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Trusted dealership succeeds with hometown charm

Hal Ethington, Columnist
June 7, 2013
Filed under Columns

I have been in this store off and on for 40 years. Tooele. Yeah. Try and say that one. It was some Indian chief, or something. Nobody really knows. But we all call it Two-illa. And that’s where Albert Steadman set up a little tire shop back in the ’50s, bought a dozen Hondas in Salt Lake and became a dealer. He thought. But he — and Honda — eventually got it figured out, and the store is still there today. Steadman’s Recreation. Tooele, Utah.

Grandpa Albert is long gone. He is the one who took it from a tire and garden shop to a motorcycle store. Slowly. It was his boys — Nolan, Bruce and Gary — that finally tilled the garden up, built a shed and moved dirt bikes in. A great step forward. But the town missed the vegetables.

The three boys started there as kids. It was better than milking cows, or herding sheep, or putting up hay like most of the other kids around had to do. Hoeing sugar beets wasn’t much fun either. So romping around on motorcycles was what the boys did for entertainment, fun and a little bit of work. Along the way they learned how to set up bikes, adjust a carburetor, change a tire and even write up a deal. It wasn’t too hard. Just pencil and paper. Dad wouldn’t have it any other way.

But those boys grew up, put in the years, and felt the need get away, do something else and let the younger ones have a go at it. They did, and now the town knows that they will talk to the third generation: to Kirk for service, to David to buy a bike, or to Russ about — about whatever the general manager talks about.

And the question that Russell seems to get the most is, “When are you going to build a new store?” “Isn’t this where your granddad started?” they say. “Isn’t that shed just the one your dad built over the garden?” the older ones say. And they look at the funny little huddle of four buildings that this bike shop has grown into; they smile, and they say, “Hey, when are you going to build a new store?”

And Russ just grins. The answer is always the same: “Well, when we need to …”

Yeah, it looks funny. The highway has pushed its way almost to the showroom window in the west wall. Parking is impossible. The front door is not in the front. It’s over there, on the side facing south. Easy to find, if you know where it is.

The shop is over there. Or wait. Maybe it’s over there. You can’t really tell, unless you, and your dad and your granddad were born and raised in Tooele.

Crates are out in back, over by the fence. They don’t look too bad, because they seem to move in and out with some regularity. You can see them pass by on the tines of the forklift, in and out, just 6 feet away from that south-facing front door. Tooele moms just seem to know: Keep those kids close. But they still grin and want to touch everything.

And when you walk in that south-facing front door, into what is probably the showroom, you think, you look to the left and see maybe a dozen bikes, all within 30 feet of where you stand. And there in the middle of it all is a giant 9-foot bear (bear, as in big, mean and furry), stuffed — and stuffed into — a big glass cage. There since Uncle Bruce shot it and lugged it back from far enough off the Alaska coast that it speaks Russian. Or did.

There are more bikes off to your right. A 4-wheeler, a tiller maybe. The lawnmowers are out in front. Or maybe out in the old greenhouse. F&I? Up there, behind the parts counter. Parts? Down here under the upper parts counter. Hard parts? Dunno. Can’t see them. Russ’ office? Up there, behind parts. With photographs and newspaper clippings from years of just being in Tooele.

And then, you realize that you are not looking at just a business. You are not looking at just a bike shop. You are not working with a managed sales force, or an upselling service manager, or a high-pressure F&I clerk wearing a power-tie.

No. This place is none of the above. This place is more like home. To the whole town. The machines they buy here, they service here, they buy parts for here — those machines are how they run cattle, how they irrigate, how they check the fields and yes, how they ride like crazy across a motocross track. These machines have become a part of their lives. A big part. And Steadman’s is where they come from.
You can tell just how much Steadman’s has changed the landscape of Tooele. On the way out, my wife DeAnn sees a bunch of cowboys pushing cows toward a loading ramp. She looks, then turns to me with amazement in her voice and says, “Wow. Look! They’re on horses!” What a sight. No 4-wheelers. Now, somehow, odd.

So, I sit with Russ. Just like my third great-grandfather John Gordon sat with his third great-grandfather Luke Johnson. Those two pioneers, probably sitting around a campfire not far from this spot, talked about water and crops and how they were going to build this little settlement into a town, way out here by the lake — 30 miles from a flour mill, from Brigham Young and from Salt Lake City. John Gordon now lies just a block or two from where we sit. Somehow, Luke Johnson ended up buried off in Salt Lake City.

Russ and I are talking about the price of another Honda lawnmower that I need. Number six, for my daughter and her husband who just moved to their first house with their own lawn to mow. I drove the 30 miles out here because … well, because … I really don’t know. I just know that it’s comfortable, and I know that all the boys and their sisters will drift over to talk for a minute — that we will laugh about the day, the town and their old store with all its eccentricities.

But before I head up to the four-lane and back home, I swing down to the center of town, passed the Gordon copy shop, and spend just a minute or two at the stone schoolhouse that John Gordon — a stone mason from Scotland — built back in 1870. His hands put those stones up. And they look as if they will last forever.

And Russ’s new store? He just laughs. Looks around. And finally says, with a grin, “Well, I’m not sure we need a new store. We seem to be doing just fine as we are.”

There may just be a lesson there. For all of us.

Steadman’s. Tooele.

Hal Ethington has been associated with the powersports industry for more than 40 years. Ethington is a senior analyst at ADP Lightspeed. Contact him at Hal.ethington@adp.com.

 

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