POWELLS POINT, N.C.

A rooster named Earl has become one of the boys at a local garage.

Soon the mechanics will don T-shirts featuring his feathery form.

Earl showed up one day last August at R & R Garage about a year after a pair of friends opened the shop here along U.S. 158.

Business partners Nevin Kenan and Joe Gallo asked around thinking he must belong to a neighbor. He didn't. After a few days, a customer began buying him chicken feed and the friendly rooster kept coming back.

Nevin named him Earl as a nod to a stereotypical mechanic's name back in the day. It would have been Joe, but of course they already have a Joe.

Now, Earl has become a well-known mascot of the garage. Customers bring their friends and family to watch him peck up bugs around the shop and hear him crowing his loudest in the middle of the day. He's a little off on the sunrise crowing.

"He's become a celebrity," Gallo said.

He sits near the cars and watches the guys work, gets grease on his feathers and gets in the way at times. He sleeps with his head tucked under his wing in the shade of the shop. Occasionally he poops in the walking area, and they have to watch their step before cleaning it up.

"It's like having a dog," Kenan said. "We haven't figured out how to house-break him."

He's had a few close calls since moving in. Once he parked under a Mustang, observing the work while it was up on the rack. He did not move when it was time to bring it down, until at the last minute he bolted just as it was about the touch the floor. He nearly got squashed, Gallo said.

Another time the crew was working with the bay doors open and heard Earl coming from the woods, loudly clucking like he was in trouble.

The sound began muted at first as he approached, then grew loud as he ran by the open door. Kenan described it like an approaching motorcycle, rumbling softly in the distance before roaring by.

Kenan ran outside to see a dog in close pursuit of Earl. The dog even had a few tail feathers in his mouth. The pair ran into the middle of U.S. 158, stopping traffic in both directions. They circled in the highway a few turns until a woman recognized the dog as a neighbor's and pulled him off the road. Earl ran to the opposite side and was not seen for a couple of days.

The mechanics figured that might be it for Earl, but then he turned up again, back to his old routine.

He roosts about 30 feet up a gum tree in back of the shop. Helps him sleep better, knowing dogs can't climb that high.

In the morning when the doors open, he scampers down the tree and runs to the shop, anxious for a ration of chicken feed. He loves the oats and seeds, but leaves the cracked corn until he gets desperate, Kenan said.

He likes a share of the lunchtime leftover French fries. One of his favorite foods is caramel popcorn.

"He'll get closer than ever when you've got that stuff," Kenan said.

Some of his habits are a bit off putting.

Patrolling the shop corners for bugs to eat, he once found a spider about 3 inches in diameter from leg tip to leg tip. He picked it up and slammed it onto the concrete floor two or three times, knocking it senseless before swallowing it whole.

He grossed out a customer once as she waited. Earl was at the front door when he picked a lizard up by the tail, slammed it onto the concrete walkway a few times before throwing it into the air to a hard landing a couple more times. He picked it up head first, threw his head back and worked the creature down his throat.

"It took a while to get that thing down," Kenan said.

Earl lets out warning clucks when a hawk flies overhead, just in case his guys don't know what a chicken considers dangerous.

The garage is expanding and plans new T-shirts. The logo will feature a photo taken of a 1979 Chevrolet pickup parked outside the garage with Earl standing on top.

That ought to make him feel like crowing.

Jeff Hampton, 252-491-5272, jeff.hampton@pilotonline.com

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