Lessons Learned with a Loaded Gun at My Back

Lessons learned from a Loaded Gun at my Back

Skills I learned while working my way through college gave me off to a fast start in corporate America and gave me confidence later in my career to be tough, resourceful and the determination to get deals done.

As leaders one of our top responsibilities is to build the best team possible. When you are looking through all the resumes be sure to look closely at what people did outside the classroom. I am certain they do not teach this at the big brand schools.

This is a True Story. The story of a college Repo Man.

Happy Birthday to Me

I learned an important lesson on this job on my twenty-second birthday, January 18, 1978. My buddy, Don, and I received a call to repossess a pickup truck in Farmington, Arkansas. The address we were given was “somewhere along a rural route,” and as our boss was giving us the details over the phone, he said, “The place is a little bit of a cult.”

“What exactly do you mean, a little bit of a cult?” I asked.

He said, “I’m just reading you the paper the bank gave me. I’m sure it’s nothing.”

He always deflected and downsized any sort of bad news, so we should’ve been a little leery, but again, we were young and needed the money, so we drove out to that rural route late in the cold, snowy, January evening. We found the house sitting back, about a hundred and fifty feet from the road, with the front gate locked. We couldn’t see the truck and didn’t even know for sure if it was there.

We parked up the road and waited until about midnight when we thought it safe to take a closer look. We hopped the fence, walked all the way up to the house, and found the truck. The keys weren’t in it, but for this particular job, we had a key. That wasn’t always the case. If we didn’t get a key for a repossession, back then, you could use a lock pull or a slide hammer, depending on the make of the vehicle. You exposed the lock however you knew how, and could use a screwdriver to turn the ignition. We were always prepared with these tools just in case, but because we had a key for this job, it should’ve been easy.

We knew we’d be able to start the truck, but that didn’t help us with the locked front gate. We figured we could try to break the lock when we got there, but we discovered another problem first: the truck was full of firewood.

We didn’t see any lights on in the house, so we didn’t know if they had electricity. We assumed they were probably living through the winter by the heat of a wood burning stove. Although we knew we needed to get out of there quickly, I said to my friend, “before we go, let’s just throw the firewood out. They must really need it.”

My friend agreed, and he climbed up in the truck bed and started throwing the wood out onto the ground while I shoved the pile away from the truck. We were almost ready to get out of there when I heard the distinctive sound of a cocked shotgun, immediately followed by the unmistakable feeling of the gun barrel pressed against my back. I froze.

“What the #%&@ are you doin’?” a rough, gravelly voice demanded from behind.

“Arkansas Recovery Agents!” we said. We fumbled for our make-shift badges. “We’re here representing Bank of America. We’ve come up from Little Rock to recover your vehicle due to lack of payment.”

Still holding the gun to my back, the man growled, “We don’t believe you. We think you’re just here stealing our stuff. We could just shoot you, kill you right here, right now, bury you out in the pasture, and nobody would ever know you were even here.”

“Please don’t do that! We’re here on official business! We can prove it if you can take us to a phone!”

Without saying a word, they walked us toward a shed out back, which we took as a very bad sign. The property didn’t have electricity, but it turned out that they did have a phone line running to this shed, and much to our surprise, they were going to let us make the call. At about one o’clock in the morning, we called our boss back in Little Rock. He got on the phone andverified us. “These two young men work for me, and they’re gonna get that truck.”

The guy with the gun said, “We’re not giving them the truck.”

Our boss did not back down, “If you don’t give my guys the truck, then I’m gonna drive up there tomorrow, and get it myself.”

Pointing the gun straight at us, our captor said to our boss, “We’ll shoot these two sons of bitches right now... and bury them in the yard.”

“You go ahead and shoot ‘em if you want to. I’m still comin’ to get that truck.”

I was thinking, “This is it. This is how it ends. I’m going to die right here, right now, and be dumped in the woods on my twenty-second birthday.”

The guy hung up the phone, and he and his friends proceeded to rough us up a little bit. They shoved us around, punched us in the stomachs, and threw us off the property into the snow. We ran back to our car and got the heck out of there.

We drove back home, but were so jacked up we couldn’t sleep. Once we got over the initial shock of the experience, we were mad – really mad – so about four in the morning we drove back up that dirt road to where we had originally parked. We figured they were going to have to leave the property with that truck at some point, so we waited. A little later that morning, sure enough, the truck pulled off the property. We followed them at a distance down that backcountry road until they parked at a grocery store. When they went inside, we snuck over and took the truck and hightailed it out of there.

We drove it back to Fayetteville, where we had a storage yard. We celebrated getting that truck, and even though no one believed our story, we felt pretty good about it.

After that truck sat in the storage lot for about two months, those guys showed up with proof that they had finally paid it off and were eligible to retake ownership. My friend and I happened to be there when they arrived, and they sure were bent out of shape. Boy, were they mad at us, but we got the job done, and the bank got their money.

So, I am not sure how many kids in college had these kind of experiences but I am certain that these experiences help develop some toughness and confidence that I used as I navigated through my career.

Again, it’s not about where you went to college and what courses you took. It’s about about experiences and skills

And not getting shot and buried in a pasture somewhere.

Wayne StricklandComment