Thursday, August 25, 2011

Great Tow Biz Story From NC

She taught dad to read and write, he taught her the tow truck business | taught, dad, business - Gaston Gazette:

Tammy Maltba was 9 years old when her dad put her in a wrecker, propped a pillow behind her so she could reach the clutch and started teaching his little girl to drive.

Her father, Tommy’s Wrecker founder Tommy Morgan, would point out a junk car and have her pull that old Ford close.

“See if you can hook it,” Maltba remembers her dad coaxing.

So she did, and then spent the whole afternoon practicing the art of backing a wrecker, car in tow, up and down the driveway.

Tommy’s Wrecker is celebrating its 40th year in business this year. The shop on East Franklin Boulevard is only miles from the gravel lot in Ranlo where Maltba picked up her first tow. The company itself is a world away from the fledgling startup Morgan established at 17, building his first tow truck from a used pickup and an old-timey boom he mounted in the bed.

‘Mom, dad, best friend’

Morgan was 55 when he died in 2009, the victim of liver disease. In his lifetime, he nurtured the small company into a business with seven trucks and seven full-time employees, including Maltba.

He began, his daughter says, by working three jobs. Her dad worked mornings at Pharr Yarns, picked Maltba up from school, and then went in for his shift at a body shop.

Morgan also raised his daughter, alone.

And he raised her in the wrecker business. Around the same time she learned to drive the tow truck, Maltba started acting as dispatcher after school.

She’d take a call about a tow and get him on the radio, which in the early 1980s was a foot-and-a-half-tall piece of equipment they called a moose beater.

Once Tommy’s Wrecker got successful enough that the business needed a checking account, father and daughter went to the bank together to set it up.

A teenage Maltba took care of the billing and balancing, writing the checks and signing Morgan’s name.

Her father, she says, didn’t read or write well in those days so it was up to her to help.

She also helped Morgan correct that. He taught himself over the years, studying with his daughter when she would bring home spelling words and English assignments.

They did it all together, from expanding the business — Maltba was picking up tows before she had a driver’s license and training other drivers at 16 — to furthering their education.

“He was my mom, my dad, my best friend and my business partner,” Maltba says, a rare instance when she doesn’t refer to her late father in the present tense.

A photo of Morgan hangs across from her desk at the shop, where she can see and talk to him when she’s stumped. It helps, she says.

‘The kind of man he was’

Morgan made an impression on lots of others, too. He was known for setting up payment plans for elderly customers who needed a tow but couldn’t afford it, Maltba says.

Morgan spent more than a week in McAdenville after Hurricane Hugo blew through, using his wrecker to pull trees off houses and out of roads.

On snow days, he kept two crock pots full of vegetable stew simmering for his staff.

Jeff Clark, a Gastonia Police sergeant as well as friend and customer of Tommy’s, says Morgan made a name for himself being professional and generous.

“There’s probably no telling how many times he went and towed somebody who couldn’t pay him,” he said. “We’d tell him he couldn’t run a business like that … but that was the kind of man he was.”

Clark always called Morgan when he needed a tow. Now, he says, he always calls Maltba.

A woman in a man’s truck

She’s the only female wrecker driver Clark has ever come across, but he never worries about the job she’ll do.

Clark has heard the other drivers call her for instructions on tricky assignments and heard Maltba walk them through the steps like the veteran she is.

Not that everyone has that much confidence in a female in her position.

Maltba took over administrative duties when she finished high school but she’s always responded to calls when things get busy.

People still look twice when she’s on the road in one of the wreckers.

Once, in the early days, she had a man turn down her help, saying he was going to need her dad instead.

Maltba shrugged it off and called her father so they could switch jobs. While her father was alive, she says she was too certain in her abilities to let someone else’s doubt get to her.

Her confidence, she says, grew out of his confidence.

“My dad never worried. He’d say, ‘I’d put her up against any of these guys. … That’s how I stay tough. He believed in me. He believed I could do anything.”

‘Daddy did this’

Tommy’s Wrecker is still a family business.

Maltba’s husband, Lake Maltba, works there, as does their son, 17-year-old Cody, who can drive a truck but is too young to respond to wrecks under today’s rules.

Daughter Morgan, at 7, likes to answer phones, take directions and pass on jobs to drivers.

Those calls are relentless. Maltba forwards them to her cellphone and answers 24 hours a day, at home, in the grocery store, on the lake.

When people ask, however, she still tells them it’s her dad’s business.

Customers get confused and refer to Tammy’s Wrecker sometimes. Or they ask if she’s going to rename the shop.

“I tell them my daddy did this,” she says. “This is his dream. We’re just living it out.”

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