It's fitting that tire king Les Schwab wore a Resistol cowboy hat often when he was photographed, or when driving around his hometown of Prineville, Ore., in his Jeep. A motto for the sturdy cowboy hats is "Best All Around," an observation a lot of folks might use for the self-made Schwab, as well. Northwesterners who might not recognize one of their state's U.S. senators on the street are as familiar with Les Schwab's face as a favorite uncle's photograph in the family album. The death of one of the region's most successful businessmen, at 89, is prompting wonderfully nostalgic feature obituaries in newspapers and lowered flags in his hometown of Prineville. As the Oregonian notes, the orphaned Schwab started with a single shed in Prineville, growing Les Schwab Tire Centers into one of the nation's largest independent tire chains. Nearly 8,000 people in 410 stores sold some $1.6 billion in good and services last year. His annual wintertime "free beef" promotion plays well across the state; campy kitsch in Portland and a respected gesture in small, rural towns. Schwab's insistence on polite, swift service and his loyalty to longtime employees made him the Nordstrom of radials. One Northwest blogger who rants (and occasionally raves) about customer service experiences related the classic Schwab story of driving up to one of the chain's stores and having an employee run to open the car door almost before the vehicle has stopped. "Show me all the cheesy commercials you want," writes the blogger in a 2005 post. "If you make this generally uncomfortable and sometimes extremely stressful experience an almost (gasp) enjoyable one, you have won a customer for life. Will I ever buy tires anywhere else? Probably not, if I continue to live in the Northwest. And I don't even care if I get the beef."