A produce hauler’s legacy: ‘Best job I ever hated’
My father, Ed Kimball, passed on a legacy of hauling produce to his five sons and grandsons before he died in 2009. He started hauling bananas as an owner-operator from the Port of Tampa in the late 1950s to owning, eventually, Ed Kimball & Sons Trucking with his five sons.
Ask any produce hauler and he’ll tell you it’s hard work but its habit forming. At 60, I now run a brokerage business out of Homestead, Fla. But hauling produce is the best job I ever hated. My family often joked that truckers are like farmers: They’ll all spend their last dime to stay in the game.
When I was a youngster, we lived in St. Petersburg, where the photo to the right was taken of my father holding my brother Kevin, then a toddler, atop his L J Mack. He leased the L J Mack and a stainless Fruehauf to carriers such as Belford, Watkins and Alterman to haul bananas from Tampa and fruit from central Florida to northern markets. On the return trip, he hauled refrigerated products. In 1960, he traded his Mack for a new Autocar, shown below, at Hunt Truck sales in Tampa and leased it to W.M. Tyanan, based in New York, N.Y.
Then trouble hit. Tyanan ran up against Interstate Commerce Commission rules and had to release all of its owner-operators. With a large truck payment, my dad thought he’d have to sell Autocar back to the Tampa dealership. But the dealer, Mr. Hunt knew people in the business: He called the jewel of the trucking industry: Greenstein Trucking Co. in Pompano Beach, Fla. He told its female owner Shendal Greenstein that he knew a young man with a new truck who needed a job.
Once a trucker landed a job with the respected carrier, he was in the “elite,” as my older brother used to say. For Shendal Greenstein, who died 15 years ago and never married, the truckers were her kids.
Trucking began to take root in our family. My dad leased to Greenstein, we moved to Pompano Beach in 1965 and, like a lot of kids growing up there, my brother Glen and I stacked trucks at the Pompano Beach Farmers Market, at that time the world’s largest winter vegetable market, and also worked at the Esso Fleet Truck Stop.
Before we had pallets and pre-coolers, we air-stacked because produce fresh from the farm held field heat. Air stacking by hand is how it was done in the mid ’60s so the unit could lower the temperature. If the field heat was too high, drivers opened the vent doors on the trailers so the heat could blow out as the tractor traveled its route. South Florida produce trucks were easy to identify in the ’60s. Most trailers had two vent doors front and back, an ice bunker door on the right front that led to an ice bunker, and 102-inch inside height so that we could stack bean hampers five high.
Pompano’s produce business supported a lot of careers for young men out of high school. For those of us who chose trucking, most of us drove for owner-operators and small fleets whose main hauls were north-bound produce. Under ICC regulations then, those of us who were younger than 21 were required to haul exempt products on the return trip.
The guys at Chicago’s South Water Market called us younger drivers the “baby truckers,” in good fun.
Those were times when competitors leased to Greenstein, Locke, Jerue, DeWitt and others helped one another on roadside breakdowns. In 1971, shortly after I went to work with my dad at Greenstein, I had pulled off the road in a wide spot on Indiana’s Route 41 to rest. I still remember that Larry Locke, of Locke Trucking in Florida, stopped just to make sure I was OK.
Four years later, 2,000 cartons of cucumbers shifted in a load my brother Kevin and me were pulling. Kevin talked to a flatbed hauler at the Perlis Truck Stop in Georgia where we were, and he let us unload about 500 boxes so we could reload the cargo. After we stabilized the load, the trucker backed up his flatbed next to our back door so that we could load the rest of the cucumbers on our trailer.
“You owe me nothing,” the trucker told us when we offered to pay him. “Just help the next guy who needs it.”