Exploring Alabama: Randall Rhodes

Randall Rhodes
Randall Rhodes

My friend Randall Rhodes looks at life a little differently than most folks. But I mean that in a good way. To make a point about his approach to life, here's a story about his latest adventure that starts on the Internet.

Randall recalls sitting in his office at his business, Landmark Signs in Montgomery. He was watching an item on eBay as the time limit on the auction was ticking down. The item sold new for $271,000 but on this day Rhodes' bid was a fraction of that amount.

"I bid $15,000 on it thirty seconds before it sold," said Rhodes. "Thirty seconds later I owned it. I bought it for a little under $10,000."

The item he bought was a shiny, like new, one-owner fire truck, which was most recently the property of the town of Retton, Ohio. It was in great shape and, like a used car salesman's favorite line, it really did have low miles.

"It had 15,000 miles on it when I bought it – which is pretty much new when it comes to trucks," Rhodes said. "We put about 4,000 miles on it running around town. It took them 15 years to put 15,000 miles on it. Now, I put about 1,000 miles a month on it doing service work."

Rhodes removed most of the fire department's decals, mechanical siren and emergency lights, but it still looks a lot like a fire truck. So much so that it fooled a couple of local policemen as Rhodes recently drove the lime green truck back from a job.

"It was five o'clock and I went to pull out on the eastern bypass," Rhodes recalled. "The traffic was bumper to bumper. I was sitting there being very patient, waiting for the traffic to clear when to motorcycle policemen pulled up and stopped all the traffic and flagged me out in the traffic, thinking I was a fire truck."

Rhodes says he tried to wave them off, but by then they had stopped the traffic in both directions. So, when they directed him out into the opening, he drove off "trying not to attract too much attention", he said with a grin.

Being in the sign business, Rhodes had a good reason for buying the truck. Its platform extends 95 feet in the air--perfect for installing and servicing high rise signs.

During my visit, Rhodes took me up in the large bucket on the end of the truck's boom. We stopped at nearly 95 feet up where he showed me the view from the back of his shop on North Perry. He pointed to the new Biscuits baseball park explaining he and his crew erected the scoreboard.

"We used this truck to do probably 50 percent of the work we did on the scoreboard. It's 65 feet to the top and this truck is just really easy to work out of."

Rhodes remembered calling to insure his fire truck. "My insurance man told me I was lying," said Rhodes. "I said 'no sir' and he asked what I was going to use the truck for…parades?"

When Rhodes explained that he was going to use it for work, the insurance man said, "If it was anyone else but you, Randall, I wouldn't believe it, but knowing you, I'll get the paperwork out this week." I'm happy to report the ride down from 8 stories up went smoothly with no incidents.

During the slow trip down from our bird's eye view of Montgomery, Rhodes handed me a piece of paper--a printed version of another item up for bids on eBay. This time he was looking at the ultimate in transportation on Lake Martin. It was a full-sized, World War II aircraft carrier! Opening bid? $7,000,000.

Rhodes smiled and said he wasn't really considering the 1944, British Naval vessel because the owners couldn't include a fleet of vintage fighter planes to put on the deck! I don't think he was serious. But then again, he looks at life a little differently than most folks.

Reporter: Bob Howell