(Our Rural Roles series features different voices within the agriculture industry who make a difference.The rural ag scene is made up of many people who often go unrecognized.)
CANTON, Ohio — Rick Petrick is used to the impromptu calls that come from a frantic farmer stranded in the field during the middle of harvest season in need of a new tire. Right now.
Petrick has seen a lot in over 30 years of being in the tire business, and now, at 54 years old, he spends more time behind the desk in his office at Ziegler Tire and Service in Canton, fielding those phone calls. But he still takes advantage of an opportunity to get his hands dirty.
“Changing tires is a hard job,” said Petrick, and sometimes it is a dangerous job.
“I had a tire blow up on me one time,” he said, recalling one of his more memorable moments as a tire repairman. Petrick drove out to the site and set to work on a tractor that was down in the middle of a field.
It was one of the small front tractor tires, but there was a defect in the tire, and Petrick had no way of knowing. “I bent over to put the valve cap on and (the tire) shot up (in the air),” catching Petrick’s hand and face in the process. “It picked me up off the ground and threw me for probably 10 feet,” he said.
The farm owner was close by and saw what happened. “He helped me pack my truck up and take me to the hospital,” he said. Petrick ended up with a busted hand and stitches under his eye and chin. “It looked like someone hit me with a baseball bat,” he said. “That’s one of the things you’ll never forget,” said Petrick.
The tire jobs may basically be the same, but they take place in different situations, he said. Sometimes it’s changing a tire in the middle of a field during a 100-degree day with the sun beating down, or it’s 20 below in the middle of winter. “The places you have to work, some are convenient and some are not so convenient,” he said.
For instance, changing the tire on a combine sitting on a hillside was one of those times that was not so convenient. Having no way to move the large machine to level ground, Petrick said he and the farm owner had to get creative. The farmer drove a large four-wheel drive tractor along the topside of the combine and wrapped a chain from the combine axle to the tractor to stabilize the combine.
As Petrick raised the combine on jacks, the farmer continued to back up, putting tension on the chain and keeping the combine from sliding down the hill. It’s not a job for the weak or faint of heart.
Petrick got his start in the tire business during the summer of 1979. “I was just looking for a job in between my junior and senior year (of high school),” he said. He took a part-time job in service working for Doyle Schmucker, who owned Schmucker Tire Service.
When school started back up again, Petrick continued to work for Schmucker during his senior year as part of a work-school program — he attended school for a half day and worked for a half day. “One thing led to another and when I graduated I ended up working full time,” he said.
I was just looking for a job in between my junior and senior year (of high school)…And just like that, a part-time job became a career.
Petrick worked for Schmucker for 10 years until Schmucker sold the business to Ziegler Tire.
“I went to a couple other places because (Ziegler Tire) didn’t need me then,” he said. But when Schmucker took the job behind the desk, managing sales calls, he called in Petrick to take on the service calls. “And just like that, a part-time job became a career,” said Petrick.
Every day, Petrick was on the road by 6 a.m., sometimes not ending his day until 9 p.m. He traveled to farms and businesses in Ohio, Pennsylvania and some in West Virginia. He said meeting new people in the business and helping get them up and running is always a good feeling. But he has also learned a lot along the way, particularly about agriculture and farming.
“I was just a city kid looking for a job,” said Petrick. Having no background in farming, Petrick said he learned a lot just being on his own. “I was always by myself, so you had to figure it out one way or another to get the job done,” he said. Talking with the farmers he served, he not only learned a thing or two about farming, he also made some good friends in the industry.
Check out other stories in our Rural Roles series:
January: Amish farmer and author shares story of the simple life.
February: Mary doesn’t have a little lamb, but she is a friend of the sheep industry.
March: Connie Finton volunteers off the farm to build quality of life for her family.
April: Conservation and cattle: Pete Conkle knows them both.
May: Gerards helped give equine trail riders miles of opportunity.
July: Passion for the fair runs deep: Tanya Marty.
August: Tuscarawas County farmer answers the call of his industry
September: It’s all because of the Jersey cow
November: Family tradition, trees and rescue
“I’ve been in the business for almost 38 years now,” said Petrick, who now considers himself semi-retired. He spends most of his time behind the desk now, taking in those impromptu calls from farmers and relaying the message to his service man, Rob Biltz, who has been working for Petrick around five years now.
“The guy knows what he is doing, I’ve learned a lot,” said Biltz, who added Petrick’s guidance has helped him out “tremendously.”
“He’s kind of the man around here,” Biltz added, noting he has some “big shoes to fill.” But Petrick still takes on a service job from time to time.
With Biltz being Petrick’s only service guy on the road, if he is sick or taking vacation time, Petrick runs the truck. You might also find Petrick back in the shop at Ziegler Tire, helping get the service department out. “I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty,” he said.
5 minutes with Rich Petrick
Family: Wife, Amy; children Roger, 42, Michelle, 37, Michael, 31, and Tami, 27
When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up? A race care driver like Dale Earnhardt
What is your best family memory? The birth of my children
Favorite vacation destination: Pigeon Forge, Tennessee
One thing on my bucket list: Go to Las Vegas
Burger or steak? Steak
Advice for someone interested in the tire business: You can take training courses and classes, but the best way to learn is to get out there and do it.