Clayton's Towing have been operating on the Sunshine Coast for 48 years and is still going strong. Mike Clayton is pictured with his parents Bill and Mary and daughter Bethany.
Clayton's Towing have been operating on the Sunshine Coast for 48 years and is still going strong. Mike Clayton is pictured with his parents Bill and Mary and daughter Bethany. Warren Lynam

The Sunshine Coast towing empire built with bare hands

A YOUNG Bill Clayton quite literally built a towing empire with his bare hands. Now aged 71 you can't pry him from the wheel of his signature trucks.

For 48 years, Clayton's Towing has been the essential first point of call for any major crash on Sunshine Coast roads.

He and Mary Clayton put the honeymoon on hold when Bill set to work, building their first tow truck from scratch.

"I ended up making this power winch, which was the first one on the Coast. Every tow truck around just had a hand winch," Bill said, motioning the clinking and clanking of the pulley system.

"In the beginning, I'd drive the trucks. Mary would look after the office.

"Then we got our second truck and Mary was out on the road, too."

It was a time when the Bruce Highway weaved in and out - not like the largely straight stretch of road it is today.

"Imagine being in the middle of the Bruce at 3am, with one tow truck, one cop, one ambo and two firefighters," Bill said.

"You'd have eight cars piled up, three dead. It was pretty bad at times."

 

Mike Clayton in 1970.
Mike Clayton in 1970. Clayton's Towing

From his broad shoulders, to firm handshake and no bulls--- attitude, Bill has stood the test of time.

They say tough times don't last but tough people do.

"Dad is in at 6pm and doesn't leave till after 7pm - seven days a week," their only son Mike said.

When Clayton's Towing started out, the Sunshine Coast name was only four years old, John Gorton was prime minister and Bill Lawry was the Australian cricket captain.

Trucks, like cars, were different back then.

They lacked the cutting-edge speed and aerodynamics of today's modern vehicles, but they were built to last.

"You couldn't tow a modern car with the trucks we used to use: they'd never handle it," Bill said.

"We just had a couple of chains and a couple of bits of timber on the front. Off we would go."

 

Mike and his mother Mary Clayton.
Mike and his mother Mary Clayton. Clayton's Towing

Clayton's Towing as its known today - from Mackay to Caboolture, the Coast to Nanango

As the Coast grew bigger, so did Clayton's.

They're on call 24/7 now, with 13 depots across the state - from Mackay to Caboolture - employing more than 100 staff across 150 units.

"Big chief" Bill is still "in charge" but in more of a back-seat capacity. Mike is the general manager and shot-caller.

"It's a business where you can wake up, and honestly have no idea where the day is going to take you," Mike said.

"If you get through the day without a drama, it is a miracle."

He said a common question posed to himself and staff was how Clayton's was first on the scene so often.

"A lot of the time people contact us, so we are often in the right (or wrong) place at the right time," Mike said of the "go-go" job.

"Repeat customers ring us because they know the name - multiple generations who we have helped over the years."

Bill added: "When you're on the inside looking out, you don't realise what you've done, but yes, when I sit back and reflect I am proud."

Three generations of Clayton's Towing all at work.

 

Clayton's Towing have been operating on the Sunshine Coast for 48 years and is still going strong. Mike Clayton is pictured with his parents Bill and Mary and daughter Bethany.
Clayton's Towing have been operating on the Sunshine Coast for 48 years and is still going strong. Mike Clayton is pictured with his parents Bill and Mary and daughter Bethany. Warren Lynam

For Mike's daughter Bethany, growing up around the business might have been unavoidable, but working for Clayton's Towing was never forced.

His other two children, Anthony and Samantha, are both involved in towing, too.

"It is in my blood, I think," Bethany said.

"But I've always had the choice of where I want to take my career.

"I think it has made me a safe driver though. Dad has shown me badly crashed vehicles we tow in, and they're a real eye-opener."

Plans for retirement?

As they rapidly approach the half-century mark, Bill and Mary were asked by the Daily if they'll still be here.

Bill never plans to retire and Mary tried but found it isn't for her and is back helping out again.

"Dad's already picked out the tow truck that will be used for his funeral," Mike said.

"They aren't slowing down any time soon."



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