- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 29, 2015

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (AP) - The vehicle had sat at Durr’s Towing for a week when the U.S. Marine walked in the door.

Bob Durr remembered a news story about the Jeep Grand Cherokee being stolen from a fast food restaurant in Clinton. Terre Haute police later recovered the SUV and called Durr’s to haul it away.

There wasn’t a key, but the young man knew where to find a spare. The Marine asked if he could pay by credit card. That wasn’t possible. Cash wasn’t accepted, either.

“And he looked at me like, what kind of old crazy guy is this?” Durr recalled days later. “Well, we do stuff like that… That’s our way of saying thank you for what you’re doing.”

Helping people is the best part of the job for Durr, 73, who is retiring Jan. 4 after 49 years in business. He’s selling to the company that owns AAA Towing.

AAA won 2015’s Tribune-Star Readers Choice Award, ending Durr’s six-year streak. That’s when he knew the shop would be in good hands.

“It was just a very hard decision to make,” he said. “My kids and my wife had a lot to do with it. I’m going to look forward to the next chapter of my life.”

As the days wind down, Durr spends his time cleaning out the place. He’s a self-professed pack rat; he even kept his first paycheck from way back when.

In his office, next to the antique Coca Cola bottle vending machine, a pile of old photographs sit on a table. They are a visual diary of his years as an auto racing fan. In one, he poses with all-time favorite A.J. Foyt, the four-time Indianapolis 500 winner.

Durr reminisces about his younger days sneaking into the garages at the Yard of Bricks for years without a pass.

There will be more time to follow his favorite drivers and spend time with his nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. He and his wife also have a timeshare in Cocoa Beach, Fla.

Retirement also means the cell phone will stop chirping at any hour of the day or night.

The business has never used a phone service. Call 812-232-1995, and Durr himself picks up. Just that morning, in the early hours of Sunday, he’d answered a call from the police and dispatched a truck.

The new owners have dispatchers on site at their other shops. That’s fine with Durr. Everyone does business differently. But he likes to be the first voice customers hear when they need a tow or call to pick up their vehicle.

“That will be the biggest change for me… not going 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Durr said, barely finishing his sentence when the phone rang again.

He briefly interrupted the interview to help the customer.

Durr’s is the oldest continuously operating towing business in Terre Haute. Over nearly half-a-century, Durr has watched 30 other companies come and go.

His started as a gas station at Third and Locust streets in 1966. He and a partner split the business while Durr held a second job at an aluminum company.

Two years later, a station at Park and Lafayette avenues became available. Durr wanted to expand, bought out his partner’s share of the business and set out by himself.

It was in North Terre Haute where he got his first tow truck.

“The thing I remember about the first tow truck, it didn’t have a floor in it,” he recalled. “It was so old and rusty that as you’re going down the road - all the old-timers would know this - you look down and see the road.”

A copy of Durr’s first newspaper ad, dated September 1971, hangs in the lobby. By today’s standards, it would be a killer of a deal. Four tires for $44.44.

Durr stayed at that location until 2000, when the owner of the area’s Jiffy Mini Marts was interested in opening a store in North Terre Haute. Over the years, Durr’s towing business had grown while the gas station side stayed the same. He agreed to sell.

Two temporary locations followed - the first near Mill Dam and the next on 25th Street. After Durr signed a contract to handle all of Indiana State University’s towing services, he set eyes on available property at 929 Third Ave.

It was walking distance from campus. ISU’s rotation list of towing businesses wasn’t working because students had trouble retrieving their cars.

“It’s handy because the kids know right where their car’s at, they can walk here,” Durr said. “And so it’s worked out. The location has been perfect.”

Durr’s also has contracts with Terre Haute Police, the Vigo County Sheriff’s Department and Indiana State Police.

Joining the county’s rotation list meant simply asking then-Sheriff Andrew Atelski. Durr remembered Atelski from his pre-law enforcement days selling popcorn in the neighborhood near the Park and Lafayette station.

Going in to business with the city wasn’t that easy. Durr speaks diplomatically about the longtime controversy over the politics of the department using one company for all its towing services.

During what would be Mayor Pete Chalos’s last year in office, Durr and other towing businesses sued the city. Come election time, Jim Jenkins defeated Chalos. Jenkins, a former sheriff, promptly implemented a rotation list for the city police.

Durr said Jenkins probably had the biggest influence on his company. And he’s worked for five sheriffs and four mayors.

“And when you do that, you’ve been in business quite a few years,” Durr said.

The industry is tougher than most people think, he said. Apart from the calls during inclement weather, he’s also handled more than his share of fatal car wrecks. Child victims are the worst, he said.

Durr has had 51 employees in 49 years. Two sons and a son-in-law have also worked with him. His oldest is now retired, and the other is pursuing another career in Florida.

It’s a point of pride that all but one of his former employees have stayed in touch over the years. Several expressed best wishes when they heard about his retirement.

Durr also displays notes of appreciation from customers, and said the Marine who picked up his Jeep for free stopped by later to say thanks.

Durr remembered another customer who had a wreck on Interstate 70 headed to catch a flight for a funeral. When the towing call was complete, Durr lent the man his personal vehicle to finish the trip to the airport.

The customer returned the car a week later.

Those sorts of favors are how people helped Durr earlier in life. Paying it forward is how Durr said he was raised.

“You give back to the community,” he said.


Source: (Terre Haute) Tribune-Star, https://bit.ly/1VmnLxD


Information from: Tribune-Star, https://www.tribstar.com

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