RSVP Shop Talk: Rattlesnake Ridge Truck Repair
Rattlesnake Ridge provides service for light, medium, and heavy trucks, along with trailers & RVs. Customers include municipalities, school districts, quarries, farmers, or over-the-road truckers. They provide up-to-date computer diagnostics, as well as both state of Vermont & federal inspections. Rattlesnake Ridge stocks over 200,000 truck parts in inventory to sell to the general public. This makes them a one stop shop for people looking for things from hydraulic hoses to general trucking equipment.
Rod Ethier has owned and operated Rattlesnake Ridge Truck Repair in Fair Haven, Vermont for 19 years. Like most businesses, he has definitely experienced his share of prosperity and hardship during that time period.
Alongside his wife of 23 years, Ellen, Ethier has safely steered Rattlesnake Ridge from humble beginnings to a place of sturdy functional comfort. “I was tired of working for other people” he stated. “I bought a ¾ ton Dodge van and ventured out on my own doing road service jobs. My reputation was good, so I started getting more and more calls.”
“I quickly moved up to a 14 cube van, then a 16 cube. Before I knew it, I rented a small garage and had my own shop going. I bought my current building 14 years ago and here I am” he laughed.
Upon graduating from high school, Ethier entered the military. He served in Europe and even managed to have a good time and see much of the European countryside by playing on a competitive traveling military softball team.
After getting out of the service in 1979, it was time to go to work. “I started out working on cars” he said. “My first workplace went out of business. I needed a job and the only opportunity was in dairy. They put me in the garage and I went to work on trucks and attended Wyoming Tech Diesel School.”
Like most young people starting out, it took Rod a bit to find his way in the world. From Vermont, it was onto a job in Kentucky at a dealership. Then it was on to Tennessee to “a couple of dud jobs,” before heading back to Vermont. Ethier went to work for an International dealership, then a grain company. He also worked at a couple of small garages before the decision to try it on his own.
“I got sick and tired of the 2 AM road call when it was below zero out” Ethier said. “One night when I got a call to head out in the middle of the night, my wife asked me how much money I was going to make on this call. I figured about $50 bucks. She said she would give me $50 to stay in bed. That made me think that this just wasn’t worth it.”
Rattlesnake Ridge Truck Repair grew rapidly, before experiencing some downsizing in 2008. “I had 4 techs in addition to myself going gangbusters” Ethier said. “I even thought about trying to get an International outfit. But, as we all know, the economy took a big downturn in ’08. It’s funny how things work out, because now I couldn’t be happier with the size and comfort level of my life in this business.”
It’s funny how things work out, because now I couldn’t be happier with the size and comfort level of my life in this business.
“It is hard for the independent,” he went on. “Staying educated and trying to keep up with technology is more difficult if you aren’t connected to a dealership. But, we do see a wide range of stuff that the dealer doesn’t with their limited range. I also think we build up a much more personal connection with our customers and even our employees.”
“I always worked for real good people. I’ve known other guys that felt like their employer’s thumb was pressed on the back of their neck and I swore I never would. Of course, my wife does the books and she thinks I have too big of a heart” he chuckled.
I always try to help a customer that is having a rough time. It’s no fun being out on the road and broke down. You don’t know a soul. That’s a bad feeling.
“Sometimes I do bend over more than I should” he admitted. “I always try to help a customer that is having a rough time. It’s no fun being out on the road and broke down. You don’t know a soul. That’s a bad feeling.” “But, I do need to get paid!” he continued. “I swear, sometimes people think a repair shop is a bank. It’s once in a blue moon that someone will come in with their checkbook in-hand, ready to pay upfront. That’s frustrating.“
When asked about what gratification his business provides for him, Rod revealed a bit about his personal philosophy. ”I think you have to have self-satisfaction” he stated. “Nobody is going to pat you on the back for doing a good job. But, if you know you did a good job….that’s what counts.”
Nobody is going to pat you on the back for doing a good job. But, if you know you did a good job….that’s what counts.
“My wife and I work hard. She does custom interiors and I do everything around the shop. Heck, I clean the bathrooms. I don’t ask my employees to do anything I won’t do myself.”
In his spare time, Rod likes to deer hunt and loves fixing up classic cars. His pride and joy is a 1969 fastback Mustang, as well as a ‘67 Mustang. He also rebuilt a 1952 Ford F1 4x4, which was quickly commandeered by Ellen.There are opportunities and challenges on the horizon for the independent repair shop owner. “Technology changes so quickly these days” Ethier stated. “You better be ready to be exposed to different ideas and to adapt. All these electrical rigs, self-driving cars and trucks, governmental regulations….You better be prepared to change as you need to or you will be left in the dust.”
You better be prepared to change as you need to or you will be left in the dust.
A special thank you to Rod and Ellen Ethier of Rattlesnake Ridge Truck Repair for allowing us to feature them on the RSVP Shop Talk blog series. If you, or someone you know has a repair shop you'd like to be featured on the RSVP Shop Talk Series, feel free to contact us at [email protected]