Kansas City's towing industry is a wreck.

One Tow Over the Line 

Kansas City's towing industry is a wreck.

Page 5 of 11

Joe Booth was the youngest of the four children of George and Nellie Booth, who lived in working-class Waldo. When Joe was 8, his older stepbrother, Navy man Bob Hendrickson, nearly died from injuries suffered in a fatal car crash after a wild night of drinking in San Diego. Booth says it was the first time he saw his mother cry. She and his father couldn't afford plane fare to California, but within hours, Joe had gathered some of his friends and they'd canvassed the neighborhood, collecting more than $200 for the tickets.

"I've been in disasters all my life. I've been able to cope with them and handle them," Joe says.

His parents returned the favor in 1960. They mortgaged their home at 301 W. 81st Terrace so that Booth, an accomplished race-car builder, could finance his first service station, near 75th and Wyandotte streets. He called it Joe Booth's DX.

Then he opened a second station two blocks away and paid $3,000 for his first tow truck. Booth says he got into towing by accident: His gas station kept getting calls for a tow operator. "I thought if the phone rings 15 times day for tow trucks I better have me a tow truck," he says.

In the beginning, Booth charged $3.50 per tow.

And he met Norma 33 years ago when her car broke down one night near his station. Booth loaned Norma his car, repaired hers, and drove it to her place the next night.

"I worked hard 24 hours a day and seven days a week. I went home for one hour a day to meet my family, but I was always running my tow operation, always running the streets. I had to hustle for everything I got. It cost me $12,000 every morning to open my eyes. But people saw all those big trucks I had and they thought I was a multimillionaire. All my money was tied up into the trucks. I had to fight for everything I got."

Sometimes he lost. In 1972 Booth, a registered Democrat at the time, won a General Assembly primary election for state representative in Kansas City's District No. 31. His political career might have taken off at that point, but Booth never made it to the general election. He was pulled off the November ballot for violating residency requirements after the Jackson County Republican Committee filed a lawsuit, says Ray James, current Director of Elections for the Kansas City Board of Election Commissioners. (Interestingly, James was the Republican choice in District No. 31 that same year and would have competed against his old high school classmate.) Booth's removal from the race enabled James to hold on to his seat for a fourth straight term. Booth says he was robbed. "I won, but they said I lived two blocks out of the district," he says. "I bought another house and they said I was living out of the district. That was the only way they could beat me."

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