“I love this job. It’s hard work and very demanding on your time. But you also take a lot of pride in being one of only a handful of people that can handle this kind of equipment and do these kinds of jobs.” –James Robert Cady, vice president, Ten-West Towing
Riding shotgun with James Robert Cady (who goes by “J.R.”) on I-15 outside of Las Vegas, NV, earlier this year, I couldn’t get the song “Bad to the Bone” by George Thorogood & the Delaware Destroyers to stop playing in my head – and for some good reasons.
First, there’s J.R. himself – a larger-than-life character in his own right, standing six foot nine and weighing 320 pounds. Not surprisingly, he went to college on a basketball scholarship, then spent time playing semi-professional ball overseas. A blown shoulder, however, forced him to choose another career, so he entered the family’s tow truck business and never looked back.
“Frankly, I got tired really fast of the semi-pro circuit – all the travel, endless hotels, and all that,” he told me as we roared down the highway. “Funny thing is, I’m making as much doing wrecker work as I did playing basketball.”
Yet a wrecker’s schedule in some ways takes a far heavier toll on his personal life, J.R. explained. “When you are in this line of work, you’re getting calls at 2 a.m. from the California Highway Patrol to clear a roadway, or from a carrier that needs one of their vehicles towed from a ditch. For rescue work, we serve a 150 to 170 square mile area. For our commercial accounts, we cover 10 western states. We’re on the road a lot.”
It’s also tough for someone J.R.’s size to get comfortable in a truck cab, much less a regular automobile. Once he ordered a brand-new Corvette, but had to send it back because he simply couldn’t fit behind the wheel.
At the helm of his 100-ton Super Wrecker, however, J.R. makes it look easy. It’s one of two such “Super Wreckers” owned by his family’s business, Ten-West Towing, which was founded in 1963 and now operates a fleet of 12 trucks. J.R.’s ride sports a 100-ton capable remote controlled crane, built on a Western Star 4900 EX chassis, sporting an 18-speed Eaton Fuller transmission, and powered by a 550-hp 14 liter Series 60 Detroit Diesel engine cranking out 1,650 foot-pounds of torque.
[Here's a walk around of the Super Wrecker in action.]
Painted “Omaha Orange” – the family color, J.R. said – this super wrecker cost around $600,000 and is destined to be a workhorse for 10 to 15 years. “We needed to add another big wrecker to keep up with demand,” he told me. The company’s staff of nine drivers – who together comprise 120 years worth of heavy wrecker experience – are busier than all get out these days.
“There are only certain people that can do the work we do,” J.R. noted. “Sure, we charge a little extra, but no one else offers the equipment or the experience we do. And in this line of work, you need veteran hands at the ready, for no two jobs are ever the same and each always presents its own unique challenges.”
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And on that note, my friends, we’re going to close the book on 2009, as far as this blog is concerned. Thanks so much for reading; I truly hope you’ve enjoyed the stories in this space over the past year. We’ll get things fired back up in January 2010. So to all of you out there, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!