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Monday, July 13, 2009

Nice Profile of KY Tower

Here's the story from the State-Journal:

With a smile and a joke, Willie Wilhoite has been boosting the spirits of motorists stranded by breakdowns and accidents for nearly a half century.

“I’m a people-person,” says Willie, a driver for Harrod’s Towing and Recovery. “I’ve never met a stranger. I like to joke and carry-on.”

He’s found hundreds of motorists crying or sullen on the side of the road after smashing up their cars. He says he always makes sure they’ve got a ride home. If not, Willie helps them find a hotel where they can spend the night.

“A lot of them say ‘I don’t know what I’d do without you.’”

His company has a contract with the city to handle wrecks.

Although a lot of clients are upset about wrecking their vehicles, Willie says he reminds them they’re lucky to escape serious injury or death.

“As long as you’re alright. But a car you can replace; the human body you can’t.”

However, not everyone’s receptive to Willie’s attempts at cheer. Sometimes the driver is too angry, or drunk, and all he can do is calm them down, Willie said.

“There are a lot of hot-heads out there.”

Sometimes, Willie’s towed friends or acquaintances after they had a wreck. Under the circumstances, he said they were glad to see him.

“It makes them feel secure.”

Willie recently responded to a wreck on the East-West Connector where a westbound blue four-door Ford overturned. The driver was transported to Frankfort Regional Medical Center but was not seriously injured.

After she was released, she came to Harrod’s garage to thank Willie for his work – although her vehicle was totaled.

In that instance, Willie attached chains from his tow truck, which he calls “Big Red,” to the side opposite the wrecked car. Then he raised the boom and flipped the car to right side up.

“I just bait my hook, throw it out, see what I got and reel it in,” Willie said.

Safety is the primary concern, and it’s important to make sure the damaged or disabled vehicle won’t roll and hit another car while he’s loading it onto the wrecker, said Willie, a certified master tower.

“You have to know when to hook ’em and know when to tow ’em,” said Willie – a parody of Kenny Rogers’ 1978 hit “The Gambler.”

However, not every wreck has a happy ending – Willie said he’s seen lots of accidents, which seriously injured or killed motorists. He said he worked one wreck where a hysteric lady was searching the wreck for her “baby.”

Willie and the firefighters pitched in but didn’t find anything.

Suddenly, the woman saw a little dog and shouted, “there he is.”

“Talk about relief in your heart,” Willie said.

Willie, 58, has 46 years of experience towing cars – he got his start at the age of 12. His first job was at a Standard Oil station in Owen County were he washed cars, cleaned the offices and helped his brother with the towing.

“We didn’t have modern hydraulics,” Willie said. “We did it by hand-crank.”

Despite the hard work, Willie enjoyed the job.

“I liked meeting people and helping people that was broke down,” he said. “I liked being seen with the car on the back of the wrecker.”

Willie also enjoys tinkering with and restoring classic cars. He’s helping his son fix up a two-door hard top 1968 Ford Torino.

He’s also has an eight-acre farm with horses, goats and chickens.

“I call them my babies,” Willie said.

The other employees at Harrods also enjoy restoring old cars – there’s a 1965 Plymouth, a 1965 Chevelle, a 1969 Dodge Charger and a 1957 two-door Chevy hardtop sitting in the garage.

Willie said they tinker with them and the company’s fleet of more than a dozen wreckers between calls. It takes about one to three years to build a homemade wrecker, he said.

“It’s old equipment, but they’re dependable,” Willie said.

The garage’s lot is also filled with about 40 wrecked and abandoned cars. Willie said sometimes people will come back to get the tags and plates – others just leave everything behind.

If the vehicle sits long enough, Willie said they will try to get the title to the car. A 1962 Buick Electra’s been on the lot since 1989. There’s also a Plymouth Special Deluxe with the keys still in the ignition.

“I hate to see a car sit tore up,” he said. “I like to try and bring it back to life.”

“Frankfort Faces” is a series that highlights people from within the Frankfort and Franklin County community. Each feature follows one of the city’s most unique personalities and includes a story, photos and video, which can be found by clicking the TV icon attached to the story online at state-journal.com.

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