Billy Folsom, a Costa Mesa city mechanic and former employee association president, is retiring in March after working for the city for more than 30 years. (KEVIN CHANG, Daily Pilot / February 7, 2013)

“We did fairly well until we tried to go a little big time, took on some partners who knew a little bit more about business than we did,” Folsom says. “They made off with the money."

Like many a prospector before him, he never did get to that big one.

“We were always trying to find that mother lode,” Folsom says. “It’s maybe in that area, and it’s never been found yet. There’s still a vein up there somewhere.”

In Costa Mesa, he started out as a mechanic-one, with the promise of working on everything “from lawn mowers to fire trucks.”

“I liked that, the variety,” Folsom says.

He’s since moved up the ranks to a mechanic-three.

Folsom became involved in the CMCEA, which is similar to but not the same as a union, early on and later served multiple terms as its president.

He says he never expected he’d stay with the city for so long.

“I was just gonna do this for a few years, do my community service,” he says. “The pay was not real good but I had children, and there were benefits. Instead of being on the road all the time, I decided to settle down.

“And then five years turned into 10 years, and then 10 years … It just turned out I had a career here. I wasn’t really ever planning on it.”

He called the city staff one big family, and by the late 1980s, when he both lived and worked in Costa Mesa, he was vested in it. He now lives on the Eastside.

Outside of his job, Folsom formed an association for motor homes after they were targeted by people who didn’t like their aesthetics and advocated to ban them from being parked in driveways.

For a time, he was living in a motor home himself, a single dad with kids. Such homes were part of Costa Mesa’s character, he says, making it more eclectic than Newport Beach or Irvine.

Armed with purpose, Folsom says he and his colleagues “papered the whole city with fliers, stormed City Hall and went to council meetings.”

“We didn’t get all of what we wanted, but for the most part, people got to keep their motor homes,” Folsom says.

It was one of those times that an agreeable compromise was reached — “which is the way it should be,” he says.

Beyond the scope of Jiffy Lube

Within the 2010 election debates and talk of outsourcing, an accusation emerged that Folsom and his shop’s mechanic jobs were replaceable, that their wages and benefits were too expensive for guys with mere oil-change duties reminiscent of Jiffy Lube.

False, Folsom says.

“We work with a pretty small crew that does a large diversity of things,” he says.