Weird road service tales: Dealers learn to expect the unexpected

Oct. 1, 2001

Rusty rims, frozen lug nuts, vehicle inaccessibility, inclement weather, equipment failure -- commercial tire service techs have plenty to worry about when responding to road service calls. And often that's just the tip of the iceberg, according to many commercial dealers.

"In this line of business, you can run into anything or anybody," says Shae Shelton, manager of Kentucky Tire Exchange in Bowling Green, Ky. "When you get called out you never know what kind of situation you'll find."

Modern Tire Dealer recently asked several independent commercial dealers to share some of their most unusual calls. The following stories may shock, astonish, make you laugh or shake your head -- but all underscore the unique challenges road service techs face every day.

To and fro

Sometimes finding a job site is half the battle, says Steve Robertson, commercial sales manager for Maine Commercial Tire in Bangor. Robertson dispatches service trucks for the three-store dealership. "Just a few weeks ago, a couple of our guys had to find a front-end loader in a gravel pit."

The techs drove up and down a country road for more than an hour looking for a big sign that was supposed to point them to the machine's location. Meanwhile, Robertson called several stores and restaurants in the area asking if they knew where the gravel pit was. An acquaintance who runs a local lumber mill finally provided him with directions, Robertson relayed the information to his men and they made it to the job.

The sign they were looking for turned out to be a 6-inch by 6-inch placard propped up on the side of the road! Maine Commercial billed the customer for the time lost while driving around. "It was their fault for not having proper signage," he says.

On another occasion several years ago, Maine Commercial Service Manager Dana Pierce took his girlfriend on a night call several years ago in the middle of winter. They were preparing to drive away after the job when they noticed the foliage next to their truck was glowing a bright shade of orange. "He thought his beacon light was on, but checked and saw that the truck was on fire," Robertson says. "Flames were touching the doors."

Unbeknownst to Pierce, the truck's fuel line had ruptured, dripping gas onto the hot exhaust manifold and starting a blaze. He and his girlfriend climbed out a window and tried unsuccessfully to extinguish the fire. "So here they were, standing on the side of the road in 10-degree weather watching their truck burn down."

The vehicle had been destroyed by the time the flames died out. "It was insured, but we still had to shell out for another one."

Careless drivers make for hair-raising stories, says Bob Califar, manager for Petro's Tire Service, a four-store dealership headquartered in Indianapolis, Ind. Petro's Tire runs 18 service trucks out of one location. "One time, one of our techs was on the interstate working on the left side of a trailer at night." A semi suddenly slammed into the side of his service truck, which was parked behind the downed unit, and narrowly missed him. "Of course, the driver didn't stop."

A few years earlier, another tech was driving to a job when a Ford Pinto in an oncoming lane jumped the median and started speeding his way. "My guy swerved to avoid a head-on collision," but lost control of his truck, which flew through the air and landed on top of a fire hydrant! Amazingly, the hydrant remained intact.

More recently, a Petro's Tire tech parked his truck too close to a railroad track before servicing a nearby grader. While he was working, a train clipped the truck, wiping out its right side. "He called and tried to tell me the train jumped the track." But Califar, upon inspection, found the locomotive had never left its trajectory. "The train engineer said he kept blowing his horn but our man never turned around or anything."

Another railroad incident some 20 years ago led to Califar's current job! His brother, Frank, who already was working for Petro's, crossed a set of tracks on the way to a call and was t-boned by a Chelsea locomotive, which pushed his truck 80 to 100 feet down the line before stopping. Frank walked away with minor injuries, but had to take a few weeks off to fully recover. "They needed a tire man, called me up and hired me," Bob says. Frank later returned to Petro's.

Anything can happen

Forgetful drivers can be dangerous, says Marvin Bozarth, executive director of the International Tire & Rubber Association (ITRA). Prior to joining ITRA in 1990, Bozarth spent 20 years with Purcell Tire & Rubber in Potosi, Mo., where he set up road service programs, hired service techs and performed other related duties. "Once, a guy drove off when we had a jack under his trailer. The jack shot 30 feet into the air, end over end, and cut a high-voltage power line in two. And he just drove away."

Joe Yonan, owner of Joey's Tire Service, a three-store dealership based in Turlock, Calif., says a group of thugs once jumped one of his service techs during a call. Despite suffering a stab wound, the employee "ended up beating up (the attackers). Most service guys are pretty tough."

And if you think human unpredictability makes for uncommon situations, talk to Grover Bishop, manager of Staggs Tire Co. Inc. in Logansport, Ind. "One of our people was servicing a livestock truck a few blocks away from the store. He was putting a tire back on, when a cow backed up to the gate and let fly with manure right on the guy's head."

The good-natured serviceman took it well, but, Bishop admits, "he's no longer in the business."

Some techs get themselves in sticky situations, according to Dave Clark, vice president of Waukon, Iowa-based Clark Tire Center Inc., which does a lot of farm tire work. Clark once sent a rookie tech out to replace a size 28L-26 combine tire, which stood an estimated five or six feet tall. He removed the tire/rim assembly and tried to mount a new tire "but couldn't get the bead on. So he laid the rim on the ground, stepped inside of the tire, pulled it on and wound up trapped inside!" Luckily, a small tire iron fell in with the serviceman and he managed to pry his way out. Otherwise, he may still be there, Clark jokes. "Nobody else was around when it happened." Embarrassed, the tech kept the story to himself for more than a month. And though he doesn't work for the Clarks anymore, "we still tease him about it," says company President Bill Clark.

Caught with his pants down

Harold Ziegler Jr., assistant treasurer of Ziegler Tire & Oil Co. in Massillon, Ohio, recalls a service man who accidentally let a tire he was going to mount slip out of his grasp. "It started rolling down a hill toward a creek and he started running after it," Ziegler says with a chuckle. Meanwhile, during hot pursuit, the tech's pants fell down! Fortunately, he was able to reach the tire and knock it down before he completely lost his trousers. "The fellow he was working with was laughing so hard!" Ziegler says. "He said he wished he had a camera with him."

Delivering truck tires can get pretty hairy too, says Jack McCarthy, chairman and CEO of McCarthy Tire Service, a 14-outlet chain based in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. Last January, a company ordered 50 truck tires from McCarthy Tire's Harrisburg, Pa., store. "They wanted the tires dropped off at some docks in Philadelphia," he recalls. "I said, 'No problem,' but since we had no account with them, we wanted a cashier's check."

A deal was struck, the tires were delivered and the McCarthy Tire manager in charge of the transaction was given a check. He took it to the local bank the next day and was told it had been forged, all the way down to the watermarks on its backside! Skeptical, McCarthy called the bank's local security chief, a longtime friend, who said the bank didn't issue cashier's checks.

McCarthy then sent the check to his insurance company, who confirmed it was a forgery but said the dealership had no grounds for collecting insurance on it. "We're talking $16,000 here!" McCarthy says. So he called in another friend, an FBI agent, who confirmed it was phony, and they sent the note to another insurance agency that rendered the same verdict. "I called the guy in charge of claims at my insurance agency and they still wouldn't budge."

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia police set up a sting operation at the docks and wound up arresting the ringleader of the fraudulent company, which had by then sold the tires McCarthy's men had delivered. It turned out several other tire dealerships had been taken in by them for more than $100,000 in total losses.

As of press time, McCarthy Tire and those dealerships are still waiting for further action. "Nothing's been done yet," he says. "But we're in the process of suing our insurance company."

Headache City, U.S.A.

Not all service calls result in bizarre situations, according to Bob Walker, store manager for Truck Tire Center in Knoxville, Tenn. -- but a lot of them can be frustrating nevertheless. Walker lists some typical scenarios:

1. Bad directions from customers. "They'll tell you to drive north when you should be driving south."

2. Customers asking for the wrong sizes. "You'll have drivers who are too lazy to get out of their cabs and look at their tires" to find out the size or sizes they need, he says. "We've driven 50 miles with the wrong-sized tire."

3. Insufficient information. "Get all the data you can up front and go equipped to do everything, so you don't have to run back and forth. Time is precious."

MTD wants your stories

Got any interesting or bizarre commercial road service stories? We'd love to hear 'em. Contact MTD Senior Editor Mike Manges at (330) 867-4401 or [email protected]. Or write him at 341 White Pond Drive, Akron, OH 44320.