WALSENBURG, Colo.-While ``even cowgirls get the blues'' for a jumble of reasons, it's not easy to ignore how forlorn a cowpoke can get when he can't buy the tires he really wants. Jack McNabb does business with cowboy-ranchers, but you can color him a deep shade of blue.
He lives in a picturesque, mountainous area of southern Colorado, so why is he down, you ask?
Like a number of other tire dealers nationwide, he's been caught in the unfortunate stranglehold of too many tire orders but scant in-ventory from his primary supplier, the until recently strikebound Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp.
A United Rubber Worker's union strike had affected PATC's tire plants in Hanford, Calif., and Nashville, Tenn., since July 15. Striking union employees returned to work March 13.
Cut from the mold of the typical Western pragmatist, Mr. McNabb tries hard to downplay the role the eight month-long strike by United Rubber Workers union members against PATC had in his J.M. Tire Inc. dealership's woes.
And while Mr. McNabb says he wasn't really forced to shutter one of his three outlets solely because of the strike, he will admit it was a significant factor in the Raton, N.M., store's closing.
``Ranchers don't understand strikes and things like that,'' he said recently, before news that the strike against PATC had ended.
``They probably suspect I'm not paying my bills.''
He went on to describe a ``Catch-22'' situation where shortages in his best-selling Armstrong and, to a lesser degree, Pirelli lines forced him to provide longtime customers with tires from other manufacturers. In the mountainous, rock-filled region, the ranchers and farmers have been quite happy with the durability of the Armstrong tires, Mr. McNabb explained, and wary of others.
``Our customers come back unhappy-not with me, but with other lines, and wonder why I can't get (PATC) products.''
He was forced to ``shop around'' for other brands to keep customers happy. And at times he's had to settle for less quality, he said, and taken some hits on pricing.
Despite the lack of supply-even before the strike-which led to weeks of back orders, Mr. McNabb still proclaims his loyalty to PATC. ``They've always taken care of me pretty well,'' he stated. ``If they have the product, they've bent over backwards to get it to me some way or another.''
He said deliveries from PATC are finally starting to increase.
Since becoming a direct Pirelli Armstrong dealer about four years ago, he said his dealership has been ``selling more (PATC tires) than we can usually get.''
J.M. Tire currently has two stores, both located in huge old car dealership buildings built in about 1928. The outlet in Walsenburg, 50 miles south of Pueblo, is operated by Mr. McNabb's 27-year-old son, Jesse James McNabb, and a store in Trinidad, Colo., is run by Jesse's identical twin, Joe James.
The decision three months back to close the Raton store, aggravat-ed by the lack of supply, was also precipitated by 65-year-old Mr. McNabb's ``wake up call''-a heart attack he suffered about a year-and-a-half ago.
``I backed off the business. Just couldn't do the travelling anymore,'' he said. ``I started selling tires in 1965, and have been running the stores about 20 years.
``When things get to the point where it's not a smooth operation. . . and there's a lot more stress, then it just isn't worth it.''
During his eight-month recuperation, he underwent physical therapy, quit smoking, began re-evaluating his life, and started removing a lot of that stress, though he jokes he's still in the tire business.
J.M. Tire sells a full line of passenger, light truck, truck, farm and off-road tires, operates a wrecker and road service trucks, and provides a variety of auto-motive service, including complete engine overhauls or replacements. Mr. McNabb and his sons also compete in circle track racing.
``We're into everything,'' Mr. McNabb said. ``There's nobody else around here except a couple little shops. . . . I am the competition.''
Things were bleakest for the firm in the two months after the PATC strike began last July 15.
``We're in an old coal mining area,'' Mr. McNabb said, ``and at first a lot of the mine workers were sympathetic to the Pirelli factory workers.'' Newspaper articles circulated locally, explaining the strike and the URW's position.
Eventually, he said, ``the resentment died down.''
Did he lose any customers?
``You can't . . . we only have so many,'' he answered, politely noting, ``it's not like in the big cities. Even losing one or two hurts. You need them all, and you make sure you do things to keep 'em.''