high school, there was no grades given," Carlos said. "The only reason I was there was, not to get a good grade, but to learn something. It made me want to learn stuff, as opposed to just perform well, so I can go to a better college, or something like that. That really changed my perspective in a wonderful way."
After The Putney School, Carlos continued his education at Cornell University, where he concentrated on electrical engineering, while taking a variety of courses including art history, creative writing and computer science. Upon graduation from Cornell, Carlos took a job in Washington D.C. as an electrical engineer to avoid an "All expense paid trip to Vietnam."
In the early 70s, Carlos quit his job with Scope Incorporated and started working with one of his true passions-cars.
"I always loved the puzzle, and that's the thing about the car repair business, or any kind of mechanical stuff," Niederhauser said. "What's wrong with it? The diagnostic part always intrigued me. I love it."
It was cars that brought him to the Shepherdstown area. In 1970, Carlos worked at Summit Racetrack, in Summit Point,.
In 1977, Niederhauser and a friend participated in the world's longest car rally. On the road between London, England and Sidney, Australia, Niederhauser was the head mechanic.
Three years after the rally, Niederhauser opened Carlos' Car Service and Mannana Motors in Ranson, where they specialized in fixing foreign racecars. That was when he hired Jim Day.
"I met him in 1980. He owned a repair shop, and I needed a job. I got lucky enough, I guess, to get hired," Day said. "Since then, he's become not only a boss, but he's become a friend."
Day eventually bought the repair business from Niederhauser. The shop is still housed in the same property, which Carlos owns.
Carlos quit the auto-repair business because a new puzzle had fallen into his lap. He began buying condemned properties to fix-up and offer as affordable housing. It was Niederhauser's vision that led him to real estate.
"I just reinforce this business of having vision," Niederhauser said. "I see people, they'll look at a place to either move (into) or buy and they say, 'I can never live here. I hate the color of the walls.' They don't even think that you can paint the walls, much less move walls around or something."
Niederhauser's vision has led him to buy more than 100 properties in Jefferson County.
"I'm one of the few people that have taken buildings that are abandoned and turned them into something," Niederhauser said. "It makes me feel good about making the world a better place in some small way. I like to say, 'I'm saving the U.S. housing industry, one house at a time, starting in Martinsburg.'"
Niederhauser doesn't plan on retiring any time soon. He will continue to own and operate his real estate business while putting together the pieces of whatever life brings his way.