BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – He came with a couple hundred bucks, a Chevy, a girl, and a built a business that’s been a part of Fort Madison for the past 40 years.
Now at the age of 68, Tom Crocker’s gonna retire because in his words, “I wanna have some time for myself before I die.”
Tom has been the owner and operator of Pioneer Glass since 1987 and worked for the company since 1975. He said it’s been Pioneer Glass since 1967 and before that it was Tri-State Glass Company.
He said in a perfect world, someone would step in to buy the business but he doesn’t think anything like that is going to happen.
“Well, I’d like to see somebody step in, but I’m pretty doubtful of it because you have to have been in the glass business,” Crocker said.
At one point, Crocker said Burlington Glass was interested in the business but things have changed for them in Burlington and that doesn’t seem to be in the future.
The company’s last day in business will be April 28. The building is currently for sale through Fraise Auction & Real Estate and interested parties can contact them at 319-470-0115.
Crocker said once the doors are closed he will probably set up an auction with Fraise to sell off some of the equipment and possible some inventory.
“The building is for sale, and I’ll probably end up auctioning off the equipment and some of the inventory, but not too many people are interested in sheets of glass,” Crocker said.
He said some of the suppliers may take the glass back and take off a restock fee, which would be probably more than he would get at an auction.
Crocker said he would have preferred to hand the business off to one his employees, but no one stepped forward.
“No, I thought I had one, he was the best one I ever had. He and I did all the outside work. He was smart, could figure things out, but he quit about 3 weeks ago.”
The business currently has four employees, not including Crocker, but at one point had as many as eight.
In leaving the business, Crocker said it’s the people that he will remember the most.
“You know, most of them are just great,” he said. “But then you’ve got your small percentage that tries to make your life miserable. But I would say most people were just great.”
Crocker was born in Nebraska and moved to a farm in western Iowa after the seventh grade where he attended high school before being drafted into the Navy in 1969. He became a member of the UDT teams, or “Frogmen”, which were Underwater Demolition Teams. Crocker said they were a step below S.E.A.L.S.
“The first eight weeks, it’s the same training and they split us off,” Crocker said. “I was in that program for four years and then moved back to Iowa. I moved here in 1975 from Iowa City.”
He said the physical nature of the job, coupled with a simpler life calling, prompted him to hang up the for sale sign.
“I had back surgery a year and a half ago and I can’t do what I used to do. I could be in the office and do that stuff, but I can’t do that – it would drive me nuts. I like to do the physical work and some of the paperwork, but I just can’t sit in an office,” he said.
Tom and his wife Trish, who died in April 2014, were married in 1976. She had three children she brought to the marriage, Kathy, Sara and John. Kathy has two children of her own.
“There not blood, but they’re Trish’s and I’m like a father to them and they’re like my kids,” he said.
A garden, some chicken, and hobbies await Crocker once the business affairs have been settled.
I’ll never be at a loss for something to do. I’ve got seven acres and a pond to take care of but I can stop and take a break whenever I want to,” he said with an easy chuckle.
“I have a garden and some chickens, but I plan on getting back to…, I have not done any for a few years now… but stained glass.”
He said the stained glass work would be something he would do for himself as his days as a business man are done.