Pub. 3 2023 Issue 1

KTA’s Nick Schade: A Family Commitment to Tony’s Wrecker Service

This story appears in the
Kentucky Trucker Pub 3 2023 Issue 1

I wanted to understand the physics and math behind how the wrecker worked.

Nick Schade and his family run Tony’s Wrecker Service. They are also strong KTA supporters.

KTA recently interviewed Nick about the company’s history. He also talked about his family, life, and interests. 

The company website says William H. (Tony) Voelker began working in the towing industry in 1937 and founded Tony’s Wrecker Service in 1956. Please tell us more, including where you fit into this fifth-generation family business.
Mr. Voelker was my great-grandfather. Everyone called him Tony. He started operating a wrecker in 1937 for the first towing company in Louisville, Kentucky, called LeRoy Miles, then worked for Floyd & Son. In the 40s and 50s, my father Jerry began riding with his grandfather Tony. My father also spent a lot of time around the wreckers.

In 1956, Tony started his own company, Tony’s Wrecker Service, in St. Matthews, Kentucky. St. Matthews is a suburb of Louisville. When Tony passed away in 1959, Jerry was a student at the University of Louisville J.B. Speed School for mechanical engineering. He left school to take over running the family business, which is Louisville’s oldest wrecker service.

Dad married my mom, Martha, in 1962. My brother Lee was born in 1964, and I came along in 1978. My brother and I are the fourth generation. My niece, my son and my stepdaughter are the fifth generation.

The website also has photos of many vehicles or other items being towed or moved. They include photos of a fire engine, school bus and cannon. Are these sorts of projects typical for towing companies, or is this a specialty?
We perform towing and recovery on all types of vehicles. We also perform truck and trailer repairs both in shop and as road service. The cannon was a special restoration project that we transported.

The specialty work is a small portion of our business. Requests like moving the cannon, a train car, or decorative rocks don’t happen daily. However, it is very enjoyable when the opportunity arises to make someone happy by moving a piece of history or something of sentimental value to a family or group of people.

How long have you been a KTA member?
Approximately 25 years. We were also members of the KMTA Maintenance Council.

What is your involvement in the association?
I am a regular member, advertise in the KTA publications and support other advertisers.

What makes membership valuable?
KTA gives members a voice in legislation about transportation. It is also a one-stop shop for all things related to truck transportation in Kentucky.

Please tell us a little about yourself. Where did you grow up?
I grew up in St. Matthews, Kentucky and played baseball and softball when I wasn’t in the wrecker or at the office with Dad. I umpired Little League as a teenager; that was my only other job. I continue to live in St. Matthews today.

What is your educational background?
I graduated in 1996 from Louisville Male High School and graduated in 2000 from Bellarmine University with a B.A. in business administration. I am also a certified Wreckmaster Level 8-9 with A&R endorsements. 

Did you always aspire to be the owner of a towing company?
I wanted to be part of the family business from a young age, and I understood it from a young age because I grew up in it. I was towing at 16. At 18, I acquired my Class A license and was towing in the Heavy-Duty Wrecker. After graduating from college in 2000, I worked full-time in the family business.

Going to college was a must to work in the family business. It was a safety net that Mom and Dad wanted me to have, just in case.

I based school projects in science and math on the towing industry and became intrigued by how the equipment and rigging worked. I wanted to understand the physics and math behind how the wrecker worked. As a teenager, I would answer the phone and work in the office. That education helped me get where I am today. But most of all, the time I spent with Mom and Dad in the business made me realize what needed to be done to be successful and that this is what I wanted to do. It is a demanding industry, and sure, I may have to take care of a customer’s vehicle at odd hours. The hours can be long. But even today, after 28 years, I still have a passion for this business and the towing and recovery industry.

Mom passed away in 2017, and Dad passed in 2018. Since then, my brother and I have continued to grow and expand the business. 

Please tell us about hosting WreckMaster classes.
WreckMaster is a premier training company for the towing and recovery industry. After becoming certified with WreckMaster in 2004, I wanted to ensure that tow operators had access to the classes to further their careers and give them the knowledge to make them better operators. I began hosting them in conjunction with the Towing & Recovery Association of Kentucky. I try to host a class of some level four times a year. 

How have you served your community?
I support our local community by donating time and resources to student events at local schools, such as “Explore a Truck” and “Transportation Days.” We also delivered Christmas presents donated by citizens of Louisville to Bowling Green and a fire apparatus to Western Kentucky after the recent tornadoes. One major contribution is to the local fire departments. We donate vehicles, and they use them to practice extrication techniques.

Please tell us a little about your family.
My wife and I have been married for 16 years. We work together in the business. My stepdaughter, Sophia, works as a video journalist at Oxford University in England and my son, Ryan, is a freshman at Louisville Male High School.

How do you like to spend your free time?
My family and I enjoy attending baseball games for major and minor league teams, traveling and concerts.

Do you have any interesting hobbies?
I have become a historian of antique towing and recovery-related items, old wreckers and accessories, and antique emergency lighting. I started restoring some of our emergency lights from the 40s and 50s. Now I collect all kinds. I also collect Lego Technic Machines.