Tom Elliott is finally slowing down.
He has been fixing flats and changing tires nearly round the clock since Hurricane Rita slammed into Texas and Louisiana on Sept. 24. Mr. Elliott's dealership, Ben's Tire & Lube in Mauriceville, opened back up the second day after the storm though it still was without power as of Oct. 4. He had hoped to have power back on in a few days.
The first day he reopened after the storm, he fixed some 20 flats on sheriff's department vehicles, working until 2:30 a.m. one night. Now he's calling it a day at an early 7 p.m. ``If someone's in a bind we'll do anything,'' he told Tire Business.
Mr. Elliott said he's kept his services limited to selling new tires and fixing flats. He hasn't resumed oil changes or other service work yet. He was amazed, though, when a resident asked to have his tires rotated in the midst of the destruction in Mauriceville, which was near the eye of the storm's landfall.
``I told him to put it in reverse and drive around Mauriceville three times,'' he said, laughing.
Immediately after the storm, Mr. Elliott's brother, who doesn't work at the dealership, was at the shop and was inundated with people needing tire repairs. Ben's Tire was founded in 1981 by Mr. Elliott's father, Ben. Mr. Elliott came back to the shop with a few tools and got some generators and air compressors. Slowly he was able to get more equipment running.
``I don't think anybody was open as quick as us,'' he said.
Mr. Elliott added that he has kept all his prices the same as before the hurricane.
``People have been good to us all along, and we're just trying to do the same thing back and not price-gouging anybody, just regular prices,'' he said.
But Ben's Tire suffered its own damage. Part of the roof and a wall were blown open, and all the service bay doors were blown out. The repairs to the building are nearly done, Mr. Elliott said, but he's waiting for repairs for the roll-up doors. For now he's parked an RV and car in front of the bays, shielding their vulnerability somewhat.
Though he feels safer now with many residents back in the town, the first few nights Mr. Elliott said he was very nervous guarding the shop with virtually no one around. ``The first three nights we didn't sleep.''
The town was damaged heavily in the storm. Mr. Elliott said some of his family members' houses were damaged by trees while others seemed to escape somehow. ``There's so many lucky people and then there are some unlucky people,'' he said.
Charlie Anderson, branch manager at Kauffman Tire's Houston warehouse, which supplies Ben's Tire, said he has been trying to help his dealers with generators and cell phones. Local officials have been trying to help as well, as they need tire repairs on police vehicles.
``They're sitting on flats; they can't fix enough tires,'' Mr. Anderson said.