Back then, in the 80's, the beauty of Clutter Busters was that no one knew the value of what they had. There were no informative shows on television like “Auction Kings”, “Storage Wars”, “Pawn Stars” or “American Pickers” (yes, we watch them all). Heck, we charged people $75.00 a truckload to haul their valuables away. Then, Bill and his buddy, Charlie would go sell the stuff for next to nothing at the flea market (we didn’t know the value of what we had either). It really was a great business as it was almost always pure profit.
We even expanded Clutter Busters to include gutter cleaning - that is until Charlie fell off the ladder and broke his wrist in 10 places, but that is another story. Eventually, we had two trucks on the road - I drove one and Bill drove the other. Jennifer, our oldest child, often accompanied me to the dump - riding shotgun in her car seat. She would have been less than a year old at the time. Some mother I am!
Anyway, Bill and I reached a crossroads with Clutter Busters - I wanted to expand the business even further by renting a warehouse and doing auctions. He thought I was nuts. In short, we argued, Bill won and we ended up moving to Florida when he got a teaching job.
Fast forward 24 years.
It took me years to forgive Bill for not believing in my vision for Clutter Busters - about 24 to be exact. I frequently dream of where we would be today had we franchised, but I’m getting ahead of myself. So, I finally gave in again and joined him in the quest for the holy grail of rusty, dusty gold. There really is something to be said for the high you get when you find out the magnet you bought for fifty cents is worth $120.00. Of course, I wasn’t content to just go out garage saling, I had to start a business. The name Clutter Busters was already taken here in Florida, so we are now Clutter Doctor and our motto is: Got clutter? Don’t just put a band-aid on it - call the Doctor!
It’s funny how life seems to come full circle. When we started Clutter Busters, we had a little Ford Ranger that we beat into the ground. Now, we have a Chevy S10 that is as beat up as our Ford was. In fact, just recently, our truck had a near death experience.
Bill and I were on our way home from selling our goods in a small antique town, Arcadia. We had the truck loaded with items we didn’t sell and were pulling a trailer with some of the bigger items. As we were driving down Interstate 75, I kept smelling something strange.
“Do you smell that?” I yelled to Bill over the rush of wind coming in my open window (we don’t have A/C in the truck and Bill’s driver’s side window doesn’t open).
“What?” He yelled back at me.
“Do you smell that?” I screamed louder.
“What’s that smell?” He yelled back at me.
“I don’t know.” I said as my feet started to feel strangely warm. “My feet are hot.”
“I can think of other things beside your feet that are hot.” He smiled wickedly at me.
“No, honey!” I began to panic now, “My feet are really hot!”
“What?” He yelled back at me as I was bent over feeling the floor of the cab.
“The floor’s hot and something smells like it’s burning.” I began furiously looking for the source of the problem.
Nothing in the cab was on fire. The hood of the truck wasn’t smoking. I looked behind me.
“Oh my God!!” I screamed, “Bill, pull over the truck’s on fire!”
Now, I have to add a side note to this story. If anyone has ever traveled Interstate 75, they know that hundreds of cars fly down that road at 75+ MPH and ride up each other’s tails, switching lanes like they’re on the Indianapolis Speedway. This day was no different. Why didn’t anyone honk or attempt to alert us that we were driving a flamethrower down the highway?
I called my daughter, Jennifer because we were supposed to be meeting the family and some friends for camping. “Jen, we’re going to be late. The truck’s on fire. I have to go and call 911. I’ll call you back in a few minutes.”
I was frantically dialing 911 as Bill pulled off the road.
“911, what is your emergen....” The phone died.
“The phone died!” I yelled to Bill who was wrestling with the flaming tarp.
“I’m not going to die.” He yelled back.
“Forget it!” I screamed over the traffic as a nice lady stopped to see if we needed any help.
“The truck is on fire.” I said as if she didn’t already know this. “My phone is dead.”
“I called 911.” She said as she handed me the phone.
“Our truck is on fire.” I yelled at the 911 operator.
“What is your location?” she asked calmly.
“We’re on 75 southbound but I don’t know exactly where.” I looked at the lady who shrugged her shoulders in an “I don’t know either” manner.
“Bill, where are we?”
“On 75!” He yelled back to me as he stomped the tarp that was now on the ground.
Flames were still shooting up between the cab and the bed of the truck.
“I know we’re on 75 but where?” “Get away from the truck before it blows up!”
“Mam, what was the last thing you remember passing on 75?” I heard the operator asking.
“A sign for Cracker Barrel.”
“Well that narrows it down!” I heard the operator getting snippy with me.
“Listen, we got on 75 around Arcadia and we’ve probably traveled about 15 miles. I didn’t pay attention to the last mile marker.” I handed the phone back to the lady and went to help Bill.
He was still stomping on the tarp when I noticed the flames in the center of the truck just suddenly went out.
“The flames are gone.” I said as Bill stomped out the last cinder on the tarp.
“I know,” he said, “I just stomped it out.”
“No, the truck isn’t burning any more.” I said in disbelief.
Sure enough, the truck was just sitting there looking like a regular truck - not a flame in sight. Shortly after, the fire trucks and police cars came blaring down the highway right past us. They had to turn around and come back after the nice lady flagged them down.
A fireman dressed in full gear jumped out of the truck, grabbed the hose and came running over to the truck while the police directed traffic down to a slow one lane crawl.
“Where’s the fire?” Another fireman asked.
“I don’t know.” I said, “It was here a minute ago.” I pointed to the charred grass next to where our mortally wounded tarp lay on the ground. “The truck was burning, but it just all of a sudden went out.”
The fireman eyed me suspiciously. He went over to inspect the truck and observed the charred back window. He looked the truck over from top to bottom, shrugged his shoulders and informed us that he figured it was ok to drive, but he said that the fire truck would follow us for a bit to make sure no new flames appeared.
“You were very lucky.” He told us. “The fire was really close to your gas tank. Something must have fallen between the cab and the bed and rested on the muffler. That’s what caught fire. The flames from that caught your tarp on fire.”
We thanked the very nice phone lady, the firemen and police and climbed into the truck. I was a bit shaky as we started down the road and did more than a few double takes over my shoulder, but we made it home without further incident.
As soon as we got home, I called Jen who had no idea if we were dead or alive and was ready to send a posse out looking for us. I assured her that we were fine and would be coming to the campground shortly.
Our truck still bears the scars of the fire with permanent black streaks on the back window and truck bed - but I think it adds a touch of character to the old girl. Looking back, I realize that we were so lucky to have survived this incident relatively unscathed - and I truly thank God for that. Then, there are times when I think about all our antics and I wonder if I was psychic in choosing the name “Clutter Doctor” for the business because Bill and I need to have our heads examined!