TR Footnotes — FN.1110
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Going The Extra Mile

Life moves fast on the six-lane Wisconsin interstate highway, I- 39/90/94, the longest three-interstate concurrent highway in the U.S. Behind the blur of traffic travelling between Madison and Portage, the lives of Kathy and Bill Sellner, co-owners of Bill's Towing and Auto Repair, are deeply rooted.

The wife-and-husband team met on the scene of an accident. Kathy Sellner, who is still a registered emergency nurse, was volunteering as a paramedic, and Bill Sellner worked as a firefighter. Now retired from the field, Bill served as assistant chief of the Lodi Area Fire Department and also worked for Shorewood Hills Fire Department.

Growing up in rural central Wisconsin, Bill Sellner learned how to repair cars from his father, who had a welding shop where he repaired farm tractors. "Everyone pulled together," Bill Sellner said. "There were no repair shops to get equipment fixed. It was neighbor helping neighbor."

Kathy and Bill Sellner started building their business in 1995 with local customers through word of mouth. They began with a truck and car trailer, and then they got a flatbed for hauling. “We had to figure out how to pay for equipment, so we got on the county rotation,” Kathy said. “To keep up we got more trucks, more staff.”

Can Do It All

Bill’s Towing and Auto Repair now has three locations, including a 12-bay repair shop, covering roughly 70 miles of interstate in the cities of Lodi, Sauk, and Baraboo/Wisconsin Dells. Serving about a dozen police rotations, Bill’s Towing is known for its equipment that can tackle nearly any job, ranging from light to heavy duty – from service trucks with parts for repairs and tires, to flat-top trailer dollies and a rotator. The owners aim to have a one-stop shop, stocking their own parts room and providing a Hertz car rental location on site. “Anything you call us for we have the equipment to do it,” Bill Sellner said.

When tractor trailers careen and break open on the interstate, you never know what’s going to spill onto the road. Petroleum, milk, hospital equipment, and glass jars are a few of the messes the Sellners have cleaned up. Kathy Sellner’s most memorable spill was liquid egg. That job required a pump truck, which they acquired through the sanitation department. “You have to have a lot of resources available,” she said.

“You never know what you’re going to get,” Bill Sellner said. “Every job is different, but you feel pretty good about yourself when you get the job done. A lot of people don’t understand when the interstate is shut down how much it costs if you’re the trucking company, if you’re going to the airport, if you’re a state employee getting paid for that time”

Above & Beyond

Going above and beyond the call of duty applies to each and every call, Bill Sellner said. An example of rising to the occasion came in July, when two drivers – Keith Leathers and Jeremy Dorsey – received a call at 1:30 a.m. Law enforcement reported an elderly woman was trapped in her car on a bridge, flooded by a rain-swollen creek. When the flatbed and wrecker pulled up, the towers made their way through the two-foot-deep water to the woman, who was sitting in water and breathing on oxygen but nearly out of it.

EMS arrived, but the flashing lights only made the woman more anxious, and she refused further help. After calming her, Leathers and Dorsey winched her out. “We got a cable hooked on her car and pulled her back,” said Leathers, the Baraboo location manager. But they didn’t stop there. “We got her walker out of her trunk, drove her home, got her into her house, and helped her set up her oxygen.”

Bill Sellner likes to remind himself how it feels being on the other side of a tow call. A couple of years ago, he flew to Tampa, FL, to pick up a truck and drive it back to Wisconsin. Not far out of Tampa, the truck shot off the road and coasted to a stop. “We have towed thousands of people off the highway, but when you’re on the other side, you remember what it feels like,” he said. “You don’t know who is coming to get you, you don’t know where you are. You’ve lost control. As towers, we deal with it every day, but I felt what the customers feel.”

Setting Standards

Kathy Sellner said understanding this vulnerability is what makes professionalism key in being a successful business. “It’s hard enough for the towing industry to have a good reputation. The negativity already exists with the old image of a mechanic showing up in a rusty wrecker,” she said. “Standards are a must.” The waiting room has a children’s area and movie library. Free popcorn, coffee and hot chocolate are on offer.

Certifications are important to the Sellners. Bill’s Towing and Auto Repair is an AAA auto repair center staffed by Automotive Service Excellence-certified master technicians. Bill Sellner is TRAA-certified Level 3 (one of only four in Wisconsin to attain the highest level, he said), and Kathy Sellner is a TRAA-certified Level 1.

These business owners also take professional associations seriously. Kathy Sellner serves as treasurer of the Women’s TRAA, which started 30 years ago and has grown much over the years as more women take on leadership roles in towing and recovery businesses, running offices and keeping accounts.

Bill is a board member of the Wisconsin Towing Association. “We work for the same goals and push safety laws through,” he said. “We also set standards with state highway patrol, creating protocols on what type of certified personnel and equipment should be called to what type of scene.”

While growing a successful business, the couple also grew an impressive family of four children, ages two to 12.