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Wednesday, 07 January 2015 00:00

Female Shaler, PA tow truck driver excels in male-dominated profession

Petite Lauren Kish routinely surprises stranded motorists.

“As soon as I get out of my truck, I usually hear, ‘I wasn't expecting to see a woman,' ” said Kish, 31, the only female tow truck driver employed by Jeff Critchlow Auto Body Inc. in Shaler, Pennsylvania.

“I expected some burly guy,” drivers often tell the 5-foot-4-inch, 125-pound Kish.

Formerly Lauren Ganster, a 2001 graduate of Shaler Area High School, Kish first towed cars for former Rick's Towing on Route 8 in Shaler.

Kish now answers AAA members' calls for roadside assistance in several townships and boroughs, including Cranberry, Mars, Richland, Hampton, Shaler, Etna, Millvale, Fox Chapel, Indiana Township, Marshall and Bradford Woods.

“We get a lot of compliments with Lauren,” said her boss, Robert “Woody” Woodrick, manager of towing operations for Jeff Critchlow Auto Body.

“People call here, and people call AAA,” he said.

Kish is the only child of Ellen and Tom Ganster of Shaler.

“She's a good tow truck driver,” said Rich Leo, owner of the Rich Leo Garage on Route 8.

As a high school student, Kish initially worked in the office at former Rick's Towing in Shaler and thought, “I don't want to be in here. I want to be outside,” she said.

Kish then got her wish and “big break” from Rick Genser, who operated Rick's Towing, where Kish's father once worked, too.

“We did police calls,” Kish said about Genser's towing operation. “He actually gave me the opportunity to be on call. … The first time I was in a tow truck to do a call, I was by myself. … It was a wreck at Route 8 and Burchfield Road. … I actually learned more, hands on, than anything.”

Kish became Critchlow Auto Body's only female tow truck driver in April 2013 after a former co-worker from Rick's Towing went to work for Jeff Critchlow and then called Kish to ask if she wanted to drive again.

“I remember the hell that came with it,” she said. “But I said, ‘Sure, why not?' ”Kish previously worked at the former Plum site of Recovery America, where her duties included hauling repossessed cars to the Manheim auto auction in Butler County.

Kish also used to work at the Wal-Mart Tire & Lube Express in Richland, where she met her husband, Matt, who works for Autopart International in Ross.

After years of rescuing cars that won't start, Kish often can diagnose the problem.

“When you get that one, telltale click, that's usually a starter that's going bad,” she said. “If you turn the key and you get that rapid click, it's a battery.”

Kish said she hates working in rain but doesn't mind being outside in cold weather.

What she likes about her job is being on the road and talking with the people she meets on calls.“I love driving,” she said. “It's a good feeling, knowing that you're there to help them.”

Kish drives a gleaming copper-colored Dodge Charger to work and packs coveralls, a variety of gloves, an extra sweatshirt and snacks for unexpected long days.Last summer, the extra food came in handy.

“A guy broke down on I-79, and I had to drive him home to Ohio,” she said.The scariest part of her job is “loading cars on the side of a highway,” Kish said, “because there's only so much room between the white line and the guard rail.”

Has she towed any well-known Pittsburghers?

“I had to tow one of the Steelers up in Cranberry. I don't remember his name,” she said. “I had to tow his BMW.”

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