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Still haulin’ after all these years

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Burrows Garage will soon celebrate 100 years in business

By Christopher Brooke

A tow truck serves as the most appropriate vehicle to use during a proverbial drive down memory lane with Scott Burrows about the success of his multi-generational family business in Sligo. 

Working anywhere else than Burrows Wrecker Service and Burrows Garage, founded in 1917, never even occurred to Scott.

“Career night at high school, everybody looked at Scott and said, ‘Well, we know where you’ll be five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now,’” he noted. “Because they knew I’d grown up in the business, and nights and weekends that’s where I was. I drove a truck to school — not a pickup truck, a tow truck.”

Scott credited his ancestor from five generations back for forging the basis of what would become the garage and towing service.

His great-great grandfather returned to Henry County from his service in the 4th Kentucky Calvary and the Confederate Army during the Civil War and opened a blacksmith shop to earn his livelihood, he said. Perhaps competition from other smithies there was too great, because the family eventually moved three miles to Sligo. 

And, at the dawn of the modern road system, Sligo became the perfect place to open up a garage, as it happened.

“One hundred years ago this year, my grandfather, who was 18, his younger brother who was about 9 years old, came with their dad right up here to the intersection of Ky. 153 and U.S. 42,” Scott said. “This highway, it used to be called Ky. 10 but in the late 1930s they straightened the road out, made it a concrete highway, and it became U.S. 42.”

A blacksmith shop opened at this location, as well, but it soon branched out in to new services when so many vehicles needed fixing. 

“That evolved into working on the early automobiles — the Model Ts and the Chryslers and the REOs, which became the Oldmobiles,” Scott said. 

He pointed to a photo showing the garage’s first tow truck, which was a 1929 LaSalle Cadillac, cut off behind the driver’s door with an arm welded onto the back to lift and tow other vehicles.

In those days, they cranked the vehicles by hand, so the family story goes. 

“My grandfather’s upper arm strength — having been raised up in a blacksmith shop with his dad — was such that when he’d crank a Model A that sometimes it would nearly pick the front end of the automobile off the ground,” Scott said. “Now whether that’s believable, whether that’s accurate or reliable, I’m just telling you. A Model A probably only weighed 1,600 pounds, so it wasn’t that heavy.”

Most of the males in the Burrows family went into a transportation-related field in those days, it seemed, he said. Some of the females got pulled into day-to-day garage-related activities for a while, too.

Scott’s grandfather built up his automobile know-how with a brief stint as an employee at the Ford dealership in La Grange, he said. 

“When a Model T was shipped from Detroit to Louisville for sale or to La Grange to be delivered it kind of came in a box,” Scott said. “The running boards and the bumpers and the tires were put on [at the dealership], and so my grandfather acquired skills that he brought right back to the family business here.”

While Scott’s grandfather and great grandfather labored in their garage, they had two younger brothers who started driving trucks to haul livestock, feed, groceries and even moving peoples’ personal belongings out of harm’s way during the 1937 Flood.

So, Scott’s father and uncle basically grew up in the original garage, right on the Henry/Trimble county line. For a time, military service took these brothers away from Sligo and the garage. 

“With the onset of World War II, my dad and his older brother were draft age, so both of them got on a bus in New Castle at the same time, same day with a couple other friends and they went off to military service,” Scott recalled.

His grandfather, in the meantime, drafted the young ladies of the family to help him around the garage. 

“My heartbroken grandfather watched his two — today we call them key men — he saw his livelihood getting ready to go to Germany,” Scott said.

After the war, Scott’s father became a principal in the garage.

“So, the lineage from my granddad to my dad to me to my son is pretty much unbroken as far as the garage,” Scott said. “Everybody else branched into various aspects of transportation. Everybody else drove trucks, and my dad and granddad patched them.”

In 1952, the Burrows family built the facility on the Trimble side of U.S. 42, and business boomed.

“To say that we were wedded to this business was an understatement,” Scott said. “We were married, to invested in and dominated by this business, because at that time U.S. 42 was the main thoroughfare from Cincinnati to Louisville, from Nashville to Columbus or Cleveland. So, all of the freight, all the vacationers, all of the transportation in the corridor to Louisville, to Cincinnati drove by us out here on the way northeast or southwest.”

With all that traffic crowding onto U.S. 42, problems inevitably occurred. 

“42’s the crookedest road you can imagine,” Scott said. “Not every night but several nights a week, there’d be a crash in this area up and down the road here. There were other neighboring businesses that had little tow trucks, but we had the big tow truck.”

Recovering the tractor-trailers that crashed became a major part of Burrows’ business, he said. His grandfather, father and Scott would work closely with Kentucky State Police and volunteer fire to respond to many wrecks over the years.

“In the years before rescue squads, EMS and all that, the local volunteer firefighters and my dad and my granddad were the people that cut trapped occupants out of vehicles,” Scott said.

Burrows Garage and Burrows Wrecker Service had a lot of momentum behind them by the time Scott came along, he said. Many folks early on continuing through today have contributed to the success of these businesses.

“We have been blessed by all those guys who have stood out there in those bays —  it’s not just me,” Scott said. “I don’t know what I’d do without them. All of this longevity and success was carried by a lot of people — some of them who’s last name is Burrows, and some of them who’s last name is Webb and Callis and Louden…”

Some employees have stayed with the business for almost 30 years, despite the fact responding to calls for service means leaving family reunions, Thanksgiving dinner, church, school plays and band concerts on occasion, Scott said.

When it comes to the future, Scott’s son Casey and daughter Reagan have heavily invested in the business. 

“Casey has also come to the realization that this is a 24/7/365 business that he probably wants his children not to have those sorts of demands placed on them,” Scott said. “So, he’s looking into how best to serve the industry in the 21st century without having to do it all singlehandedly.”

One of the ways the family has prepared for future needs involves Scott and Casey attending a weekly business coaching and training session to study such concepts as business philosophy, management styles, marketing and customer development.

Burrows Garage and Burrows Wrecker Service give him a wonderful legacy to hand down to the future generations, Scott said. It’s not an easy proposition to launch a business.

“If I had to start from scratch somewhere I wasn’t known and I didn’t have the family resources and the financial support that was handed to me by my grandfather and my father, I wonder about my own success,” Scott said. “I believe I would have achieved some level of business acumen, but it’s sort of like I got a big start on everybody else.”