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The Village Idiot

Quality Tire Service none better

Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(7/2016) "Hey! I told you not to come in here when I have customers."

I stand slack-jawed in my leather dye stained clothes and roll my eyes. "Yessa Mista Mort. I's sorry Mista Mort." I wink at the customer. "Mista Mort lets me sleep in a cardboard box out back."

"And you get back in your box right now and stop bothering my customers."

"Yessum boss." I stumble along between the head high stacks of tires marking the way back to the factory half of the building that houses Quality Tire Service at 17650 Creamery Road in Emmitsburg. (Odd. I've worked in that building since 1973 and never knew it had a street number.)

When Bob Mort, owner of Quality Tire Service, is too busy to use me as the butt of his jokes I happily turn the tables on him. Leaning my elbows on a stack of tires and staring wide-eyed as he slings a tire and rim onto one of the tire changer thingies and sets about separating rubber from metal, I smile.

"Ya know, DW thinks I'm scared of work. You're one of the hardest working men I know. I could lay down right next to that machine and take a nap. Wouldn't scare me at all."

Bob shakes his head. "Why are you over here again?"

"Cause DW said I was in the way. She said I should go bother Bobby."

"Well you've bothered me. Why don't you go home and take a nap or something?"

"Yessum boss."

Bob is one of those guys who impress me no end. He's 70 years old this month, though I'd have guessed he's in his early 50s if I didn't know any better. He's been slinging tires about for 51 years! Like many local men his age, he went from high school right into one of the local shoe factories where it took him all of two weeks to realize there was no way he'd last 40 years at such a mind numbingly repetitive job. He got a job retreading tires in a shop near the tail end of De Paul Street, but also managed to serve a stint in the military before coming back to the tire business and eventually (with two partners) buying Quality Tire Service from Bob Priest. (The business had moved onto East Main Street by then.)

Driven by the desire to be his own boss, he eventually bought out his partners in 1980, in spite of people warning him he wouldn't survive a year on his own. In 1992/93 Bob bought the old creamery/factory building on Creamery Road from DW's da and moved the tire shop into the front half of the building while our factory squeezed into the back half of it. (Which gave me the opportunity to pester Bob when I've no work, or I need to hide from my bosses.)

Like many stand-alone small town businesses, Quality Tire Service survives on generational customers and struggles to bring in new ones. Bob says "I've had people walk in and tell me their great grandfathers recommended me. I can't tell you how good that makes me feel that I've served a family for that many generations."

I've little doubt about his customers' loyalty. I've been in his shop often enough to watch him deal with local people. When I mention an old area family Bob immediately knows the clan back several generations. On the occasions I get to talk to customers (out of Bob's hearing) I'm more often than not told by business owners who travel 'down the road' to their customers, or work locally "I wont take my vehicles to anyone else." "Bob's a great guy. Works almost as hard as we do." A dozen or so older farmers have said, grinning ear ta ear.

When I first met Mista Mort I'd walked into the shop on Main Street with a wheel off my first motorcycle. Bob changed the tire for me and I became a loyal customer on the spot. While Bob no longer deals with motorcycle tires, or farm tractor tires, he still handles everything in between. I've seen the Emmitsburg ambulances up on jacks, humongous RV's taking up most of the parking lot, zero turn mowers, wheelbarrows, school buses, bobcats, horse trailers, semis, skid loaders, backhoes and even those big barn fans with little wheels all getting patched or new rubber put on. (Bob also sells a line of batteries and accessories for whatever one might need to power up: motorcycles, boats, big rigs hauling tens of tons down the byways, and of course cars and trucks.)

I don't necessarily go over to the tire shop just to pester working people. Nope. I like to hang around and hear about the soybean crop or how the hay season is going. What so and so paid for a new head for some farm tractor ($120,000 seems the base price). Where the best sweet corn is currently being sold. Who's seen the biggest deer, and where, as the hunting season approaches. Who got skunked or took a boat load of fish on the most recent boating adventure on Lake Erie. (DW's da used to go along with Bob and several other local fishermen on such trips.) Where the best elk hunting might be 'out west' and what the going rate for a week long hunt will cost. And of course I get to hear who's making it and losing it during the various ups and downs of our economy.

While many local people (myself included) tend to generally 'buy out of town' it has begun to worry me as I think of Bob retiring and the shop being sold off to some outsider with no historical connection to Emmitsburg, or worse, the shop closing all together. Will I become one of those locals driving over the mountain to Walmart, or heading north to Hanover, or south to Frederick where I'll end up sitting in some sterile waiting area flipping through old magazines I've no interest in? (Not likely as I do like at least one of the locally owned automotive shops still in town.) With no one in sight to take over Quality Tire Service (Bob says none of his clan young enough to take over wants to work that hard, or get that dirty) I grow depressed at the thought of yet another iconic business vanishing from this burg. (We long ago lost the movie theater, the snack bar and bowling alley.) Where else can I go for tires and see a standing bear mount, and get to hear the tale of it's taking?

Which reminds me, Quality Tire Service is open 8am-5pm during the week and 8am-noon on Saturdays. Bob can be reached by calling 301-447-2909 to get price quotes and set up an appointment. Don't forget to ask about the bear!

Read other articles by Jack Deatherage, Jr.