Chapter 29 Life In The Tire Shop
My father continued to race his motorcycles. He had begun with “enduros” (a timed race through woods and rough terrain, including mud holes and hill climbs) and now he was heavily involved in the fast and dangerous world of motocross. This was racing over a hilly enclosed course with lots of curves and jumps.
Such racing fit perfectly with his desire to be masculine in all he did. The roar of engines, the kick of acceleration, the thrill of beating out racers on the course, the rough and tumble interaction with the other riders–this all spoke to him of strength, masculinity, youthfulness and the zest of life.
It also gave him the illusion of a youth recaptured. Dad called this his second childhood and said it was much better than his first, because, “Now I’ve got money to spend!”
With racing, however, came accidents, and with the accidents came recovery time. Whenever Dad was in the hospital or in a cast, a lot of the responsibility for the tire business fell to me, and I took it on with pleasure.
I really enjoyed the work in the shop because it was a perfect mixture of physical and intellectual. There was a lot of heavy labor: changing and repairing all kinds of tires, from lawn mower to huge earth mover tires. It gave little chance of boredom as everyday brought unexpected opportunities: a request to fix a tractor flat on a farm; a road call from a truck stuck on the turnpike; a delivery of tires to another dealer.
There was also the mental side of the work. I had to keep track of inventory (and we had a lot), plan for advertisements and make orders for new tires.
Our major supplier would call with batches of “blems” for sale. These were tires that were sound but had some surface blemish. We had to buy these as a package, taking whatever was included. There were always some useless tires in it, but the reduced prices for the good tires made it worthwhile.
Dad had a threefold policy for business: sell a good product at a good price and stand behind it. This worked well, in spite of the fact that we broke most of the other rules of merchandising.
The tire shop was located on our farm, ten miles from the nearest city. It was hard to find, we had no waiting room, no bathroom facilities, and no food. Our shop was primitive and all of us who worked there dressed very casually (cut off shorts and no shirts in the summer).
People came anyway because they liked the low prices, the good service and the entertainment they got. Unlike most shops, they could watch the work being done and listen to Dad’s continual stream of stimulating conversation and wild stories.
He was never at a loss for words. One day when he was showing some tires to a woman, he got his feet tangled up in them and fell down. From his position on the ground he looked up at the surprised customer and said, “This is your lucky day!”
“What do you mean?” the woman asked
“Well,” said Dad, getting up, “It isn’t every day that a man falls at your feet!”
He was an entertainer at heart and spoke with enthusiasm about what he enjoyed: motorcycles, tires, trumpet playing and life. More than one customer, after listening to Dad’s rapid-fire talk would lean over and ask me, “Is he speaking English?” At times Dad would get out his trumpet and play a few songs for the customers.
There were also our pets which sometimes wandered into the shop to greet the customers: dogs, cats and even our pet raccoon which had the habit of climbing into cars and appropriating whatever she found. One customer found her in the backseat, lying on her back sucking on a baby bottle! Another time she stole a customer’s wallet out of his back pocket. It was an interesting place to visit and a great place to work.
Picture: Newspaper picture of Dad racing motocross.