Byers Wrecker Service Has Been Assisting Rochester Motorists for Decades
By Deborah J. Larsen
When Rochester area residents need a vehicle towed, they don’t say, “Call a wrecker.” They say, “Call Byers.” For 66 years, the familiar red tow trucks have responded to local residents needing assistance.
Harry E. “Gene” Byers started out in auto transport work after serving in the army. But in 1951, he decided to start his own towing business. At first, his “office” was in the restroom of a gas station at North Main and Woodward streets. A couple of years later he partnered with Dean Lee in a gas station at 126 South Main, while still operating his towing business.
Lee & Byers eventually dissolved their partnership in the gas station, and in March 1958 Gene Byers purchased a Shell station at 205 South Main, on the corner of Second Street. Byers Wrecker Service operated out of the gas station, with the wrecker yard located behind the building at the corner of Second Street and West Alley.
In 1977, Byers decided to stop selling gasoline and devote his business exclusively to towing. The company rented space from the Rochester Elevator for a couple of years before buying the former Joe Deaton salvage yard on South Street. Byers Wrecker Service moved to the location at 399 South Street in 1980.
Gene Byers’ son, Bill, recalls that his father was known around Rochester as a prankster. Gene once rode a horse through Red Knapp’s bar on the west side of Main Street, Bill Byers said. “He rode a motorcycle through there, too. He was known for pranks like that.”
Bill Byers knew he was destined for the family business in his youth. In 1975, while he was still in high school, he began driving a wrecker for his father. Bill took over the business from Gene Byers in 1994, and his father passed away in 1997. Today, Bill and his wife, Sharon, and their children run Byers Wrecker Service, the second and third generations of the Byers family in the business.
While most people associate towing companies with the moving of wrecked or disabled vehicles, Byers Wrecker Service has provided other sorts of transportation over the years. Bill Byers remembers that a cow once got away from the Rochester Packing Company on Hacker Street and the police were forced to run it down and shoot it. Byers was dispatched to pick up the carcass and transport it back to the packing house. Byers also recalls moving a lot of horses over the years, and even some pigs.
The company also relocated a large boulder that was locally famous. “There was a big rock out on Avon Road,” Bill Byers remembers. “The classes from Adams and Rochester High used to take turns painting that thing. We used our equipment to move it up to Rochester High School.”
Gene and his son, Bill, were both members of the Rochester Volunteer Fire Department. Bill remembers that until 1975 or 1976, Byers performed all the local extrications of victims trapped in wrecked vehicles. In those days, the area fire departments had not yet developed technical rescue operations. Although these departments now have highly rated, well-trained and equipped rescue squads, Byers Wrecker Service still works closely with local fire departments and uses its specialized tools to assist with rescues when needed.
On a late spring day in 1992, Gene Byers was leaving the Krazy Greek restaurant on East University just as the Crissman building on the corner of Main & University exploded from a gas leak. Byers used some of their equipment on that fateful day to move parts of the collapsed building so that first responders could conduct their operations.
Today, as Bill Byers runs the business his father started, he is also passionate about a nonprofit organization he recently founded called Move Over Michigan. Dedicated to educating motorists about the importance of Michigan’s Emergency Vehicle Caution Law, Move Over Michigan seeks to protect first responders by reminding drivers to slow down and move over for roadside emergencies. Byers has had personal experience with the consequences of inattentive driving; one of his tow truck drivers was struck by a careless motorist and seriously injured. In another situation, one of his trucks was totaled. “These are the biggest killers now,” Byers says, picking up his cell phone. “It’s cell phones causing more accidents these days.”
Byers Wrecker Service is now in its seventh decade of service in the Rochester community. When Bill Byers took over from his father in 1994, the company had seven trucks. Today, it has 48 pieces of equipment in three locations: Rochester, Clarkston and Lapeer. With the next generation of the Byers family now working in the business, Rochester residents needing a tow can depend upon the familiar red trucks for years to come.