Building on a Proud Legacy
Their hometown’s geographical location — a 3-mile-wide-by-12-mile-long valley surrounded by mountains — also played a factor in tying the families together. It’s a self-sufficient community where coal mining, trucking and farming put almost everyone in the area on the same social and economic ladder. Individual pride in hard work and personal responsibility ranks only slightly below family and community.
Family members say growing up in the valley was ideal because of Check and his wife Marlene’s love of children, as they had seven kids of their own. And the Updegraves’ home was a natural draw for youngsters in the neighborhood.
“Most of the kids recognized the sound of my dad’s truck when he came home,” Doris fondly recalls. “We always had kids at our house. My parents were very youth-oriented.”
Backyard football and volleyball games were regular weekend activities at their home. “My dad loved to spend time with the kids, and he once broke his ribs playing football in the backyard,” Doris says.
To support such a large family, Check had a work ethic as strong as his commitment to family, according to Steve. “At one point, he had three full-time jobs,” he says. These included working not only as a truck driver, but a mechanic and service manager at a local truck stop.
Check’s trucking career started at 16 hauling coal for an uncle before Check entered the Army, where he was assigned to the motor pool. Aside from a brief period when he was on disability after falling, he worked more than a half century as a truck driver with almost half that time as an owner-operator.
“My dad was what you might have called a wildcat trucker back in the day,” says Robert Updegrave Jr., 57, better known by his family as Bobby or Checky. “He would haul anything, anywhere for a price.”
Call it wildcat or outlaw trucking, all the more seasoned drivers in the family have a strong fondness for the “good old days” when there seemed to be a more rebellious spirit within the industry, and more camaraderie among drivers.
“I can still remember what truck drivers were like,” jokes Rodger, who has been driving since 1975, interrupted by a 10-year stint as a mechanic with Cummins Engines.
Don Bixler, 61, who drives for ABF, agrees that trucking has changed a great deal. He started his career in 1968.
“Biggest change is the attitude of some of the truckers on the road,” Don says. “It is not that family-type atmosphere that it was 30 years ago. If you break down, people are more likely to just drive by than to stop and help.
“But the trucks are a thousand times better than it used to be. They make the driving part of the job much easier today.”