Douglas trucking legacy born out of determination and hard work
Casablanca, Bambi and Pride of the Yankees were released. Bing Crosby took Irving Berlin’s “White Christmas” to No. 1 on the charts on its way to becoming one of the top-selling singles of all time. The St. Louis Cardinals defeated the New York Yankees in five games to win the World Series.
The year was 1942. The United States had entered World War II in late 1941 and was still suffering from the economic problems of the Great Depression. But the renewed sense of patriotism following the attack on Pearl Harbor and the quick mobilization at home to support the war effort gave rise to an entrepreneurial spirit for many Americans.
Two such individuals were Alfred and Mary Clyde Douglas. Alfred, who had dabbled in trucking since 1938 and had recently received an honorable discharge from the Navy, moved his young wife from the Pleasant Home community outside of Andalusia, Ala., to the Deland, Fla., area. It was there in 1942 that they started Alfred Douglas Trucking — the backbone of this family’s legacy.
“My grandfather was never scared to take a chance,” says 39-year-old Billy Douglas Jr. “Today, it seems like we are less likely to take a risk, but not back then. People like my grandfather would take chances and work hard and hope that things would turn out well. He and my dad [Billy Douglas Sr.] are two of the hardest working people I’ve ever known.”
Today, with more than 300 years of combined trucking experience from drivers past and present, the Douglases are Truckers News’ 2010 Great American Trucking Family. Representatives of the magazine will present the award, which is sponsored by Rand McNally Intelliroute TND, to family members at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas on Friday, Aug. 27, prior to the Randy Houser concert.
Alfred and Mary Clyde both hauled fruit and other agricultural products in those early years. Alfred often bought the produce he hauled, sometimes in large quantities. The family business soon included Alfred’s brothers Hub, Dan, Poss, Jimmy and Henry, as well as Mary Clyde’s brother, Donald White.
When Alfred and Mary Clyde started a family, she returned to their Alabama farm, and the Douglas men followed the seasonal agricultural trucking opportunities in South Alabama, Florida and South Carolina and in regions as far away as New York State.
Over the years, the business prospered. Eventually, Alfred returned to Alabama for good. Still, he found ownership of the products he hauled to be a valuable enterprise. “Dad was one of the first to start raising watermelons around here after buying and selling watermelons in Florida,” says son Bobby Douglas. “He later sold the fruit business, but back then we worked all the packing plants and juice houses in Florida.”
Alfred and Mary Clyde added a truckstop to their portfolio in 1948, a welcome addition along U.S. Highway 29 for truckers and locals alike. Mary Clyde did the cooking at the truckstop’s restaurant (Alf’s Café) and handled the paperwork for the trucking business — all while taking care of her kids. These included future truckers Billy Sr. and Bobby and their nephew Sonny Douglas, whom Alfred and Mary Clyde reared as their own.
“She never turned away a hungry trucker,” says Toni Douglas, who is married to Billy Sr. and drove with her husband for 10 years. “If a driver showed up as they were closing, it didn’t matter that she had already cleaned the grill. She took care of him.”
The truckstop was destroyed in 1953 but rebuilt in 1955. It continued in operation under the Douglases’ ownership until 1972.
Alfred continued to grow the trucking business, owning as many as 26 trucks operating during its heyday. With Billy Sr. (1963), Bobby and Sonny (both in 1970) following in Alfred’s footsteps, he changed the name to Alfred Douglas and Sons Trucking Co. in 1984.
Billy Sr. and Toni, who married in 1969 and started their own family a couple years later, took their children, still in diapers, with them. Billy Jr. was less than 6 months old when he started riding with his parents, and his younger sister Bridgette was a mere two weeks old when she got her first taste of the trucking life.
“Even though we took our kids with us back then, we never wanted Bill to get into trucking because it’s such a hard life,” says his mother. “But he grew up hanging around the shop, and he just loved it.”
“His granddad was always slipping around letting him drive the trucks in the yard,” adds Billy Sr.
Billy Jr. even got his first real truck-driving lesson in one of his grandfather’s Kenworth cabovers at age 14. Alfred believed in teaching trucking by hands-on experience, and that applied even to his young grandson. “We went to town one day and when we got there we found out one of my grandfather’s drivers had just quit,” says Billy Jr. “My grandfather wanted to get the truck home, but he also wanted to get a haircut. So he told me to drive it home. I drove it 13 miles home.” Billy Jr. laughs as he remembers how shocked — and mad — some of the family members were when he pulled in.
Sonny Douglas, who lives in Gaffney, S.C., and worked in the family trucking business for many years, describes Alfred as a man who believed in hard work but also had a fun side. “He was an all-out good person,” says Sonny, who was forced to retire from the road a couple of years ago after suffering a stroke. “He could tell a tale and was fun to be around.”
Alfred died in 1988, but the trucking company continued for a few more years. Mary Clyde, who is now 86, lives with her son, Bobby.
Today, Billy Sr., who is 66, and Billy Jr. are the only two members of the family who still drive. Both are owner-operators leased to Louisville, Ky.-based Mercer Transportation. They often haul from the Trane manufacturing plant in Panama City, Fla., to Minnesota.
Both father and son look back on the long road behind them with a sense of pride. “Trucking has changed a lot,” says the elder Billy. “The equipment is much better. I started when we didn’t have air conditioners in the trucks. I can remember pulling up under a tree in Florida with the windows down just hoping you could get enough of a breeze to get a little sleep. I can just hear a driver today saying, ‘I can’t drive that truck, it doesn’t have an air conditioner.’”
Both have embraced other technologies that have made trucking easier with open arms. “The equipment is so much better,” the son says. “Cell phones and computers make it so much better to stay in touch with family. But people are already starting to take things like these for granted.”
But they also long for some of the aspects of trucking that have changed. “I miss the mom-and-pop truckstops,” Billy Sr. says. “I also miss the days when you didn’t have to lock your truck.”
The younger Billy, who married a woman also named Billie, loves spending time with his family when home, often scheduling his hauls to make his kids’ sporting events.
His father, who is an avid hat collector with hundred of caps stashed around his home, says his real hobby is working. “[Toni] says I just create things to do,” he says, laughing.
TIMELINE FOR THE DOUGLAS FAMILY
Alfred and Mary Clyde Douglas
1938-1942 Started driving in Florida
1941 Alfred and Mary Clyde White Douglas married
1942-1944 Mary Clyde drove until the birth of their first son (Billy)
1942 Start of business (Alfred Douglas Trucking)
1938-1988 Alfred Douglas drove until his death
Alfred Douglas brothers and brother-in-law
1942-1950s Brothers: Hub, Dan, Poss, Jimmy and Henry Douglas; Brother-in-law: Donald White drove until 1998
Alf’s Café and truckstop
1948-1953 Destroyed by fire
1955-1972 New truckstop
Billy and Toni Douglas
1963 Billy started driving
1969 Billy and Toni Harrison married.
1970-1980 Toni drove
1971 Billy Alfred Douglas II born.
1972 Billy Jr. started riding with his parents.
1974 Bridgette Douglas born, two weeks later riding in the truck with parents
1970s Hauled peaches in Gaffney S.C.
1996-1997 Became an owner-operator leased to Schanno
1997-2002 Leased to PBX
2002-Present Leased to Mercer
Tom Harrison (Toni Douglas’ father)
1984-1996 Drove for Alfred Douglas and Sons Trucking Co.
1970-1998 Drove truck
Sonny Douglas (Dan Douglas’ son)
1970-2008 Drove truck
1970-1992 Drove for Alfred Douglas & Sons, Brown Packing, and Wal-Mart.
1992-1996 Became an owner-operator leased to Schanno
1996- 2002 Leased to PBX
2002-2008 Leased to Mercer
Billy and Billie L. Douglas
1989 Started driving
1994 Billy and Billie L. Lowery married.
1996-1997 Became an owner-operator and leased to Schanno
1997-2002 Leased to PBX
1998 First son born: Brayton Alexander Douglas
2001 Second son born: Brenden Avery Douglas
2002-Present Leased to Mercer
2005 Daughter born; Briley Ashlyn Douglas
Name Years Name Years
Alfred Douglas 50 Billy Douglas Sr. 47
Mary C. Douglas 2 Toni Douglas 10
Alfred’s brothers X 5 40 Tom Harrison 12
Donald White 56 Bobby Douglas 38
Billy Douglas Jr. 21
Alf’s father and grandfather also transported logs by mule