PAWCATUCK — Bill’s Tractor Service will roll down its garage doors for the last time on Friday, bringing to an end 61 years of business in the same spot.
“I have a lot of people who are so sorry to see me close my doors and go because we’ve been here so long, we’re basically an institution,” said owner Alan Ricker, 72, sitting in the garage’s business office at 1 Anguilla Brook Road last week. “I was 11 years old when my father started this place and basically I’ve been here ever since.”
Bill Ricker, Alan’s father, established the garage in 1957. The business began as an independent repair garage, and went on to become a truck dealership for companies like International Harvester, later known as Navistar International.
Ricker also became a dealer for Modern Tool and Dye, known as MTD, which owns Cub Cadet, a lawn tractor and mower company, and Hustler Turf Equipment, which makes residential and commercial mowers.
“All his life it was what I call the ‘nuts and bolts era’ where it was spark plugs, points, condenser — it was a mechanical kind of thing,” Alan said of his father. “You could walk up to a car or a truck and pretty much in a short period of time know what was wrong and what has to be done.”
In 1990, as a new era of computerized vehicles began, Alan bought the business from his father.
“After I bought my father out, I was buying laptops and software and hardware,” he said. “You had to walk up to a truck with a laptop, plug it in and find out what the codes were and check it out that way.”
Vehicles todayaren’t standardized either, he said. “Back in the day when it was points, plugs, condenser, whether it was good or bad, everybody was pretty much the same, all the same kind of components,” he said. “Today you go to the computer and every manufacturer has their own program, warranties, parts, shipping methods, they’re all different.”
Alan has run the garage with Donna, his wife of 51 years, who is the secretary and treasurer. The Rickers have three children, Jon, Roxanne, and Jeff, who works at the garage.
One factor in closing the garage is Jeff’s impending move to Massachusetts. Another is a planned European vacation and the couple’s timeshare in Aruba, which they plan to visit.
“We’ll be vacationing until the end of the year so that’s why I want to close the place, because I won’t be around to take care of day-to-day business,” Alan said.
But retiring isn’t as simple as closing the doors, he said.
“It’s one thing if you work for EB and you get to retirement and you just leave,” he said. “But we’ve got building, land, property, vendors. We’ve got all kinds of things to take care of. It’s going to be a long, drawn-out process to try to retire and leave.”
Plus, most people are interested in the building and the land, but not the business, he said.
“Originally I hoped someone would come in and just keep Bill’s Tractor going the way it is, but I don’t see that’s going to happen,” he said. “I would have no big problem just selling the building and the land. The business can go somewhere else — so if someone wants to buy the name and the customer list, the business can go anywhere.”
Alan said he thought his retirement would look similar to his father’s. When he bought his father out, he said, “he was 65 and he used to come out here and putz around. I thought that was what I was going to do and Jeff was going to take over and I’d come out and help him do whatever and that’s what I would do for my retirement,” Alan said. “But now once I sell everything I need to find something to go do.”
Staying active will be key, he said.
“I’m not one of these people who’s just going to sit in a corner. You can’t do that or you’re just going to die. You have to keep busy doing something,” he said.
One possibility, at least in the warm months, he said, would be out on the water.
“In the summertime I go fishing and I go to the beach with my wife,” he said. “We’ll be doing a lot more of that next year because we’ll have the time to do it.”