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Saturday, June 17, 2017

Four Generations of Fathers and Sons Drive Pennsylvania Trucking Company

Photo Credit: Art Gentile/The Intelligencer
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 to trucking. 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 a small mark signifying something big, the joining of two generations, 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 cars other people are unfortunate enough to drive, 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.   
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R.W. Smith Trucking Co. in Danboro, Pa., doesn’t use an ampersand in its name or on its trucks, but if it did, it would need three. Four generations of Smiths have worked in the trucking business.  
It started in 1932 when Max Smith began hauling coal from the Pennsylvania mines to homes in Doylestown. His son, Richard W. Smith Sr., joined him as soon as he was old enough to reach the pedals. His trucking career was interrupted by a stint in the U.S. Army during the Korean War, but when he got out, he started his own company, hauling coal, cinder, sand and gravel.     
His son, Richard Jr. began driving at age 16, the third generation of Smiths 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., 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,” his son said. “He didn’t have any hobbies so he stuck with it as long as he could.”
Richard Sr.’s retirement was the end of a period when three generations of Smiths drove together. Richard Jr.’s two sons, Robbie, 29, and Kevin, 27, got behind the wheel as soon as they could earn their licenses.
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,” said Kevin. “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. Richard Jr.’s mother, Marlene; sister, Jolene; and wife, Kim, run the front office. They have five other employees, most of whom have been with them a long time. Richard Sr. and Richard Jr. live in houses on either side of the trucking garage. Robbie and Kevin live just a few minutes away.
Not long ago, Richard Jr. saw a local business, a construction firm, 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.”

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