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Clinton's Gordon Simmons earns a place in tow-truck hall of fame
He’s towed everything from Beetles to bulldozers, school buses to fire trucks, but one job alone would probably put Gordon Simmons of Clinton in the tow-truck hall of fame.
The horse in the septic tank.
“That was something else,” Simmons said this week of the incident about 10 years ago down by Cultus Bay. “It was an old tank with a wooden cover. The horse walked across it and fell through. The stuff was clear over his back.”
Simmons hooked the horse to his tow truck and gently lifted the odorous animal out of the tank without injury.
“We put him down in a hurry,” Simmons chuckled. “That horse started eating the minute we got him out of there.”
Simmons, 79, a South Whidbey native like his father before him, was reflecting on the 63-year career in the towing business that has earned him a place in the coveted International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame.
He’s one of only eight towing operators nationwide who will join the elite cadre this year at an induction ceremony Sept. 18 at the International Towing and Recovery Hall of Fame and Museum in Chattanooga, Tenn.
Simmons was nominated for the honor by the travelers’ assistance group AAA, with which he has been associated for more than 60 years.
“How I ever got to get one of those spots, I’ll never know,” he said. “I guess AAA likes me.”
Since 1986, the towing organization has been honoring a small group of operators each year who have contributed to the image and success of the industry.
Simmons joins two operators from North Carolina, and one each from Florida, California, Idaho, Louisiana and Pennsylvania in the Class of 2010.
“This year’s inductees share a dedication to their state and local towing organizations as well as the national towing and recovery community,” said Rolfe Johnson, president of the hall of fame and museum.
“They share common strengths which have led to their nomination,” he said.
The International Towing & Recovery Hall of Fame & Museum opened in 1995.
Chattanooga was chosen because the Ernest Holmes Co. built the first wreckers there in the early 1900s.
The museum features 18 antique tow trucks and other industry memorabilia, along with a special wing with photographs on the wall of all the inductees.
Simmons and the other new hall-of-famers will be honored throughout the September weekend. At the induction ceremony on Saturday night, they will be dressed alike in black slacks and blue jackets.
“And we’ll all be wearing yellow ties,” Simmons said. “It’s going to be quite a deal.”
Simmons and his brother Mel opened their vehicle repair garage in 1947, at its current location along Highway 525 at Humphrey Road, on the hill above the Clinton Ferry Terminal.
They soon added their first tow truck, a 1.5-ton Chevrolet with a hand winch on the back.
“When a car went into a ditch, we had a heck of a time getting it out with that,” Simmons said.
Simmons now has nine tow trucks, most of them parked in front of his house a short distance down Humphrey Road from the repair shop. The hand winches are long gone.
“My tow trucks are kind of a hobby,” Simmons said. “My wife says I never want to get rid of them because I love them so much.”
The Simmons brothers ran the business for years, until Mel sold his share to Gordon. Mel Simmons died recently.
Simmons and his six employees currently operate the business — actually two businesses. Simmons also owns AA Towing across the street from the garage.
Simmons’ son-in-law, Gary Peterson, is now his “Number 2,” and has taken over most of the middle-of-the-night calls, although Simmons himself still responds off-hours from time to time.
Simmons’ wife, Shirley, helps out with the phones, day or night.
Simmons said that through the years, almost every one of his customers has been pleasant to deal with, despite their distress.
“Once in a while, you get some ornery ones,” he said.
Besides the horse in the septic tank, he has assisted other animals that have gone down holes or become stuck in the mud.
“There have been some cows, but mostly it’s horses that get themselves in trouble,” he said.
The hall-of-fame nomination isn’t his first honor. This past year, he was named one of the Record’s Hometown Heroes for his contributions to his neighbors and his community.
Despite his age, Simmons plans to keep on doing what he’s doing, climbing in one of his trucks and rumbling to the aid of someone or something in trouble.
“It’s been a good business,” he said. “This is a bad time to try to sell, so I’m going to be here for a while longer. I hope.”