Fruits of their labor

Dee Fraley (1852-1917) started the family in the produce-hauling business in the late 1800s.

1880 was the year the first streetlight was installed in Wabash, Ind.; Thomas Edison performed his first test of an electric railway in Menlo Park, N.J.; and James Garfield defeated Winfield S. Hancock for the presidency.

It also was the year that Dee Fraley began hauling produce on a horse-drawn wagon and logs on a mule-drawn sled in eastern Kentucky. What he probably couldn’t imagine then was that five generations later, many of his decedents would be making their living in similar fashion.

Produce is the backbone of the Fraley family. Many of them have been hauling and selling fruits and vegetables for more than 125 years in same basic geographical area. Kentuckiana – northern Kentucky and southern Indiana – is Fraley country.

“If all the Fraley who are into trucking had consolidated, we probably could have cornered the market on produce hauling in Kentuckiana,” says LauraLee Fraley. “Still we control a huge amount of the business in this area.”

With more than 40 drivers in the extended Fraley clan and 1,200 years of drivers still active in the industry, Truckers News has selected them as the 2006 Great American Trucking Family. They will receive their award Aug. 25, prior to the Mobil Delvac-sponsored Aaron Tippin concert at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas.

According to LauraLee – who when not driving enjoys genealogy – the Fraleys have a pioneering spiriting that goes back many years before Dee got involved in moving goods. The Fraleys were one of the first five families to enter the Kentucky territory. As associates of Daniel Boone, they helped build the first forts and learned to survive the hostile frontier setting.

Fraleys were noted for their skills in dealing with American Indians and helping guide early settlers in wagon trains across the territory and to points farther west.

Dee started out driving a stage coach between Maysville, Ky., and Louisville. Then he shuttled people to port cities along the Ohio River. As his children got old enough to travel with him, he started hauling fresh vegetables in his wagons.

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Dee’s three sons, Hiram, Jim and John Thomas, built on their father’s chosen field of work and expanded the profession.

Hiram’s children included Hiram, Harlan and Bunny. The younger Hiram raised truck drivers: Mark, Ronnie, Doug, Clarence and Randy. He enlisted the help of his wife Marguerite and the children to run Fraley’s Produce Market in Sellersburg, Ind., from the early 1950s to a couple of months ago when it closed because of Hiram’s poor health. For more than five decades, this branch of the family bought and hauled all its own produce.

Jim Fraley had two sons: Clarence and Roy. Clarence was a trucker based in St. Louis. His sons, Jerry, James, Jeff, Dennis and John are carrying on his legacy. James’ son, James Jr. is also a trucker, as are Jeff’s sons Chris and Jeffery.

John Thomas had four sons, James, Sherman, Bobby and Wendell. Sherman is still involved in the industry, and so is his fifth-generation grandson Jeremy Perkinson. Wendall still drives, and his son Tim is an owner-operator. Bobby and his son David also are still driving.

James’ line includes Don and Jimmy. Don’s two children – Brad and Donnie – continue to drive. Jimmy’s trucking children included owner-operators Gary and Jimmy Jr., who is married to LauraLee. Nephew Lenny Bellou is also a trucker.

Jimmy, who co-owns the 75-plus trucking company B&J Trucking in Jeffersonville, Ind., represents a part of the fourth generation. He started working with his dad and uncles in 1961.

“I was 16,” Jimmy says. “We hauled produce out of Michigan and Florida. We bought and sold produce. We’d buy apples in Michigan and watermelons in Florida and haul them to small towns where we would sell them.

“The apples were thrown into the bed of the truck loose, and one of my jobs was to shovel apples from the bed of the truck into baskets.”

In his late teens, Jimmy began hauling produce for the Winn Dixie food store chain. He bought his first truck in 1970. It was a 1962 GMC for which he paid $2,500. In 1987, he – along with two partners – started B&J.

Early on, when the company was located in Borden, Ind., it was hit by a F4 tornado. But that didn’t stop Jimmy.

“I’ve never thought about giving it up,” says Jimmy, who occasionally still drives. “It’s not that bad of a living.”

Jimmy’s uncle, Sherman Fraley, was still in the buying, hauling and selling produce business until about five years ago. He started hauling coal in Beaver Dam, Ky., using a 10-wheeler during the winter and produce during the warmer months. Like other members of the family, he followed the growing season of whatever produce he was peddling.

“I was buying and selling watermelons to stores until about five years ago,” Sherman says. “Now, I still freight watermelons.”

Sherman says while he’s enjoyed his 56-year trucking career, an incident in 1964 almost caused him to quit. “I was on my way to Missouri to get watermelons. I came upon a seven-car wreck where three people burned to death,” he says. “You always think something like that can’t happen to you, but after seeing it, I almost turned around and came home.”

A huge increase in traffic and aggressive bad drivers top the list of changes the Fraleys say make trucking tougher today. But advances in equipment help balance things out.

“It’s a good industry to work in,” Jimmy says. “It’s changed a lot over the years, but it’s still the kind of living you can pass along to your kids.”

Jerry Fraley is a former owner-operator who now drives a company truck with his wife Judy. “We were owner-operators for a long time,” he says. “We decided to sell out and relax. We run California and enjoy our time together.”

“We wanted to stop and smell the roses,” Judy adds.

All members of the family look back on long careers, numerous safety awards and other industry recognition with a sense of satisfaction and pride. “It’s amazing to be born into such a trucking family,” says Donnie Fraley.

“I guess the reason we have such a huge trucking family is we didn’t know anything else,” Jerry says. “I’ve driven a truck since day one.”

As for winning the Great American Trucking Family title, most expressed shock and excitement.

“I jumped up and down and bruised myself when I found out we had won,” LauraLee says. “I was just ecstatic. I married into this family, and they are just wonderful people. It’s wonderful that they are being recognized for all they have accomplished.”

‘Just Good Folks’
Bob Fentress is called the adoptive member of the Fraley trucking family. While he’s no blood relation to the clan, he considers them family.

Fentress got acquainted with the Fraleys while hanging around a Standard Oil station in Louisville when he was a teenager.

“I’d see these boys come in and I’d asked them, ‘how do you drive them big old trucks?” he says. “I got to know Jimmy, Wendell, Bobby and Sherman and the rest of them.”

Later on, while working at a factory, Fentress begin driving on weekends and during his vacation for the Fraleys.

“I didn’t need a vacation,” the 60-year-old says. “I loved driving a truck.”

He maintained his working relationship with the Fraleys for many years as he continued working a factory job. In 1982, he went into trucking full time. He owns three trucks, two of them leased to B&J Trucking.

“They are the finest people you’ll ever meet,” Fentress says. “If you can’t get along with them, you can’t get along with anyone.”

He says one incident when he was younger cemented his bond with the Fraleys. He was married, laid off at the factory and flat broke.

“I knocked on Sherman Fraley’s door at his house and told him I needed money for food,” Fentress says. “Sherman said whatever he had in his wallet, I could have half of it. He only had six dollars, but he gave me three dollars so I could get something to eat. I’ve never forgotten it. But that’s the kind of people they are – just good folks.”

The Good Ol’ Days
Without doubt, the Fraley family has seen a lot of changes in the trucking industry. Second-generation drivers moved from horse and wagon to the combustible engine. Model As and Model Ts gave way to bigger straights and more capacity for hauling. As trucking grew, so did the need for professional drivers. And back then, you had to look the part. This meant a jacket and standard black tie. Drivers also often wore badges with their names engraved on them.

Straight trucks evolved into 10-wheelers and then cabovers that had little room for more than driving and carrying a few personal items. No air-conditioning, no air-ride, no engine brakes and no power steering. Most just had no power.

“Back then if you pulled a mountain in second gear, you’d better go off it in second gear,” says 72-year-old Sherman Fraley. “If you didn’t, you’d be in trouble.”

“I remember loading potatoes in North Dakota and having to back up the hill where he loaded to get out of there because those old cracker boxes had no power,” says Bob Fentress, a long-time member of the family, who has two trucks leased to B&J Trucking.

Modern refrigerated units for hauling produce have also made a big difference, the Fraleys say.

“Everything used to be floor stacked,” says Sherman. “We put black tar paper on the floor of the trailer and used a bunker-and-blower to cool the produce.”

The bunker-and-blower system involved two small doors cut near the top of the front of the trailer where blocks of ice were placed. Then a small gasoline engine mounted between the doors provided power to blow air across the ice to cool the trailer.

Today, all the Fraleys drive shiny, conventional trucks with the latest bells and whistles. But all remember where they’ve come from.

“The equipment we have today makes a lot of difference in trucking and getting drivers,” says Jimmy Fraley, co-owner of B&J Trucking. “But as far as trucking itself, I think trucking used to be more fun. I enjoyed it more when it seemed more relaxed.”

Fentress says it’s comical when he hears today’s drivers complain about a truck. “It almost makes me sick when I hear a driver complain about a rough ride,” he says, laughing. “Most don’t know anything about a rough ride.”

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