HARRISON, Ark.-Tragedy, it is said, sometimes has a way of bringing out the best in people. And while the loss of a business pales in comparison with the tragedy of lost life, it can be no less shattering when that business is, for all intents and purposes, someone's life.
Joe Honeycutt knows that all too well.
Over a year ago, fire charred the edges off some of his dreams.
But the desire to continue operating his own business did not die when his 20-year-old Tire World dealership in Harrison, Ark., burned to the ground. The overpowering yearning to rebuild-to show anyone who cared that he was down, but not out-was nurtured by a small town that did care.
It's also said that you never really know who your friends are until you're down. Mr. Honeycutt's ``friends''-many he didn't even know-pitched in and refused to let his dreams die.
But it's been a long, hard road to rebuilding Tire World. One pockmarked with miles and miles of bureaucratic ``red tape,'' lost time and, yes, even anger.
As he speaks of that early morning, when he got the call that his dealership was burning...as he mentally drifts back to June 8, 1993, sitting with his wife in his pickup truck watching the flames light the pre-dawn sky orange, his eyes mist up. He looks away for a moment. Regains his composure.
The fire alarm had gone off at 4:12 a.m. He was at his business in less than 15 minutes-the second fire truck followed him in.
Firefighters, worried the blaze would spread to 26,000 scrap tires piled near the store, hosed down the building, but couldn't save it.
Government officials from the state capitol in Little Rock, 140 miles away, soon showed up, concerned water run-off would go to a nearby creek. In the end, there was no environmental damage.
The state pollution control agency actually ``complimented me on our handling of the situation,'' Mr. Honeycutt recalled.
Though the fire's cause was not determined, he suspects a tire was left ``cooking'' overnight in a vulcanizing unit used for spot repairs.
Investigators determined the rubble was not hazardous. Eventually, in compliance with state regulations, Mr. Honeycutt buried it on other property he owned.
As his retail/commercial business still smoldered, he began to discover his real friends.
At 6:15 a.m., a local construc-tion worker ``walked over to my truck and handed me a check, saying, `I thought you could use this.' He had looked up his statement for what he owed, and paid me.''
A few hours later, the owner of a local roofing company presented $500 to Mr. Honeycutt-``no strings attached.''
The big fire was big news in the town of 10,000 people.
A young, struggling couple, to whom Mr. Honeycutt had extended credit, borrowed money to pay off their Tire World account.
``It was amazing in those first two days how many people came by to pay off their statements,'' Mr. Honeycutt said, explaining how he ran into his burning building to salvage accounts receivable.
Local businesses and townspeople began mobilizing to help. A car agency bought water hoses, shovels and brooms for the workers, and a grocery store furnished free food for them. A recreational vehicle dealer donated a motor home for use as a temporary office.
It was a town-wide effort to get him back on his feet.
Volunteers sifted through mounds of debris to salvage enough metal to help construct a new building. A metal recycler volunteered trucks and loaders, took scrap to a foundry, then paid Mr. Honeycutt the market price for it.
``You'd be surprised at how many people physically worked on the site,'' he said. ``It goes on and on and on. Gives you faith in people. I never realized how many friends I really had.''
His eyes again well with tears.
``I'm sorry-I get emotional thinking about it,'' he apologized.
But his worries had just begun.
Mr. Honeycutt carried no insurance on his eight-bay tire and wheel store-in hindsight, a ``pretty stupid'' move, he admitted.
The store saw $1.3 million in sales annually. His inventory included more than 300 sizes, from wheelbarrow to off-road tires from some 40 suppliers. He estimated his losses at $600,000.
To help recoup some of that, he sold his farm last April. Then he ran smack into the tangle of red tape that has delayed his rebuilding until just recently.
Because the dealership was located on a federally designated flood plain, issues of flood insurance and federal approval arose. The process became so bogged down that Mr. Honeycutt eventually turned to an official he knew at the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help guide him.
He finally got authorization to rebuild from FEMA late last January, but only this past July actually received his permit.
Then he was told he could only build a structure the same size as the old one on the site.
``The fire bothered me, but I accepted it because I couldn't change it,'' he said. ``But trying for over a year to get that permit really upset me-I didn't think I'd get it.''
Mr. Honeycutt recently began construction of a two-story, 20,000-sq.-ft. facility with 12 bays, which-barring more unforeseen red tape-should reopen next January. He plans to augment his tire service by offering alignments and some undercar work.
Still, with all this 55-year-old dealer has endured, he never had thoughts of getting out of the business. ``I enjoy it,'' he admitted.
Although he's not sure how, he'd like to repay everyone for their generosity.
Acknowledging that may not be possible, he said he'd settle for just getting his former customers back, so he can provide them with the kind of service on which he based his reputation.
``I have all the faith in the world in them...,'' he states, now smiling through tears.