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Simmons Garage celebrates 55 years
Gordon Simmons likes tow trucks. So much so that he owns nine of them.
Not surprising after being in the towing business 55 years, a milestone Simmons Towing celebrated this week. These days, Clinton's undisputed king of towing is the captain of a fleet of trucks that boasts a 1965 Holmes 750 as the oldest and a flatbed Century 2001 as the newest.
"We have some dandies," said Simmons.
Simmons is actually celebrating two anniversaries this year -- 55 years of Simmons Towing, and 25 years since the day he and his wife Shirley purchased brother Melvin's half of the business.
A fixture on the corner of Highway 525 and Humphrey Road, the towing company and Simmons Garage were founded by Gordon Simmons' father, Teddy, in 1947 as a service, repair and Texaco gas station. Gordon's older brothers, Melvin and Henry, worked with their dad at the start. Gordon worked with them part-time in high school. The towing service was added in 1949 to Gordon Simmons' joy. He said he enjoyed the tow calls from the beginning.
"It is just something I like to do."
He remembers his first solo tow call, which he took when he was still in high school. He was called out on a snowy night to pull someone out of a ditch.
"I pulled this fellow's car out but could tell he had been drinking," he said. "He got in his car and drove off. I was driving behind him and watched him slide off the road again."
Simmons stopped to pull the unlucky fellow's car out one more time.
"While he was standing on the shoulder waiting for me to drag his car out, he passed out face first in the snow."
That was enough for Simmons. He wanted to go home.
"I picked him up, put him in my truck, took him home and left him on his sofa. to sleep it off," he said.
Simmons has towed thousands of cars through the years. He does tow work for the Washington State Patrol as far north as Coupeville, and for the Island County Sheriff up to Greenbank. He has also provided towing service for AAA of Washington members for over 50 years.
In April 2002 Simmons received an Outstanding Service Award of 50-plus years from AAA of WAshington.
But it is the work with law enforcement that has allowed him regular peeks at some of the most dangerous driving islanders do. He's seen a lot of car accidents, some of them deadly, during the past half-century.
Simmons said there are a few people he tows on a regular basis for one reason or another.
"I call them my frequent flyers."
His business hasn't changed much over the years, except for the trucks and the volume of business he gets. Tow trucks have changed dramatically since Simmons' first call.
"The first trucks were hard work to operate," said Simmons. "You had to attach a chain to bumper and crank. Now with the flatbed models, everything is very automated."
But whether it is the older trucks or his new flatbeds he likes them all.
"Tow trucks and wreckers are not only my business, they are my hobby," he said. Wife Shirley urges him to sell one once in awhile before he buys a new one, but he says he just can't do that.
Simmons Garage has always been a family business. Gordon's father and the three boys built the first garage from trees logged from the Simmons property. The boys all got an early start in auto mechanics. Simmons remembers dismantling his first car when he was in grade school.
"My dad said I would never get it put back together," he said. "Well, I did, and drove it during high school."
Passing on the tradition, Gordon Simmons' children have also worked in the business. His daughters, Sonia and Sharon, pumped gas during high school, as did Melvin Simmons' four boys. Shirley Simmons keeps the books for the business, and son-in-law Gary Peterson, Sonia's husband, works there as a mechanic. The couple's 5-year-old son Jonathan is currently being groomed as the fourth generation Simmons to run the business.
Some other longtime employees include 30-year veteran Allyn Helland, Shane Faucher, with 15 years, and Myles Morley with nine.
Gordon Simmons' only break from the business was when he went into the Army for two years in 1951. Appropriately, the Army trained him as a mechanic and tow operator, jobs he did in Korea for 16 months.
The Simmons Garage building and business has probably changed more than Gordon Simmons has during the past half-century.
When the state widened Highway 525 in 1953, the Simmons family had to tear down their original building to construct another one farther back from the road. In 1957 the business became a Chevron station. In 1970 the Simmons opened another gas station across the street, which has been used for storage since the Simmons got out of the gasoline business in 1993.
But towing is something Simmons plans on doing as long as he can. When asked if he is done adding to the Simmons fleet of tow trucks, he said he might need more someday, but only to replace those that are worn out.
"We may need another one," he said.