The man of the hour: Nick Gartner comes to your aid
By Sarah Smith
When the first three callers requested winches, Nick Gartner knew Monday would be another rousing day.
“We’ve towed six already,” the owner of Nick’s Service in Park Rapids said.
During the winter that has been never-ending, Gartner and his staff have been up to their eyeballs in tows, service calls and tune-ups.
In other words, it’s been a great winter for the service station at one of Park Rapids’ busiest intersections – Highways 34 and 71. The station has been located there since 1988, when it belonged to Steve Thompson.
Monday the phone rang nonstop. The parking lot was just as busy. People come to buy fuel, ask for advice and schedule repairs and/or maintenance.Customers – and non-customers alike came in for help and car tips.“It’s ranking right up there,” Gartner said of busiest winters.He helps a man with his battery cover. There’s no charge.The youthful-looking 48-year-old is like a kid in his own candy store.The family-run business became Nick’s 15 years ago after he worked for Thompson 13 years.“I was 17 when I started working for him,” Gartner said.He points out his family.“There’s my brother, Bob, who runs the tow truck during the week,” he said pointing out a similar make and model to himself.“This is my son, Jake,” he said, pointing behind the counter at a young man on the phone.Winter is pretty much nonstop for the Gartner family. The station is open from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. weekdays, 7 a.m. until 4 p.m. Saturdays and theoretically closed Sundays.But since the tow service is 24/7, Nick’s takes calls for towing Sundays.To keep things fair, county and Highway Patrol have a rotation of towing c ompanies they call, depending on availability of each entity's personnel and the location of the crash.“They take whoever’s available or the next person,” Nick said of the system.Lately, Nick and his crew have been on tap often as record numbers of calls continue to pour into 911 lines.Nick is pretty guarded as to what information he gives at an accident scene.“You know, they don’t tell me a lot,” he says about the wreckage he tows into Park Rapids.The station has five full-time employees, all busy, and a full-time mechanic.“I still feel pretty young some days,” he says.“But the cold weather doesn’t make me feel young in my bones some days,” he admits, wiping steam off his glasses.Then he heads back to work.“I’m still in pretty good shape,” he says, grinning.“Time off is appreciated and enjoyed,” he said,He likes to go out to eat or to the movies, just like most other folks.This year, there just hasn’t been much time for that kind of relaxation.