CANTON, Ohio — It was like stepping into a scene from the classic 1980s movie about time travel, "Back to the Future."
I had the recent honor of attending the 100-year anniversary celebration of Ziegler Tire & Supply Co., the Canton-based dealership that has grown from a small independent shop to a dealership with 23 locations and two retread facilities in four states, servicing just about every kind of vehicle on and off the road.
Ziegler family, friends, suppliers and longtime employees were on hand for the event, held Sept. 18 at — appropriately enough — the nearby Pro Football Hall of Fame, the shrine that immortalizes professional football greats.
Brothers Oliver and Harold Ziegler began selling tires in Canton in 1919. A year later, Canton's Ralph Hay, owner of a professional football team, the Canton Bulldogs, called a meeting of other owners at his Hupmobile car dealership, forming the American Professional Football Association.
This year, the renamed league, the National Football League, is celebrating its 100th season.
The celebration was a confluence of two strong businesses, Ziegler Tire and the Hall of Fame, that have been part of my life for decades.
My first significant job in journalism was in Canton, where I began as a sportswriter at The Repository, covering not only high school and college sports but also all the news and events surrounding the Hall of Fame.
I began my career there in 1985 — the year "Back to the Future" was released. It also marked the most notable class of NFL stars to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, up to that point.
The class consisted of Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks Roger Staubach and Joe Namath; former NFL Commissioner Pete Rozelle; former Cleveland Browns great lineman, Frank Gatski; and some guy who was known then more as an actor and commentator, O.J. Simpson.
I experienced some of my most memorable moments as a sportswriter while writing about the Hall of Fame and the athletes who are or were going to be enshrined there.
Two months into my job, I was assigned the task of arranging a photo for the families of the newest Hall of Famers. That meant I had to interrupt them as they ate dinner and ask them to pose for the local newspaper. I clearly recall Nicole Brown Simpson and her children happily accommodating me for a photo that remains part of the newspaper's archives.
Those memories came rushing back, as did all of my experiences with Ziegler Tire.
You see, back when I started at the newspaper, with no family nearby and no attachment to any tire and auto repair shop, I randomly chose to become a customer of Ziegler Tire. The dealership had a location within walking distance of work, so it was convenient to service my vehicle there.
Back then, I had no idea about the history of Ziegler Tire. The only thing I knew was a store manager named Ron Roberts and his trusty technician Lonnie.
I couldn't tell the difference between a UHP tire and an A/T tire, but I knew that I could rely on Ron not only to tell me the difference, but to suggest the right tire for my vehicle at the right price.
I listened that night at the Hall of Fame to John Ziegler Jr., who oversees the dealership's Mighty Tire Wholesale Inc. unit, talk about the rich history of Ziegler Tire and founder Harold Ziegler's relationship with Harvey Firestone. Several past and present employees of Bridgestone Americas Inc. were there to commemorate the relationship.
As I watched a video tribute featuring, among others, Bridgestone executives Gordon Knapp and TJ Higgins, I was reminded of a tire purchase Bill suggested for my vehicle decades ago: a set of Fuzion-brand tires.
They were made by Bridgestone, he said. They would be affordable, dependable and reliable, he said, particularly for a young family.
Of course he was right.
That Canton location eventually closed, and Ron switched among several locations. Not to be deterred, I would call one shop and try to determine where Ron was when I needed help. It wouldn't be uncommon for me to drive a half hour out of my way to another location, just so I could give Ron — and Ziegler Tire — my business.
Later, Ziegler Tire built a location closer to my house. I found another "Ron" there — the manager, Bill Robinson, was just as honest, fair and trustworthy as Ron.
Ziegler Tire hasn't lasted a century and grown to become one of the 50 largest retail and commercial dealers in North America, with sales of $126 million in 2017, by accident.
It is because of people like the Ziegler family, including past leaders, like Harold Jr. and Jack Sr.; present leaders, like Bill and John Jr.; and future leaders, like John III, who have made the business an anomaly: a family-run operation that has survived and prospered for a century
And as John Jr. told the audience at the anniversary celebration, success is also because of employees such as Ron and Bill and the nearly 400 others who are charting the future for another 100 years.
They are Hall of Famers, too.