The RoadPro Family of Brands has been a supplier of travel-related and general merchandise for over 50 years with some of its products, ranging from citizen’s band or “CB” radios to modern-day Bluetooth headsets. The company’s close connection to everyday life in trucking also gives it a unique perspective on the family ties that still bind a large portion of this industry together. As a tribute to Father’s Day, Charles White, vice president of brands and marketing at RoadPro, shares this story tracing the long history of one Pennsylvania family in the business of piloting big rigs for a living.
There are no statistics to bear this out, but anyone who knows trucking knows it to be true: there is a strong father-son connection within the industry.
Trucker dads have trucker sons (and daughters) and those trucker children sometimes go on to have their own next generation of truckers.
Google “and sons trucking” and the results go on for pages: Jernigan & Sons; Cotterman & Sons; Flores & Sons. The ampersand is but a small mark signifying something big, the joining of two generations, and sometimes more.
It’s not surprising, really. All small boys, at some point, want to be like their fathers. And when that father has a job driving an enormous truck, one with a loud horn to blow and a seat from which a boy can look down on roofs of other cars, the attraction can be irresistible.
But this type of succession is not a simple matter of handing over the keys.
Trucking is hard. Businesses fail or get bought out; a son might decide he’d rather sit behind a desk than a wheel. Each generational succession is the result of hard work, desire and circumstances.
In honor of Father’s Day, RoadPro Family of Brands is featuring one such company, one that’s been led for 85 years by successive generations of fathers and sons: R.W. Smith Trucking Co. in Danboro, Pa.
This family business doesn’t use an ampersand in its name or on its trucks, but if it did, it would need three, for four generations of Smiths have worked in this particular trucking business.
It started in 1932 when Max Smith began hauling coal from the Pennsylvania mines to homes in nearby Doylestown.
His son, Richard W. Smith Sr., joined him as soon as he was old enough to reach the pedals – though his trucking career was interrupted by a stint in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. Yet after his discharge, Richard started his own trucking company, hauling coal, cinder, sand and gravel.
Then came along Richard Sr.’s son, Richard Jr., who began driving trucks at the tender age of 16; the third generation of Smiths to get behind the wheel.
“He did give me a choice; he said you don’t have to do this,” Richard Jr. said of his father. But there really was no other option.
“I always wanted to do it,” said Richard Jr., now 56. “I always helped him with the trucks. We had a good relationship. It was only natural that everything fell into place.”
Richard Sr. had a stroke in 2004, but recovered and kept driving. He finally retired in 2015 at age 82.
“He was always a very hard worker. He liked to drive and he really liked trucking,” Richard Jr. noted. “He didn’t have any hobbies so he stuck with it as long as he could.”
Richard Sr.’s retirement was the end of the period when three generations of Smiths drove together.
In terms of the fourth generation, Richard Jr.’s two sons, Robbie, 29, and Kevin, 27, got behind the wheel as soon as they could earn their licenses.
And just as his father did for him, Richard Jr. gave his boys the option of doing something else.
“It was never a question what I was going to do,” Kevin noted. “My entire childhood was all about trucks. My brother and I knew we were never going to do anything else.”
As trucking firms go, R.W. Smith is small – eight trucks operating mostly within a 100-mile radius of Danboro, Pa. Richard Jr.’s mother, Marlene, his sister, Jolene, and his wife, Kim, run the front office of the business together. They have five other employees, most of whom have been at the firm for a long time.
And the family generations remain close knit – living not far from one another. Richard Sr. and Richard Jr. live in houses on either side of the trucking garage, while Robbie and Kevin live just a few minutes away.
Not long ago, Richard Jr. saw a local business, a construction firm, come to an end because the founder’s son had no interest in running it. The son sold off the equipment and the company went out of existence.
It wasn’t Richard Jr.’s business and not his decision to make, but it made him sad, nonetheless. And happy that it won’t happen to the company started by his grandfather.
“It eases my mind knowing that if something were to happen to me, my boys would keep it going. We’d be in good hands,” he said.
Kevin agreed: “Once my dad doesn’t want to do it anymore, my brother and I will be able to carry on.”