Business under new ownership
By BETH ALTENA
Chad Momber has been in trucking all his life. In February 2008, he noticed the only towing business in his hometown of Sparta sold out and moved out of the area. “I said to my wife, we have nine hair salons, nine pizza places and no tow company. Should I buy a truck?”
The answer was yes, and Chad was on a journey that today finds him the owner of a combined three towing companies, a busy employer. “I bought a truck and got rolling,” he stated.
Late last year Chad purchased his third towing company, Rockford Towing, which operates out of River Valley Auto in cooperation with that company and Chad’s “counterpart” in Rockford, Dan Williams. Before the two discussed the sale of Rockford Towing to Chad, the two men had never met, despite both having lifetime experience in related businesses in towns nearby each other.
Chad was born and raised in Sparta and has plenty of connections to Rockford. He is the kind of guy who knows everyone in his town, and knew when he met Dan that they had a lot in common. “I knew we would hit it off,” Chad said. Chad said one of the first things he did was hire Denny Force when Chad started Sparta Towing. Denny had spent many years towing in Rockford in the 1970s and 1980s when he worked for Roy’s Towing, the precursor to Rockford Towing.
In June of 2009 Chad bought A-1 Towing, which serves the Newaygo, Grant area. He was then up to three or four drivers.
Chad was already interested in expanding into the Rockford are. So when Dan approached Chad if he was interested in purchasing Rockford Towing, Chad was more than ready for another growth phase in his business model. With the three businesses, Chad now has in his fleet six flat beds, two wreckers, and three service cars.
One thing about his business people might not realize is how many of the calls are for services are not for towing. Tracking his calls in Quickbooks, Chad noted that forty percent of the calls are for non-tow services—fuel delivery, tire changes, battery jumps, lock-outs, and air delivery.
“Why am I driving a wrecker all over God’s green earth for these kinds of calls,” he remembers thinking. The addition of the service cars make better use of resources and reserve the flat beds, and especially the wreckers, for the kinds of calls for accidents and police agency calls.
“Accidents and recovery, it’s a whole different game,” he described. “Every accident is different an you never know what you are going to get.”
Chad said he likes responding to accidents because of the challenge involved. One of his worst was a guy who passed out with his foot on the accelerator, and drove at top speed. The road he was on ended in a T-intersection and a spot where the road was much higher than the ground beyond. The car shot out over tree tops at an estimated 112 miles per hour and ended up caught in mid air, resting on trees that bent, but did not break under the weight of the car. He was 133 feet into the woods.
Chad said he had to think hard about how to get the vehicle recovered, and ended up going into the thicket with a chainsaw and log out under the car to lower it and clear a path to pull it out.
In the years since Chad started towing, he has seen changes in the driving habits that make his job more dangerous. He said US 131 didn’t used to be so bad and he had no hesitation to go out to pull cars from ditches there. For some reason, drivers don’t obey the move over law, which requires them to move into the far lane for stopped vehicles. He said he can’t say how many times he has practically felt rear view mirrors brush his back while he is out on the highway.
He also said traffic has become much faster on that road, and during morning hours the flow is over 80 miles per hour with drivers in a “southbound race” to get to work in Grand Rapids. “I’m panicked when my guys are out there,” he said.
And being a tow driver is dangerous. According to Chad, the highest Workman’s Comp category for risk is being a roofer. Tow drivers are the second highest, and for every $100 he pays his drivers, he pays Workman’s Comp $22. It’s an expensive business.
He said that is something people don’t understand when they balk at a $75 charge to be towed. Flatbeds sell for $100,000. Big wreckers can cost $600,000 to $700,000. You have to pay drivers a good wage to keep the experienced ones. Inexperienced ones will only cost you money in the long run. There’s always the cost of fuel.
“If something doesn’t break, I might make a couple dollars on that $75 job,” he explained.
Tow drivers don’t often get called to help in rescue situations, but it happens. He said not long ago a car/tree crash near 17 Mile Road pinned in a husband and wife and first responders asked him to lower the vehicle so the couple could be removed.
Chad said every driver can decrease the chance of crashing by simply keeping an eye on the condition of their vehicles tires. Department of Transportation requires commercial drivers to maintain a 4/32nds tread. If you math isn’t that great, use the penny trick. Hold a penny up to several treads on each tire. If part of the president’s head is covered, your tread is probably okay.
“People tell me they have no idea why they went off the road, and I look at the tires and you can see the steel. It’s a pretty good guess why they crashed.”
Othertimes it’s hard to tell why an accident happened. Chad said he thinks car/deer crashes are declining, although there still are a lot. In his experience he averages 20 to 40 calls for assistance daily, although it is never consistent. “The phone can ring 30 times in one hour.”
Not surprisingly, winter storms make for many calls for help, Chad calls the calls then “non-stop.” Then spring comes and you think it will slow down but it really doesn’t. People try to drive into their back yards because the snow is gone but they don’t realize how wet the ground still is and get stuck. Or they try to get out and two-track with the same results. And then summer comes and that’s busy too.
“Some of the wildest days are hot summer days when you go from temperatures in the 60s. “People go crazy,” he said.
Chad said no two days are the same in his profession, and that is probably why he likes it so much. Recently a car in Comstock Park went right over the guardrail into the creek. He said he had to figure out how to get it back out and ended up lowering the wrecker boom down to the car and pulling the car on then lifting the whole thing out over the guardrail. “That’s the kind of thing you do with wreckers.”
“It’s a tough job. What am I doing right?” he contemplated when asked about his growing, successful business. He credits finding and keeping good drivers as one key. “There isn’t a get rich scheme, that’s for sure.”
Chad is married to 1990 Rockford High School graduate Gina, who he met at a Start of Summer Celebration here in Rockford (thank you, Polly VonEschen). The couple have three children, Ryan, 24, Nikki, 13, and Natalie 4.
“I am very happy,” Chad said of his acquisition of Rockford Towing. “It’s a good fit.” He said the purchase has ended the long argument between he and Gina over their hometowns. “It’s 9.1 miles between Sparta and Rockford, but it is like a whole different planet. Rockford’s really got it going on.”
To find out more about Rockford Towing, visit online at rockfordtow.com or call them for assistance at 616-866-8697. You are sure to be in capable hands.