When Don Crosbie, the longtime owner and operator of Don's Towing, bought his first tow truck in the early 1970s, he likely never imagined that he would one day become a Winnipeg institution.
Last week when Crosbie died at 68, however, that's exactly what he was.
"My dad made friends everywhere he went," recalled Crosbie's son, Jeff. "When I was a kid, it amazed me how many friends he had, everyone in Winnipeg knew my dad and his blue Chevrolet tow truck."
Although he had a few trucks over the years and was most recently operating a newer black Chevrolet rig, Crosbie's original tow truck, a blue 1970 Chevrolet that was aptly nicknamed the Blue Mule, was a big part of his legend. Sometimes Crosbie and his beast of burden were simply helping out a motorist in need or towing cars for local garages, but the lion's share of his business was the removal of unwanted cars. Most were hauled off to the shredder.
Don was a longtime friend of mine and when he spoke of his early years in the tow business he would get a twinkle in his eye when he recalled all the precious metal he hauled away to the big junkyard in the sky. "If only I'd have kept a few, I'd be a rich man," he told me many times with a chuckle.
One car Crosbie did save was the Chickenmobile. A couple of summers ago when my friend Dave Radey and I resurrected it, Crosbie came up to me at a car show and offered that he had saved it from the shredder more than 20 years earlier.
"The car was in pretty rough shape so Chicken Delight boss Otto Koch told me to haul it away. He also asked me to make sure it got shredded because he didn't want the competition getting their hands on it," Crosbie said with a grin. "It was too neat to shred so we hid it at my friend's shop."
That was what was so great about Don Crosby: He may have had a job to do, but sometimes he realized cars were worth so much more than simply the value of the scrap metal. In addition to saving many neat old cars and finding good homes for them if he picked up an old car with a few good parts remaining, he was quick to call on his countless friends in the car hobby to pick the car clean before it was shredded.
In addition to his legendary status as a tow truck owner and operator, Crosbie was also a longtime classic car buff and member of both the Manitoba Street Rod Association and the Fabulous 50's Ford Club of Manitoba. Don and his wife, Kathleen, were fixtures at local car shows and cruise nights and loved to show off their prized 1954 Monarch.
A service was held this week to pay tribute to Crosbie, who died of a heart attack. At press time, his son Jeff was working feverishly to get his dad's old Blue Mule tow truck ready in time. It has been off the road for a number of years and had to be yanked out of a snowbank. Other local tow truck operators were also expected to be in attendance with beacons flashing to pay tribute to Winnipeg's most colourful tow truck operator.
"He will be missed by so many, added son Jeff. "That's why it means so much to us to have his old truck at the service. It was his trademark, and seeing it will make us all feel like he's still with us."