Family business says goodbye to customers
ODESSA--Within a few days, a long-standing Schuyler County family business will close its doors for the last time. Old customers and friends have been coming by to say how much it will be missed.
After George and Iona Tanner moved to Odessa in 1956, they began making friends. And their friends soon learned to appreciate how George Tanner combined mechanical creativity with problem-solving. When one friend, Amos Hall, needed bedding for his chickens, Tanner went to talk to the owners of Cotton Hanlon, who had a surplus of sawdust. The problem wasn't hauling the sawdust--it was getting it from Tanner's truck to the Hall's barn's fourth floor.
Tanner gave the matter some thought, then fitted his truck with an auger and silage blower to efficiently move the sawdust wherever it had to go. And a business was born. George A. Tanner, Inc. began in the late 1960s, incorporating in the late 1990s. The business grew to employ two of his three daughters and a son-in-law. But times have changed, and the business is slated to close its doors soon. George Tanner passed away in 2012 and his oldest daughter, Patricia Frasier, who's run the office since the mid 1980s, is now looking forward to her own retirement.
It's always been a family enterprise, with brother-in-law Brian Hubbell working in the shop and another sister, JoAnn, working for the business part-time.
Before the business was fully up and running, George had a job driving a school bus for the Odessa-Montour Central School District, a job he continued even after his business succeeded. The family also raised chickens for market, and Frasier recalls that one night every summer--"always the hottest night of the year!"--the family would have a chicken round-up where all available friends and family would catch chickens and put them in the truck. Then the first girl to jump into the truck would get to ride through the night with her father, waking in the morning when they arrived at the processing facility.
After a Cornell University study concluded sawdust was one of the best forms of animal bedding, cleaning the animals who live with it, the sawdust and shavings business really took off. Tanner sourced the sawdust not only from the Cotton Hanlon Mill, but also sent drivers down to small factories in Pennsylvania, including one where baseball bats were crafted, and collect shavings to add into the mix. This seems fitting because the community-minded Tanner helped sponsored a little league team. He also served as a volunteer firefighter and a SundaySchool teacher, though that's another story.
Eventually he added a grinder so he could prepare his own shavings from brush--so the supply of sawdust could keep up with demand. To supplement the sawdust business, he also began selling and servicing snowmobiles, lawnmowers and chainsaws, a good fit for the man who loved to tinker with engines.
He found a like-minded employee in his son-in-law, who began working for Tanner in 1979. Hubbell began as a driver--for a while he made the 356 mile round trip to western Pennsylvania six days a week in warm weather. When Tanner became ill and could no longer work on small engines, Hubbell took over for him. He recalls they had a really pleasant working relationship. Tanner taught all his drivers to service their own trucks, and advised him, "Treat people how you want to be treated." With a grin, Hubbell admits he knew that already.
The showroom and office is emptying out, Frasier says. "We're down to the last few days." She's ready to retire; Hubbell says he's going to start looking for another job.
Tanner died in May 2012, but he's still fondly remembered by customers and neighbors as well as family. Until his final illness, he never really retired, but still came to work, fixing small engines and telling his customers when they didn't really need him to do a repair because a problem was one they might fix themselves. "He just loved his customers," Frasier says. "A lot of them have said, 'This is the end of an era,'" she says.