Gastons tire men call it quits

by: NEWS-TIMES PHOTO - LongTire Man finally got tired. And re-tired.

Howard Long and his twin brother, Harold, closed the doors on their 30-year business in downtown Gaston last week. Howard — who bought out his brother’s share — officially listed the property for sale Monday.

“I can still do a pretty good day’s work,” Long said. But “we’re 63 years old. Our knees hurt.”

“I feel a bit disoriented,” said Harold, who expects he’ll keep busy caring for his rental properties in his post-Tire Man life. “I like my customers and I feel like I’m abandoning them.”

Howard Long had fought publicly with City Hall over a sidewalk-improvement project in front of his business, and ran a mock write-in campaign to get his pet dachshund elected to a city council position. But “the city did not run me out of town,” he said. “I’m up to the fight with the city.”

Instead, he got tired of being so far away from his children and grandchildren, most of whom live in Idaho. Five years ago, Long bought 1.5 acres outside Payette with an unusable house. “It had 80 cats in it,” he said. “We couldn’t get rid of the smell so we just got a ‘dozer and tore it down.”

He sold his spread on Lee Road out near Cherry Grove on Feb. 16 — exactly 45 years to the day that he and Harold first bought adjacent five-acre properties at the age of 18. Three years after that purchase, in 1971, Long came home from Vietnam, bought a portable sawmill and built his original home, felling the trees and milling the lumber himself.

In 1983, he started the tire shop out of his house with Harold, who co-owned the business. He spent $25 to buy four tires, then sold those and used the money to buy more.

“Within a year I had $20,000,” Long said.

The brothers moved their flourishing business to a garage next to the Lake Stop store just off Scoggins Valley Road, and a year later to the old Rocket gas station in Gaston. Five years after that, they finally settled down at the Front Street location across from the Gaston Feed on Highway 47. It was 1993.

Over all that time, Long has fixed a lot of flat tires and found a lot of strange things inside them: dog legs, possum legs, tools, even a completely intact radio antenna.

He’s also listened to a fair number of conspiracy theories from people who blame their flat tires on their neighbors.

And of course there have been the creative customer excuses for not paying a bill: “They lost too much money in Reno. Or their dog had to be vaccinated.”

Long says he’ll miss the people here more than his home or his business when he leaves. “I’m already homesick,” he said — for his customers, his friends in the little morning coffee group at the Gaston Market. He’ll even miss the city councilors.

“We have had a little bit of hugging and getting past it,” Long said. He even got a hug from a councilor he’d asked to resign.

Long’s adventures in government won’t end when he moves to Idaho.

Two weeks ago, Long says, he attended a meeting of the Irrigation District because he wants to irrigate his property. As the meeting devolved into side conversations, Long was talking to someone when his wife nudged him and said, “You just got elected to be vice president of the water district.”

Long, who knows virtually nothing about irrigation, asked the district members, “What do I do now?”

They said, “You don’t have to do nothing unless the president gets assassinated.”

Long and his wife, Connie, a teller at the US Bank branch in Forest Grove, plan to leave Gaston for good on the weekend of May 17.

Long, who just made his final payment on his 15-year Tire Man mortgage two weeks ago, hopes to have the property sold by then.

“I have two prospective buyers,” he said, refusing to go into detail — other than to say, “It won’t be a tire shop anymore.”

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