At 72, Ed Miller could easily call it a day and hang up the "Gone Fishin' " sign.

At 72, Ed Miller could easily call it a day and hang up the "Gone Fishin' " sign.

Even after 54 years in the tire business, however, Miller has no intention of turning in his tire iron and heading off into the sunset.

Miller has operated what is now known as Ed's Tire Factory on North Pacific Highway for 46 years. While succession has long been on his mind, he has no plans to start a butterfly collection or take up bridge.

"At 72, you've got to think about what happens next," Miller said. "When I was young, 72 was an antique."

Still, as the years have passed Miller has tried to find someone within his own organization to take over the business. That hasn't come to fruition, and when competitors have presented offers, it hasn't been sweet enough.

But Miller recently struck a deal that allows him to keep doing what he loves, keep his 18 employees on the job and, most importantly, provide for his wife down the road.

Longtime friend Eric Gill, who owns eight Tire Factory stores in the Portland area, worked out a deal to purchase the business, but keep Miller as a co-owner and in charge of the operation for now — and potentially for another 15 years.

"The proceeds go to me for the next 15 years, or however long I keep at it," Miller said. "The goal was to set it up so my wife doesn't have to deal with it and I can go on as long as I wish.

"People ask, 'Why don't you do your hobby?' and I tell them, this is my hobby. I enjoy the people I work with, and I like my customers."

Although he plans to take time off when he wants to, he doesn't plan on seeing the world.

"I got to travel quite a bit early on in life," he said. "I'm not crazy about going overseas any more; just to be free is more important."

Miller got into the tire business during the heyday of whitewall tires in 1958, going to work for OK Tire Store in Twin Falls, Idaho. He journeyed to Portland to seek his fortune a few years later and stayed a month before the rain got to him.

He headed south to Medford and has been in the Rogue Valley ever since.

Miller acquired the OK Tire Store that sat on what is now the northwest parking area of the Rogue Valley Mall on North Pacific Highway and dubbed it Ed's OK Tire in 1966.

The surroundings were sparse at the time, with mostly bare land behind the shop, Copeland Lumber across the street and Medco occupying what has now become the Northgate Centre Marketplace.

"It was me and two other guys, a front-end guy and a tire guy," Miller recalled. "I was 26 and I was going to retire when I was 30, but that didn't work out so good. It was a pipe dream."

Nonetheless, he was ambitious, and three years after he started, Miller opened a second shop in Yreka and began calling his business Ed's Associated Tire. The Yreka venture lasted until 1974, when he retrenched to the Rogue Valley.

"It would have been good, but I didn't prepare the people I put there well enough," he admitted. "I found out I didn't know how to run something from a distance. I like to be part of things."

Driving over the Siskiyou Summit in good weather and bad almost proved to be a health hazard.

"I made many, many trips over the hill and almost fell asleep," Miller said. "I decided it wasn't worth it."

In the late 1960s, Miller — prompted by advertising agent Mike McCoy — began appearing in television ads to promote his business. His face was as familiar on Medford TV sets as anyone working for a local station.

In the early 1980s, Miller became part of a group of independent Northwest tire dealers who formed a buying cooperative known as the Tire Factory. But it wasn't until 1993 that he adopted Ed's Tire Factory for his signage and marketing.

When the oft-delayed Rogue Valley Mall project finally got going, Miller moved his shop a half-mile to the north on North Pacific Highway.

"There wasn't as much competition when I first started, although it seemed like it then," Miller said. "Looking back, it seemed pretty easy, a lot easier than it is now. The expenses, taxes and overhead are dramatically different. It's more of a challenge. It's just a matter of changing with it."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email