There have been a few ‘wow’ moments in Don Affleck’s career as a driver and the owner of Peninsula Towing. The most recent being a seven-car pileup on the upper vehicle deck of a ferry.
That’s just one of many interesting situations a tow truck driver finds himself in the middle of, over a long career.
This summer — Aug. 15 to be exact — Peninsula Towing will mark its 40th year in business. Affleck has owned it for 24 of those years and now his son, Mike, is working his way up in the industry as well.
The Afflecks met up with the founder of Peninsula Towing, Gary Anderson, this week to speak with the News Review about many of the last 40 years.
“My family started the business,” Anderson said, now an owner of West Coast Spill Supplies and still working with the Afflecks.
Anderson’s own family moved to the Island from Ontario in 1966 and the following year started Bentwood Esso. By August of 1975 they had one tow truck and Peninsula Towing was born.
Anderson said he sold the business to Art Franz in 1983, who in turn sold it to Steve Wakefield and Rick Holmes. In 1990, Affleck bought it and hit the roads of the Peninsula with two trucks.
Affleck said he cut his teeth at the service station, running a tow truck on the weekends, and essentially working 24-7. He said his had his light bulb moment while repairing the truck.
“I was underneath it, working on it, when I thought to myself, ‘I should be working for myself’.”
He had some money saved and with the support of the then-owners of the Peninsula Towing, he bought it and hasn’t looked back.
Today, said dispatcher (and the real boss, according to Affleck) Tamara Mahy, Peninsula Towing runs 12 trucks of various sizes and employs nine drivers.
Affleck said they’ve seen pretty much all kinds of incidents and vehicles in need of assistance. Not long ago, Affleck said he went out and bought one of the rigs from the reality TV series, Highway to Hell, which featured the life and work of tow truck drivers in B.C.’s Hell’s Canyon.
“People really do look twice when they see (the truck),” he said. “It’s pretty big.”
Peninsula Towing also runs a couple of smaller trucks, enabling them to get into tight spaces — such as a ferry and underground parking areas.
“There really isn’t anything that we’re not moving these days,” he said, noting his company not only tows vehicles but houses, airplanes and even hot tubs.
Peninsula Towing has also been hauling the local Lions Club’s Lunch Box to fundraising events for an estimated 30 years, Affleck noted.
Even though he now owns the business, Affleck said he stays in touch with its former owners, including Anderson. In fact, Affleck said he’s known Anderson for years, ever since he started in the business at Ron’s Chevron (which no longer exists) as a gas pump jockey and apprentice mechanic.
After he sold Peninsula Towing, Anderson got into truck sales and Affleck said he bought his next tow truck from him. That continued when he needed truck parts. These days, Affleck said he gets his oil cleanup pads and other related materials from Anderson at West Coast Spill Supplies.
Six years ago, Affleck said they were lucky enough to be able to buy property in the Keating industrial area in Central Saanich — one of the few towing companies around to actually own their own land.
An innovation Affleck said he’s proud of is the creation of a ‘blocker truck’. A utility-sized truck, it’s decked out to look like an emergency vehicle and catch people’s attention. It’s designed simply to block a lane of traffic along the highway while emergency crews and tow truck operators work to clear the road.
Affleck said one of the biggest changes in the industry is the increasing speeds of traffic and the inherent danger of working beside speeding drivers who just aren’t paying attention.
Peninsula Towing has become a strong family business as well, with 18-year-old Mike obtaining his licenses to be able to run the bigger trucks.
“Mike has come out to so many calls over the years and now at his young age, he’s training a lot of our new drivers. He’s very knowledgable for someone his age and that’s because he’s been around the industry for so long.”
Mike said he loves the business and is nearing the completion of his next license which will let him operate the biggest truck in the fleet — the Highway to Hell truck that can haul big rigs and buses.
“Once you’re in towing,” Mike said, “you’re stuck in it. You hate it, but you love it.”
Don said he has 25 years of stories to tell about the business but since that would take 25 years to tell, he’ll celebrate the anniversary this August while out on the road, a reflection of life behind the wheel of a truck.