Towing in business: Red Top Recovery growing thanks to western ND’s boom
It was Jan. 28, and on the ice of Lake Sakakawea more than a half-mile from shore, when it seemed to be about as cold as North Dakota can get.
That’s where Alex Pool, 26, was — for hours, with a chainsaw and other equipment, trying to recover a customer’s pickup.
A few days before, the pickup’s driver had driven onto a weak spot in the ice in Skunk Bay, and the Ford F-150 found water and went in. The driver and passenger were able to break out the back window and escape, said Pool, founder and owner of Red Top Recovery, a Dickinson-based towing and service company.
Most of the pickup had ended up under water, only the back wheels still visible, but what made the job more challenging — besides Pool’s trepidation of even driving a tow truck out there — was that the pickup’s owner tried the first day to get the pickup out himself, without success, after which ice started forming around pickup. Then on the second day, the weather and winds were “so wicked,” that Pool couldn’t get in there to help.
On the third day, Pool and a helper inched their way onto the lake. Someone walked ahead of the tow truck to measure the ice periodically and make sure it was safe for the tow truck to proceed. What they found: The fallen pickup was now one with the lake, frozen solid, a foot of ice had formed around it. Pool said it took about six hours of work to get it out. The total bill charged to the pickup owner: “a lot,” Pool said.
‘The itch’ for his work Pool, a Belfield High School graduate who initially went off to college to study engineering, said he really likes this stuff, the challenges.
“I’ve got the itch,” said Pool, who started Red Top Recovery about three years, has grown to having three full-time employees and three part-timers, as well as 11 company vehicles — nine wreckers and two service trucks. He lost his dispatcher and is currently trying to find a replacement.
With a new dispatcher, he’ll be able to put those reins down and resume just being the owner, accountant, operations manager and yard man at the 3-acre site he found for the business at 876 E. Broadway St., Dickinson, near the stockyards. The name, Red Top Recovery, refers to what someone jokingly called him because of his hair color.
Pool, who sometimes works 100-plus hours a week, said he gets to meet new people all the time, and there’s no monotony. Every scenario is different and he enjoys the creative side of problem-solving used for each situation.
At a couple points, the interview stopped so he could handle calls, like dispatching help to the UPS truck that had a wheel falling off. He answers calls in one room of the several-room Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) trailer that had been brought in in the aftermath of the Minot flood. He was able to buy it for his office and move it on his site. Another room is a break room. The other is his office with a bed for late nights. That room is decorated with wooden hand tools that were his great-grandfather’s, Arthur Sem, Stanley’s police chief, who died in 1942 after being struck by a drunk driver while trying to help a stranded motorist.
Pool shared that sometimes the adventure that is his business gets a little dicey, but says he’ll be careful, mom.
He said while helping people on roadsides, he has felt his coat be brushed by the side mirrors of passing vehicles whose drivers don’t switch to the passing lane as they pass and get much too close. He also has had occasion to have to jump under his truck to avoid getting hit, he said.
The family motorhead Pool grew up in Bellfield with parents Craig and Marcia Pool, who were junior high teachers, and two brothers: Max Pool, who now owns a software company in Fargo and Colton Pool, a North Dakota State University student and former intern reporter for The Dickinson Press.
Pool said he was the “motorhead” of a family that wasn’t mechanically inclined. Starting at about age 14 he began buying cars, going to auctions, spending $50 on fixer-upper cars. He remembers it wasn’t his dad’s favorite thing — his son’s bringing junkers home to sit in the family yard, Pool said and smiled.
Pool attended NDSU after graduating high school and intended to study engineering, but was disenchanted. He said he understands the importance of college but couldn’t figure out how that was fitting into what he wanted to do.
“I couldn’t do it. It was too boring, almost,” said Pool, about the environment and the general studies classes he was taking.
So he returned home after a semester and returned to Bellfield and a place he had worked before, MBI Energy Services, as a mechanic.
His lot would start to change when he saw an ad on Craigslist for an older, 1980s, $5,000 tow truck, which he bought really just to haul “my own junk around,” he said.
Later he was offered a job by a local towing company. Eventually, he decided to strike out on his own and thought he could do that without stepping on toes of existing towing companies because the oil boom was bringing in so many new customers.
He said by selling pretty much everything he had to sell — his boats, other toys, his prized El Camino, and by downsizing to an older pickup — he was able to come up with a down payment to buy two heavy duty tow trucks that cost more than $100,000.
Pool said he had planned to be based in Watford City, but almost immediately was so busy in the Dickinson area that he decided to stay here.
Julius Dahl, 40, owner of Fairfield-based Liquid Connection, which hauls oil and water, said Tuesday he has called Pool in the middle of the night to help with a stuck truck and that he always answers his phone and helps him out of a bind. “He’s done well for himself,” said Dahl, who knew young Pool when he was even younger and when he had just one truck.
Marcia Pool, Alex’s mom, said Tuesday that as “as his parents, we’re very proud of how innovative and all the business savvy he has for his age.
“He’s very intelligent and could have gone into any area of engineering or pretty (much) anything … but he saw an opportunity,” she said.
Red Top Recovery
What: Towing service company
Owner: Alex Pool
Address: 876 E Broadway St., Dickinson