Bradley Eugene Ragan was born 14 May 1915 in Coleman, Georgia, the son of W.E. and Lillian Brown Ragan. Ragan was the founder and Chairman of the Board of Brad Ragan, Inc., (BRI) the “largest tire retreading company in the world” and “parent company of Carolina Tire, with over 100 outlets around the world” according to a Tri-County News article which marked his death in 1979. Ragan’s corporation earned over $153 million the year before he died.
Ragan’s story is a “rags-to-riches tale that outdoes Horatio Alger because it’s true” (Charlotte Observer 2/16/1975). In 1943 he borrowed money from his grandfather and invested $3500, opening a tire store on Upper Street in Spruce Pine as a Goodyear franchise.
According to a 1973 Tri-County News article, Ragan patented a “Band Lug” retreading process centering “on the sale and servicing of large tires used on loaders, graders, scrapers, and earth-moving equipment employed by the construction, mining, and steel industries.” Ragan’s process was a superior method which could retread the largest of huge equipment tires up to 18 feet in diameter; the company’s hook was that the retread tires cost 40% less than new tires and lasted just as long.
During the 1972-73 fiscal year, Brad Ragan Inc. reported $51.2 million according to the Tri-County News article noting the company’s 30th anniversary. Executives of Goodyear Tire and Rubber came to Spruce Pine to celebrate the occasion and recognize the corporation’s largest independent dealer. Ragan was presented a “Friendly Relations” plaque recognizing his relationship with Goodyear and honoring his contributions to the tire industry.
While it was Ragan’s style “to come on like a country boy,” one business associate called Ragan “one of the sharpest businessmen” he had ever had the pleasure to meet. By 1975, Brad Ragan, Inc. employed over 1900 people worldwide at 42 retail outlets and 62 off-the-road sales and service locations (Observer 2/16/75).
To build BRI from a “from a one-outlet retail tire dealer in Spruce Pine into a world-wide integrated tire operation,” Ragan said he had followed 2 rules. One was keeping a strong balance sheet. “’The balance sheet is the bible of business,’ he said, pounding his fist on the desk for emphasis.” Ragan’s other rule was to remember advice given him years ago by a former president of the Northwestern Bank. “‘Don’t get too far from shore,’ the late Edwin Duncan Sr. told him when he went to borrow a quarter million dollars to finance a new project” (Charlotte Observer 2/16/1975).
Ragan and his first wife, Joyce Fallow, were parents of a son Brad Ragan, Jr., born in 1946 in Rowan County, NC. Ragan and his second wife, Florence Bullock (3/2/1919-9/15/2011), married in 1969. The couple had a home on Hillcrest Circle in Spruce Pine.
“Ragan was known in Spruce Pine as a civic-minded man. In 1972 he donated securities worth $586,000 to help build Spruce Pine Community Hospital” (Charlotte Observer 12/23/1979)
Another Charlotte Observer article (2/16/1975) detailing a deal to build a retreading installation in Saudi Arabia called Ragan “a Carolina businessman with a bit of mule trader in him… <who> will go anywhere in the world there is a profit.”
Also in 1975, lawsuits were filed accusing BRI of giving tires to purchasing agents as an incentive to buy, a practice common in the tire industry at that time; there was also an investigation by the Securities and Exchange Commission into BRI’s stock market activities. Both enquiries were settled with financial payments but no admission of wrongdoing.
Ragan was killed in a plane crash on 21 December 1979, on a snowy flight from Denver to Salt Lake City. He was headed to Provo to spend Christmas with his wife and his stepdaughters. The pilot of the small plane, Hal White of Spruce Pine, was also killed. Ragan is buried in Spruce Pine Memorial Cemetery.
His obituary in the Charlotte Observer (12/12/1979) described Ragan as “a hard-driving, cigar-chomping businessman who rose at 5:00 AM and pushed himself and his employees to strive for their limits.”
Brad Ragan, Jr., (10/1/1946-1/1/2017) took over as President and Chairman of the Board of BRI following his father’s death. Goodyear acquired a controlling interest in BRI in 1985 and moved its corporate headquarters from Spruce Pine to Charlotte in October 1986; Goodyear became sole owner in 1999 and 2 years later, “the Akron tire maker phased out the Brad Ragan name by either selling those stores or converting them to Goodyear Automotive Service Centers.”