With a limited formal education, Ken Snyder Sr. knew early in life that hard work was the road to a successful career. “The key to success is doing a job right and doing it when you’re supposed to,” he says. In 48 years of trucking, the Port Huron, Mich., resident has never strayed far from that simple philosophy.
The 66-year-old owner-operator’s dedication to his job has earned him unprecedented recognition in the household moving business and admiration from his peers. Likewise, his dedication to home life has earned him the respect of his family – 16 of whom have followed his example and his footsteps into the trucking business.
No member of the this trucking family rests on the laurels of the Snyder name that the second-generation brothers helped build into an owner-operator moving business dynasty. But all look to Ken as the family patriarch.
“Ken is more like a father-figure than a brother,” says 62-year-old Keith Snyder, who drives for Palmer Moving and Storage, an agent of North American Van Lines.
Ken’s grandson, Josh Striebich, a 25-year-old owner-operator also leased to Palmer, affectionately calls his grandfather, “the Godfather.”
“He’s who we look up to,” he says. “He runs the show.”
Most of the other family members have earned awards from their respective companies for safety and job performance. Many have been named among the yearly elite drivers, but no one has been able to touch Ken’s record.
In addition to numerous safety and company performance honors, Ken, who is leased to DMS Moving Systems of Atlas Van Lines, won the prestigious American Movers Conference (AMC) Lifetime Achievement Award in 1991. He is the only driver in his business to be named the AMC Driver of the Year (an individual can only win once in any five year period) three straight times – 1985, 1990 and 1995. His brother Keith has also won the AMC Driver of the Year Award.
“I didn’t get into the business for recognition,” says Ken’s 43-year-old son, Dan Snyder. “Still, at the same time, I had a pretty tough act to follow. Dad has gone to the extreme. He’s the mover of all movers. There are guys out there who are as good, but there’s nobody better.”
But when you ask Ken about his biggest achievements, he points to his family: wife Betty; sons Ken Jr., Dan, Tim and John; daughters Brenda (Striebich), Carol (Ettema) and Peggy (Ruedisueli); brothers Don, Norm and Keith and several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
“I couldn’t be any more proud of my family if they were all doctors and lawyers or managers of big companies,” says Ken. “My kids live by their needs, not their wants. That’s what is wrong with American society today. Often, too many people in a family have to work for a home, but often it’s not a home, it’s a house. Home is about love and spending time with your family.”
The Snyders will be celebrated as the winner of the Great American Trucking Family at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, Sept. 6-8.
Lewis Snyder paved the way into trucking for his sons – Ken, Don, Keith and Norm – in 1932. He delivered coal to families in the Detroit area in a 1929 Model A stake truck. “We lived above the office in a coal yard,” says 73-year-old Don, who retired from the moving business in 1992. “For a while Dad had a garbage route and I helped him.”
Lewis later started hauling ice and finally candy for Sanders Candy Company in Detroit. He died in 1964 at age 53 of colon cancer. “He drove almost right up until the last year of his life,” says Ken.
All of Lewis’ boys inherited their dad’s love of trucking. The brothers delivered everything from propane to groceries before settling in the household moving business.
Ken got his start in moving trucks when he was laid off from his job hauling groceries when the company sold in 1959. He started home at 2 p.m. on Friday with no job when he stopped by Atlas Van Lines. The office was across the road from another moving company where his wife’s brother, John “Porky” Battice, was working in the warehouse. “They wanted me to go to work that afternoon,” Ken says. “I started the next day.”
Eventually all his brothers entered the moving business. Don moved from hauling ice, coal and groceries to becoming an owner-operator delivering people’s household items. Norm joined after a tour of duty in Vietnam. Keith was a meat cutter for a time before following his brothers.
For several years, Ken had his own moving company and the Snyder brothers began making a name for themselves. All of them agree that trucking and the moving business was much different in those days. “When we started, we didn’t even have a radio in the truck,” Keith says. “We could go two weeks and not even know if the world had come to an end.”
“When I started driving you didn’t have sleepers,” says Ken. “You didn’t have air-conditioning. You used a folded piece of cardboard you stuck in the window to try to force air into the truck.”
Battice adds that appliance dollies or hand trucks were also not standard equipment for movers. “Everything had to be manhandled,” he says.
Ken remembers when fuel cost nine cents a gallon and he could make a run from Michigan to Florida and back for less than $100 expense money.
Ken left trucking only once, but not for long. “In 1972, I moved to Knoxville, Tenn., where they were building the World’s Fair,” he says. “I laid blocks for two years.”
Carrying on the name
With a growing reputation for doing quality work and growing families at home, it didn’t take long for the next generation of Snyders to cut their teeth in the moving business. Ken’s children – Brenda, Ken Jr., Dan, Tim, Carol, John and Peggy – all helped as they grew up. They started before they were teenagers as helpers and then as packers. The same held true for Don’s son Dennis and Keith’s son Ray.
“I quit school at 16 and went into the moving business with my dad and uncles,” says Dan. “I was an owner-operator at 19.”
Ken Jr. did a tour in the Army where he drove heavy equipment in Germany, received a two-year college degree in automotive technology and worked in the field before becoming an owner-operator in 1995.
Tim also started early and leased his own truck to Graebel Van Lines – where many of his brothers and uncles worked at the time – at age 23. He stayed with Graebel for 18 years before joining some of his brothers at DMS of Atlas Van Lines.
John, 34, the youngest of Ken’s sons, started driving intrastate at 18. He hit the big road at 21 and bought his first truck in 1986.
“I looked up to each one of my brothers and uncles,” John says. “I traveled with all of them when I was younger. I started out helping first and then started packing. I watched them. One day I climbed behind the wheel and away I went.”
Ken says he never pressured his kids to get into the business.
“I tried to teach my kids two things,” he says. “One, don’t be in a hurry to go to work, because when you start to work it’s forever. Two, it doesn’t matter what you do in life – whether you flip burgers at McDonald’s or drive a truck – just do youre very best. I tell them there’s a bottom rug on the ladder for a reason. Don’t try to take two steps at one time.”
Several of the fourth-generation Snyders are owner-operators in the moving business. Dan’s sons, Norm, 22, and D.J., 25, each have their own teams and drive for Palmer. Tim’s son, nicknamed “T,” works as a helper for D.J.
Josh Striebich, son of Bill and Brenda Striebich and an owner-operator with Palmer, remembers asking his fourth-grade teacher if he could bring his grandpa’s truck to school for show-and-tell. “I still can’t believe he did it,” Josh says. “He parked in front of school, let all the kids and teachers get in the truck and gave out calendars and hats. It was pretty cool.”
“It didn’t surprise me that my boys followed Ken, but it did surprise me a little when the grandkids did,” Betty says.
But the younger Snyders say it was a natural fit for them. “I’d seen 48 states by the time I was 12 or 13,” Norm says.
“You grow up around it so much, it’s in your blood,” chimes in D.J. “At family reunions, it’s all anyone talks about.”
And it’s a proud family tradition and reputable name that no one wants to cast a shadow on. “If I did something negligent I would be just as upset as tarnishing the family name as I would at my own situation,” Josh says.
Family comes first
During a recent get-together at Brenda and Bill Striebich’s Fort Gratiot, Mich., home, (Bill is Ken’s helper and co-driver) noisy conversations about trucking and the moving business fill the air.
While trucking is a vital part of their lives, nothing takes center stage over the importance of family.
“What I’m most proud of is that we have seven married children who are all still with their original spouses,” Ken says. “I attribute that to my wife Betty. I’ve always been able to make a good enough living that she was able to stay home with the kids. They never had to come home without someone being there for them.”
Ken says because he wanted to spend as much time as he could with his family, he’s always headed straight home when a job was done. And no time was as important as dinner. “Our supper time was at 5:30,” he says. “When Betty would go out and whistle for the kids, they knew they had to be home no matter where they were at. They say that a family that prays together, stays together. I also believe that a family that has dinner together stays together.
“Dinnertime was important to us because we talked about what was important to them,” Ken says. “Kids are not just to be seen. You have to allow them to speak, too. Don’t push a kid aside. Put your arm around them and listen to them.”
It may seem odd for someone who has most of her family in trucking to not even have a driver’s license, but for Betty Snyder being a wife, mother and grandmother consumes her life.
“I’m very proud of all my kids,” Betty says. “They’re my 100 percent interest. I never had any interests other than getting married and having a family. It’s the way I was raised and the way my children were raised.
“If you are going to have children, you had better plan to be there 24/7 to see to them. I wouldn’t have it any other way. That was my calling in life.”
Her philosophy on rearing children was made up of two principles: a child needs loving the most when they deserve it the least and if you want respect from a child, you must give respect. “Some people think that kids are something to own rather than a life you’ve got to mold,” she says.
Still, she credits her husband with being there for his kids whenever he could.
“They had a good example with their father,” Betty says. “He took pride in his truck, pride in his work and pride in his family. He’s silly. He played with his kids as he plays with his grandkids.”
Ken Snyder Jr., 44, feels that having good role models as parents was not only important, it was part of the reason he and his brothers are all in the same business.
“It was pretty clear that all of us would follow our dad,” says Ken Jr. “That’s because Dad has always demonstrated the ‘true north compass reading.’ His compass has always been set on true north. It’s never wandered east or wandered west; it’s never wandered south. He has never demonstrated any of the shenanigans to us that are available to us. We measure ourselves by his examples.”
Even without a driver’s license, Betty has seen plenty of the country. She’s been to all but three states. She often travels with her daughter Brenda to meet Ken and Bill for a little vacation when they’ve completed a delivery.
“We’re not a trucking family,” Brenda says, who does the paperwork for her father and husband. “We are a family first, and we happen to be truckers as our business. My mom and dad and Bill and I are best friends.”
A father/son-in-law team might seem a little out of ordinary, but not in this family.
“He’s the greatest helper I’ve ever had,” says Ken of Bill. “We’ve been together 15 years, so long that we don’t even have to say anything to each other, we just get to work. Our relationship couldn’t be better.”
Other members of the family also work as helpers and packers, including John Snyder’s wife, Stacey, and his 16-year-old son, John Jr., as well as Tim’s son, “T.” Ken Jr. and his wife Keiren travel together now their kids are grown. “When she was raising the kids I spent enough time without her,” he says. “Now if her bags are not in the truck, I’m not taking the load. I married to spend my life with her and that’s what I’m doing.”
When there is a problem on the road or at home, they don’t have to look far for family. They often can find a brother, father, uncle or nephew in the area to help out.
Once Tim and Dan ran their father’s truck when he was out for several months with a neck injury.
Ken was able to return the favor when Dan was suddenly struck with Bell’s Palsy in California. It was four days before one of Dan’s son’s graduation. Ken was in the area and helped Dan get home less than an hour before the ceremony.
“We’re exceptionally close,” 41-year-old Tim Snyder says. “If there is a problem with one of us, you can count on someone to be there.”
That was never more evident than when tragedy struck the family three years ago. Carol (Snyder) Ettama’s 16-year-old daughter Jessica was killed in a car wreck. In less than 12 hours, her family members were all home. “My kids had given up their loads as quickly as they could to be there for their sister,” Ken says.
“I wouldn’t have made it through without my family and friends,” says Carol, whose husband, David Ettama, drives a propane truck. “Most of my family was at my house before I got back from the hospital.”
For months afterwards, Carol’s brothers put smiley faces on their truck in memory of Jessica, who used to stick them on her notebooks and personal items in her room.
Betty says the closeness among her children goes back to their youth. “Growing up they would fight among themselves, but God help the person who stood between them,” she says. “If you interfered with one, you interfered with all. Didn’t matter if it was the boys or girls. They weren’t angels, but they never had any serious problems.
“We just worked everything out together and everyone was involved. They depend on each other and I depend on them too.”
Even though they keep up with each other constantly while on the road, they still get a thrill out of seeing each other far from home.
“As many years as we’ve been driving it’s still exciting to meet up with your brother, cousin or dad on the road and have a cup of coffee or dinner together,” Dan says. “We always say that we’ve only got an hour, but it usually turns into four.”
Ken Snyder Sr. and his daughter Brenda Striebich look at a personal letter sent from former President Gerald Ford.
Lifestyles of the Rich – and the Not-So Famous
Hauling personal belongings forges friendships and offers brushes with fame
The household moving business is unique in that the truck drivers and their helpers routinely develop close one-on-one relationships with their customers.
“When we arrive at your house we’re strangers,” says Ken Snyder Jr. “By the time we get stuff packed in boxes, loaded on the truck, delivered and set up, we’ve become best friends. You didn’t know us yesterday and today we pull away with everything you’ve worked hard all your life for, so there is a strong element of trust in there.”
All of the Snyders will tell you one of the best things about the job is the friendships. “I like meeting the people and interaction,” says Tim Snyder.
Most of the family members have met and/or moved famous people, including former Detroit Tigers shortstop Alan Trammell, former NFL wide receiver Mark Ingram, musician Bruce Hornsby and a host of others. Ken Snyder Sr. has moved Hall-of-Fame quarterback Bart Starr three times.
Once while in Palm Springs, Calif., to receive one of his many awards, Ken met actress Connie Selleca and actor Greg Evigan of “B.J. and the Bear” fame. Ken says both toured his truck, posed for pictures in front of it and spent a great deal of time chatting with him.
“It’s neat to say that you’ve met them, especially if they are nice,” says the younger Norm Snyder. “I moved Alan Trammell and it was great. His wife was hilarious.”
The most prestigious family brush with fame belongs to the elder Ken, but it wasn’t a household move.
In 1976, Secret Service agents contacted Ken about helping release balloons at the Traverse City (Mich.) Cherry Festival where President Gerald Ford and his wife Betty Ford were grand marshals. With the help of the local Boy Scouts, Ken packed thousands of red, white and blue helium-filled balloons into his 45-foot trailer.
When the president and his wife reached the corner where the truck was parked, Ken and volunteers pushed the balloons out the back of the truck. Ken’s wife Betty and his daughter Brenda Striebich were shaking hands with the Fords and the Michigan governor when the balloons were released.
“They just held on to Betty’s and Brenda’s hands through the whole thing,” Ken says. “They were in awe. The next day in the local paper there was an entire front page picture of that moment. I got a personal letter from President Ford saying it was the best display they had ever seen. It was awesome. The feeling you get meeting the president is unbelievable.”
Port Huron police officer Tom Ruedisueli escorts his trucking in-laws in a parade near the Port Huron’s Blue Water Bridge.
Truckers, Tattoos and a City Cop
Police officer finds place in clan dominated by big rig drivers
One might think a social gathering of truckers would be an unusual place to find a police officer. But this is not your usual family and Port Huron police officer Tom Ruedisueli fits right in.
Ruedisueli, who married Ken Snyder’s youngest daughter, Peggy, eight years ago, admits feeling a little overwhelmed the first time he met his future wife’s trucking family.
“I think the first time I met the family I felt a little intimidated by all the tattoos and muscle-bound men in the group,” says the quiet-spoken Ruedisueli with a slight smile. “I knew they were sizing me up. But after meeting them and going out to dinner with the family, I understood they are just people like I am.”
(Tattoos are noticeable body art on most of the Snyder family members – male and female. Dan Snyder is a certified tattoo artist).
Ruedisueli’s sister-in-law, Brenda Striebich (Peggy’s sister) says her brother-in-law is an important part of the family. “We’re all proud of Tom,” she says. “The belief that truckers and cops can’t get along is wrong. On his days off, he has helped out on the trucks.”
This past Christmas, 14 members of the Snyder family gathered for a picture for a
calendar and then drove their trucks to Port Huron’s Blue Water Bridge that leads into Canada. The parade of trucks was lead by Ruedisueli in his patrol car.
Ruedisueli says he gave thought to becoming a trucker when he was a kid, and he has a lot of respect for them. He’s especially proud of the Snyders being named the Great American Trucking Family. “They’ve worked pretty hard,” he says. “It’s amazing to see the unity and togetherness. It’s a real comfortable loving family and a supportive family.”
Finalists for the Great American Trucking Family
Second place – The Halbrook Family of Marquand, Mo., consists of 10 career truckers spanning four generations. Tammy Halbrook, who sent in the entry, says, “You’ve got to have trucking in your soul to appreciate the business.”
Third place – The Jack Doyle Family of Fort Morgan, Col., proudly boast 12 career drivers covering three generations. Melba Doyle says, “Our family knows what it takes to keep the U.S.A. in supplies to feed a country and it’s a job that’s done with pride and love.”
Truckers News is already beginning its search for the 2003 Great American Trucking Family. Third-, fourth- and fifth-generation truckers or drivers with extended trucking ties – spouses, children and other relatives – can enter.
To be considered, send a detailed history of your trucking family (industry honors and general civic involvement also should be noted) to: The Great American Trucking Family c/oTruckers News, 3200 Rice Mine Rd. NE, Tuscaloosa, AL 35406. You can also e-mail your entry to Randy Grider at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please be sure to include a contact name, a daytime phone number and a complete mailing address. Look for more information in upcoming issues of Truckers News and online at www.etrucker.com.