Trucking all in the family: Generations of owners leave lasting legacies in Overdrive

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Updated May 14, 2021

It's long been a feature of the day to day of my work here with Overdrive, whose history extends back now six decades to a time well before my own birth, much less my own family's touch points with trucking – my father was a dispatcher for a short time with a mostly unionized carrier out of Spartanburg, South Carolina, as a young man, before a career whose bulk was spent in industrial water and wastewater treatment. Cousins among his extended family up in North Carolina were owner-operators when I was a kid and deregulation was having its ways with long-entrenched business models, enterprising owners with a willingness and ability to adapt among those who would come out of the 1980s and 1990s with the upper hand. 

While all that was going on, trucks were being bought and sold, kids born, growing into adulthood enamored of the truck technology of their time and/or their parents' and grandparents' time, as the case may be. Owner-operator businesses were built following patterns handed down, and/or passed down from generation to generation themselves, and Overdrive was busy covering it all. 

overdrive 60th anniversary logoRead more in Overdrive's weekly 60th-annversary series of lookbacks on trucking history, and that of the magazine itself, via this link.Later, from my very first days with Overdrive in 2006, a preoccupation with that history and the then 45 years' worth of magazines archived across a tiny hallway that ended in a single room at the office in Tuscaloosa there was set. It all started with that first instance – I can't remember today just who it was, maybe then-longtime hauler Monty Rhoades, or Tennessee-based Andy Soucy (both of whom I met early on via the old Truck.net online community message board), who said, "Hey, you guys had a picture of my truck in the magazine back in [insert year here]. I can't remember the month. Do you think you could help me find it?"  

Even later, often enough such a request would involve a family reaching back into the legacy of a loved one who'd passed on – such was the case with the story of Eddie Karwaski, small fleet owner of the Apple House outfit running out of Pennsylvania for many years. I spoke with his daughter in winter 2019 on the anniversary of his passing in 2018, as she attempted to amass a collection of memorabilia of his decades in business hauling produce, including two spotlights in 1979 and 1981 issues of Overdrive. This rig of Karwaski's, a then virtually brand-new 1979 KW, was Tractor of the Month in March of 1979, and a picture we helped his family track down in 2019 at the time of this story.   

apple houseKarwaski's daughter remembered her father’s time at the reins of the trucking business as one of a man fully in control. “If you knew my dad, it was his say or no say,” she says. “He ran the business,” though with a partner who owned a small stake in it, “and he was the boss.” Yet he had his soft sides, too. “He was very generous to the local community and he attended Catholic mass seven days a week.” Generous to his company’s drivers, too, according to trucker Beth Howells, who along with her husband trucked for Karwaski and Apple House for many years. She calls him one heck of a boss, generous with his success to those who helped attain it. Karwaski “took tons of us to opening day at Daytona every year, paid for meals and motels” — and seats. “Good ones, too.”
As with so many small trucking businesses, both of Karwaski's sons were involved in various ways, from hauling to running parts of the back office and shop. And there are many other such stories that have been the bread and butter of Overdrive's highlighting of the culture of trucking through the years, built on family – either hereditary or the family of shared affinity for the business, increasingly apparent today as online networks work to chip away at the old boundaries of place.

For today's edition of our Monday 60th-anniversary dispatches, I've collected just a few examples. Follow links in the caption to each photo that follows to read through the multigenerational history embodied within each story. 

old rig featured as semi truck of the month in snapshotsSuccess, failure, and tryin' again with Carl Rhodes and Tronagun ... | Longtime owner-operator and Tronagun (after "trying again") small fleet owner Carl Rhodes got a happy-birthday wish from his trucking son, Rick Rhodes, in 2017 with this story telling the father's history through the eyes and voice of the son. Pictured here is a Ford LTA-9000 in the fleet close to its height of its success, operated with plenty of pride by one among many of the operators to work for Rhodes out of Tunnelton, West Virginia. Follow the link to read a version of Rick Rhodes' remembrance, updated following his father's passing late last year.

carl rhodesCarl Rhodes is pictured here with a 1919 International truck Rick said he took to parades at the time of the photo. Find plenty more in the way of photos and memories from Rhodes' history via this story.

old ford model aaWhen a truck was a truck ... | Trucker Steve Hearne reflected at length on trucking with family in this story in 2017, looking back over prior decades all the way to this "picture of my grandfather William Snarski’s truck,” a Ford AA model, he said. “I don’t know the year it was taken, but probably in the ’50s. That old apple tree is still here, but Gramps and his truck are long gone. He used to among other things jack up the rear end and hook up a saw rig with a big flat belt to saw his firewood into chunks. He would cut with a crosscut hand saw and bring it out of the woods in 4-foot lengths, and when he had enough in the stack for the winter, out came the belt and the saw rig.” Hearne, based in Vermont, said at that time he could “still hear the zing of that big old saw blade as he cut wood. I am fairly sure OSHA would not approve of that operation.” Read more about the Vermont family's history via this link.

havlor truck image collageFrom one to 100s across the decades ... | The cabover in the pictures here is the 1974 Peterbilt 352 of Halvor Lines of Superior, Wis., a special restoration project cabover that was finished in time for Christmas in 2018 and the final month of Halvor’s 50th-anniversary year, said company CEO Jon Vinje when we talked in 2019. Vinje’s father established the company in 1968 with four other owner-operators and a principle customer in Halvorson Equipment Company, a distributor for the Bombardier company at the time. Thus: “distributors of the Ski-doo snowmobile," Vinje said. "There was a snowmobile boom at the time.” The company hauled from Quebec, where Bombardier is headquartered, into the U.S. Halvor company black-and-yellow colors come from the “yellow-and-black colors of the early Ski-doo snowmobiles. It was a new new thing at the time, and they were quite popular – a lot of people had them,” particularly throughout the ‘snowbelt’ states in the Upper Midwest and in Canada. Pictured in the top left of this collage at the far right in the shot is the former owner-operator of the 1974 352 with Halvor in years gone by, Jeff Levine, with Jon (center) and Joe Vinje. Catch the full story, with plenty pictures, of Halvor's long history, replete with company-a-family-unto-itself dynamics, and the special 50th-anniversary restoration via this link.

Trucking extended family across generations of owner-ops in Wisconsin ... | Owner-operator Seth Taylor in 2019 penned a tribute to his principal mentor in trucking, who he described as a figure influential in the manner of a second father to more than one young owner-operator in his area -- Carl Nyhof of Oostburg, Wisconsin, then 74 years young and the owner and operator of the R model Mack you see in these then and now pictures. The 1985 model is certainly well preserved for its 35 years in service under just one owner. Nyhof purchased the unit when it was new from a local Mack dealer called Karstaedt’s Services, Taylor said, and had run it ever since. Taylor called the elder Nyhof a “a great mentor to a few young owner-ops like me," part and parcel of how trucking as an independent is learned and refined in so many areas all around the nation. His history is "a really big deal among ‘short-haul’ guys like us that look up to Carl and his way of staying independent. Never much for flash or things that shine, Carl has never gotten much credit for all his years of dedicated work.” Read more of Taylor's appreciation of Nyhof via this link.

Have your own family story to tell? Drop a comment below or email me directly via tdills [at] randallreilly.com

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