Family remembers Tampa's towing patriarch, Jim Stepp

- One of the biggest tow trucks in the state is part of the fleet put together by Stepp's towing – which is one of the biggest towing companies in the country.

The industry pioneer who founded the company, Jim Stepp has died at the age of 81. His rags-to-riches story is about his family and his trucks.

It was all-smiles on their wedding day, but on their first date, Judy wasn't so sure when Jim showed up in a tow truck.

"I don't think I want to go ride in this thing," Judy Stepp remembers. "Back then, girls didn't hardly ride in trucks."

But Jim and Judy Stepp would go on to own many trucks, turning a small service station in Temple Terrace into one of the largest towing companies in the country. The company now has over 300 wreckers.

Oscar Weeks sold Stepp is first tow truck in 1960.

"Did you ever think he would end up with this many?" I asked the 87-year-old. "No sir, I never thought he'd get that big, but he's done it with lots of good people."

A lot of them came out to Jim Stepp's funeral recently. Stepp lost his battle with cancer at age 81. He was passionate about children's charities, a Shriner, and an Army veteran.

The company's archives contain photos of its wreckers helping untangle countless calamities on area highways. In his final years, Stepp was proud to own one of the largest, most technologically advanced heavy wreckers in the world, with a price tag of nearly a million dollars, but he was still the same guy who ran that little service station near Busch Gardens.

"I'll tell you how much he loved this business. He was only three miles from Busch Gardens and never made it to Busch Gardens. He made it to the parking lot jumping cars and stuff like that," says his son Todd, who now runs the business.

Judy says she's happy she hopped in that tow truck more than 50 years ago.

"We were still having fun after all these years and I'd do it all over again," she says. 

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