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Driving change: New owners clean up Bigfork’s car wash

by AVERY HOWE
Hagadone News Network | July 3, 2024 12:00 AM

Steve Davis and Liana Orsolini held high-stakes executive jobs when they lived in Virginia.  

Davis was an active-duty Marine for 21 years, followed by over a decade of continued service to the government, including as program manager on a project developing combat clothing to protect troops from anti-tank missile systems at Quantico. Orsolini had a near 40-year career in nursing, last as vice president of nursing for the prison clinics in Virginia. 

They decided they needed a break when the Covid-19 pandemic hit and found themselves in Condon. In hopes of semi-retirement, they purchased Bigfork Powerwash off of Montana 35 in Bigfork and turned it into High Caliber Car Wash. 

Right off the bat, it proved to be a worthy challenge.  

“We’re in our early 60s, we’ve been to a carwash or two in our day and we knew what we liked about them and what we didn’t like about them. We decided to provide our customers with the best value, let’s start at the very basics,” Davis said.  

Water quality was the first item on the list.  

The couple replaced drainage systems and deepened their well by 100 feet, adding a higher capacity pump and installing a well regulator. They replaced the water softening system and reverse osmosis system. They changed soap to turtle wax and added a high and low pH rinse – one for organic material, one for grease.  

In the beginning, there was a bit of concern about what was happening to Bigfork’s only car wash.  

“Especially when we first took it over, people were so angry with us because they didn’t know we were trying to improve things and we had to close down a lot to affect the repairs, and that made people mad” Orsolini explained. As a socially-oriented person, she found that to be one of the hardest parts of setup. But once High Caliber Car Wash started posting its updates to Bigfork community Facebook groups, she found the community wasn’t so against a change after all.  

“We’ve gotten so much positive reinforcement. There were days when I thought, ‘What did we get ourselves into, can we do this?’ And we’ve gotten to the point where we believe we can do it,” she said.  

The couple works at the car wash for a few hours a day every day but Sunday, cleaning out the bays and talking with their customers. They have found the community connections to be a high point in their new endeavor.  

Car washes are regulated so that the debris and chemical compounds rinsed off are captured in a sludge pit and moved to a proper waste management facility. Without a designated catch basin, those pollutants can migrate elsewhere in the water system. 

“Instead of dispersing that into our waterways by cleaning your car at your house all over the Valley, it’s actually better to go to a car wash because it goes into the sludge pit, the water gets siphoned off and goes into the sewer for treatment, but the sludge gets pumped out and taken to a hazardous dump site,” Orsolini said.  

High Caliber Car Wash has also raised its boom to 14 feet for the exterior bay so that large boats and RVs can be cleaned, potentially removing invasive species.  

Right now, the co-owners are focused on improving their business as much as possible. They are looking at expanding the reverse osmosis storage tank, plumbing a wider line between the water softener and reverse osmosis machine, and adding third water softener machine. The building needs new electrical work, and the automatic bay doors are due for replacement.  

In the coming years, they hope to renovate the inside of bays first – new epoxy floors with sand, replacing old panels and a coat of fresh paint. Then they’ll move on to the exterior of the adjacent Quicklube. They are considering a stone facade around the bays.  

High Caliber Car Wash is open 24/7, with information online at highcalibercarwash2023.com or over the phone at 406-206-4455.  

Loyal customers can save 10% when adding $25 or more to the Monyx app, which can be downloaded by scanning the QR code above the car wash’s new credit card readers. In the future, Orsolini hopes to offer more paper discounts.  

“I’m looking forward to doing more fun things with the community but right now we’ve got to keep our nose to the grindstone on operations,” she said.