Sowing Seeds of Success
The Doyle truck drivers have logged more than 7 million miles. The family legacy started in 1956 when Clarence Doyle started driving a grain truck to subsidize his farming income.
Sitting under a city park pavilion in Springfield, Colo., in an attempt to find relief from the 100-degree heat, Clarence Doyle readily admits he misses the open road. The 81-year-old – better known as Junior by those who are close to him – is surrounded by his children, grandchildren and other kin. Everyone is talking about recent loads or reminiscing about the old days.
“I about drove my wife crazy when I first quit driving a truck,” Clarence says. His wife Mildred Doyle chimes in, “When the boys call from the road, he gets out the map to see where they’re going and what routes they’re taking. He misses it.”
“The boys” are their sons and grandsons – part of a legacy of truck drivers that has earned the clan the title of Truckers News’ 2003 Great American Trucking Family. The Doyles, who were runners-up in last year’s contest, will be recognized at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, Sept. 26-28.
The Doyles’ trucking history began in the flat farmlands of southeast Colorado in 1956 when Clarence subsidized his income as a farmer by hauling grain in the winter months. “I pulled a wooden, flat-bottom trailer. You had to open the doors on the bottom and then get in there and shovel the grain into the holes to unload,” Clarence says.
When health problems associated with grain dust forced Clarence to give up farming, he turned to driving a truck full time. In the early 1970s, he began hauling propane in a five-state region for Walsh Propane. He remained there until he retired in 1986.
Other members of the first generation drivers included Clarence’s late brother, Chester, who hauled paving supplies for the Colorado Department of Transportation for 20 years and his late brother-in-law, Jim Schweitzer, who hauled propane for many years before he was killed in a collision with a train.
Clarence passed his love for trucking on to his sons. Both Jack and Larry are career truckers. Larry, 52, of Hanston, Kan., followed his dad’s footsteps by hauling grain and then propane before moving on to transporting livestock. He now pulls a reefer for Kindsvater Trucking of Dodge City, Kan., primarily hauling meat.
Larry’s wife, Tancy, holds a commercial driver’s license and spent a couple of years on the road with her husband. She also worked for a while as a dispatcher at Kindsvater, but now she runs a day care center.
Jack Doyle, 48, of Fort Morgan, Colo., started driving over the road in 1990, and like his brother, hauled livestock for five years. In 1996, he became the first person in the core family to own his own tractor. He purchased the truck through Hill Brothers Transportation’s lease-purchase program. His wife, Melva, also a CDL holder, makes up the other half of the Jack Doyle Trucking team, which is still leased to Hill Brothers.
Their youngest son, 23-year-old Ryan of Goodland, Kan., is a company driver for Hill Brothers. Oldest son Brad Doyle, 25, is a highway engineer who sometimes helps out with his parents’ trucking business.
Both of Jack’s children got their share of road trips, but Ryan is the one who could never get enough of the lifestyle. “When I was in the fifth or sixth grade, I logged 17,000 miles during my summer break,” Ryan says. “I kept a journal of everywhere we went because I’ve always been thrilled with trucks.”
Ryan worked as a mechanic before earning his CDL. His first driving job was hauling oversized equipment for John Deere. “The first time Dad rode with me when I was pulling 13-6 wide, I think he thought I was going to hit every bridge and mailbox along the highway,” Ryan quips.
“It did make me nervous because I never pulled oversize,” Jack admits. “But he’s a good driver.”
Ryan, an avid student of the trucking industry who reads every trucking magazine he can get his hands on, credits his father with giving good advice about driving. “He never really taught me how to drive,” Ryan says. “I just watched him when I would ride with him when I was kid. He was always preaching about slowing down and driving where you’re comfortable. I patterned myself after my dad and drive where I’m comfortable.”
Ryan’s level-headed approach to trucking is a source of pride for his parents, and they support his desire to one day own his own fleet. “We want Ryan to learn more about the industry before buying his first truck,” says Melva, who is no longer on the road and works managing a restaurant kitchen in addition to helping her husband with bookkeeping. “We want him to know what he’s getting into. Becoming owner-operators has been good to us, but we’ve had to struggle to get where we are now.”
The Doyle trucking family branches off in other directions. In addition to Ryan, Clarence and Mildred Doyle’s grandsons, Kevin and Lee Townsley, and grandson-in-law, Mark Blackburn, all work in trucking-related jobs. Both Tancy and Melva have relatives in the industry, including brothers, uncles and cousins. Brad’s wife, Rita, also had grandparents and an uncle in trucking.
Together the Doyle family truck drivers have logged more than 7 million miles. Many have earned safety awards for accident-free driving and other trucking awards. They have also been active in their respective communities.
Clarence served on the school board in Vilas, Colo., and helped with restoration and beautification of his hometown. He also mows the grass for the city. His wife was the city clerk for more than 27 years. Jack, Melva, Larry and Tancy have been active in 4-H, Future Farmers of America and food drives, and they all have served as after-prom chaperones. Larry and Jack also both are former Trucker Buddies.
Doyle family members who are past and present truck drivers include: (front row, l-r) Melva Doyle, Kevin Townsley, Ryan Doyle, (back row) Jack Doyle, Larry Doyle, Tancy Doyle, Clarence Doyle and Mark Blackburn.
Family is important to the Doyles. They keep in contact by cell phone and try to sit down for dinner if they see each other on the road. “I always tell my company that family comes first,” Jack says. “I’ve been there when all the grandchildren were born.”
Larry agrees. He keeps pictures of his family with him in his truck. “We all keep in touch with Mama when we’re on the road, and during an emergency we work together,” he says.
The Doyles stress that it takes a lot of give and take for trucking families to remain close. A sense of humor doesn’t hurt, either. Larry jokes that the secret to his successful 27 years of marriage to Tancy is, “I leave and she stays home.” His wife shoots back, “No, it’s more like I chase him out the door.”
But when it comes to the future of their profession overall, some of the Doyles worry the trucking fraternity may be deteriorating. “Twenty years ago drivers were more close-knit,” Larry says. “If you broke down someone would always quickly stop and help. Now they may or they may not.”
His brother Jack also expresses concerns about the new generation of drivers. “I’ve always taken pride in my job and tried to keep my appearance up,” he says. “A lot of the new guys don’t.”
Even though Larry says he is sometimes ashamed to call himself a trucker when he’s around drivers who don’t respect themselves or others, he is always ready and willing to help out any new driver who wants to learn about the profession. “A 25-year-old recently asked me what I thought about trucking,” he says. “I told him that you can make a living, raise a family and have a good life if you work at it and take pride in what you’re doing.”
And while the industry is always evolving, the lure of the profession remains the same. “The best thing about trucking is the freedom of the open road,” Larry says. “I’ve got a boss, but I still have opportunity for freedom.”
Jack says if he had to do his life over again, he would still choose trucking as his way to make a living. “It’s a way of life, not just a job,” he says. “I get wander fever if I’m home more than two or three days. I love what I do.”
It’s been almost 20 years since Clarence drove for a living, but he sees some advantages today’s trucker has compared to his days behind the wheel – especially the equipment. “It’s a gravy train compared to what we used to drive,” he says. “We didn’t have air ride, the roads were rough and we didn’t have all the nice things on the trucks they have now. Trucking is a lot different than when I was driving.”
Though times have changed, a mother’s concern remains constant. With children and grandchildren working in trucking, “It’s a lot of people for me to worry about,” says Clarence’s wife Mildred. “I know they’re safe drivers, but I always worry.”
But being named the 2003 Great American Trucking Family helps her and other members justify the risks and sacrifices they have made over the years. “Truck drivers don’t get enough pay or enough respect,” Mildred says. “But this award is fantastic. I never thought something like this would happen for my family. I’ve very proud.”
The Doyle Family Truck Drivers
Clarence “Junior” Doyle – Started trucking part time in winter months of 1956 when he couldn’t farm. Later became full-time driver hauling propane regionally.
Chester Doyle – Younger brother of Clarence. Drove 20 years for the Colorado DOT.
Jim Schweitzer – Brother-in-law of Clarence. Hauled propane for many years before being killed in collision with a train.
Freddy Dunsworth – Uncle to Melva Doyle. Owned a hay hauling business in LaJunta, Colo.
Ivan Dunsworth – Freddy’s brother. Had custom combine harvest business before going to work for Dick Simon.
Cheryl Dunsworth – Team driver with husband Freddy.
Larry Doyle – Son of Clarence. Drives for Kindsvater Trucking.
Jack Doyle – Son of Clarence. Owner-operator leased to Hill Brothers.
Rick Doyle – Chester’s son. Hauled locally for a Denver company for four years.
Melva Doyle – Wife of Jack and business partner in Jack Doyle Trucking.
Tancy Doyle – Wife of Larry. Worked as team driver and dispatcher at Kindsvater.
LeRoy Dunsworth – Freddy’s son. Worked for cattle-hauling company.
Brad Doyle – Son of Jack and Melva. Highway engineer who also helps with family trucking business.
Ryan Doyle – Son of Jack and Melva. Company driver for Hill Brothers. Hopes to one day own a fleet of trucks.
Mark Blackburn – Grandson-in-law of Clarence. Hauls hay in Oklahoma, Texas and Kansas.
Kevin Townsley – Grandson of Clarence. Drives for off-road oil company.
Lee Townsley – Grandson of Clarence. Drives for off-road oil company.
Ryan Doyle, who lost his 4-month-old son to congestive heart failure, finds comfort in being at the right place at the right time to help another child in need.
Ryan Doyle helps young accident victim on late son’s birthday
Sitting behind the wheel of a truck bound for California was not where Ryan Doyle wanted to be on June 4 of this year. He wanted to be at home on what would have been his late son’s 3rd birthday.
Little Austen Doyle died of congestive heart failure at 4 months of age, and Ryan felt like any parent who has lost a child would on a special occasion – depressed and a little aggravated.
But something happened just after midnight as he was driving through Nebraska that left him with a sense of purpose for working on this day.
Along Interstate 80 between Ogallala and Big Springs, Ryan came upon a van that had just flipped and come to rest in the middle of the road. He stopped his truck and quickly pulled a bloody 3-year-old boy out of the van – almost getting hit by another driver who was trying to avoid the wreckage. The darkness and location of the accident made the situation very dangerous. “It happened so fast, I didn’t even think about my own safety,” Ryan says.
An unidentified driver for CR England stopped and helped get the little boy’s injured mother out of the van while Ryan stripped the bedding from his sleeper to wrap the youngster in.
“The little boy was in shock and upset,” Ryan says. “I sat him next to his mother and told him he could touch her arm gently because she was hurt. Touching her helped calm him down.”
Ryan, who stayed on the scene until medical personnel arrived, says the little boy’s injuries included cuts from broken glass and possibly a broken arm. The woman had a broken arm and broken legs in addition to some other injuries. “After I left the accident that night I really got the feeling that I was supposed to have been there,” Ryan says. “I believe there’s a reason I wasn’t at home.”
Runners-Up for the Great American Trucking Family
The Haveman Family
In Western Michigan there have been Havemans on the road for a lot of years. It all began with John Haveman Sr. who drove a milk and pickle route in the 1940s and ’50s. Today five of his sons, seven grandchildren and one great grandchild are part of the great American trucking industry.
The Haveman family’s contest entry listed 14 drivers. The highlights: John Jr., 34 years regional and OTR, the last 23 as an owner-operator; Bill, a Vietnam veteran, 30 years regional and OTR, an owner-operator for the last 17; Arlyn, 30 years regional and an owner-operator for the past 20; Brian, 17 years regional and OTR and now a fleet manager; Mike and Mike, both 10 years local and regional as owner-operators; Randy and Chad, certified diesel mechanics; Kristen, a secretary at a truck services operation; and Chad Rotman, Bill Haveman’s son-in-law who drove OTR for eight years and has now been regional for three years.
John Jr., Bill, Ed, Mike, Mark and Chad are all leased to Great American Lines out of Pittsburgh, hauling steel in a five-state area with covered wagons.
“Most of us worked for my dad [John Jr.] at one time or another in the past,” says Brian. “He taught us so much about this industry and always had good, sound advice to give us so that we did not make the wrong moves. He also could, and would, help us on our trucks when it came time to work on them in an emergency or just regular service.”
Brian’s son Christopher begins his education as a diesel mechanic in the fall.
Robert J. Scott Family
At 68, veteran tanker man and owner-operator Robert J. Scott is still hauling propane out of Zephyr Hills, Fla., with a 2001 Kenworth T800. These days he’s pulling loads for L and L Transportation out of Waterloo, Ind. And his sons, daughter and son-in-law are also professionals in the trucking business. Son Rick is a mechanic with Volvo Trucks North America in Atlanta; Rusty drives for Southwest Transportation out of Atlanta where another son, Ron, is maintenance supervisor. Another son, Randy, also worked in trucking as a driver and as head of the tank washing operation when the family operated their own business, an 18-truck outfit (all tankers) called R.J. Scott Trucking. Son Rocky also drove for his father’s company and, like all of the boys, at one time drove for Montgomery Tank Lines. Robert’s daughter Robbin and her husband Clete Hamilton own Hamilton Trucking, where Clete drives and Robbin is dispatcher.
Tankers have long been a part of the Scott family’s lives. “For 45 years I’ve been with tankers, either in one, under one or on one,” says Scott, who once hauled fuel to Cape Canaveral for a space shuttle launch. “I can remember in the old days climbing down into the empty tanks with a pressure washer, putting everything into a barrel and taking it to an incinerator. We didn’t know it could kill us, and we worked down in 150 degrees in those tanks. All the boys would stare at me when they hear those stories, like I was crazy. They never had to clean their tanks the old-fashioned way.”
These days Scott works with six other drivers out on the road with no supervisor.
- John Latta