An Interview With Our Founder
As republished in the Wadhams ‘Wheel Review,’ Oct. 2013
I recently had the opportunity to sit with the founder of our company “Red” Wadhams to discuss his experiences in the transportation business. Before this meeting, I didn’t know much about him personally, other than he enjoyed mowing the lawn (and liked it done right) and that he was friendly, always taking the time to stop in and say Good Morning.
I quickly realized that getting this humble man to “talk about himself” was going to be tough. He admits that his business has always run on “common sense”. In the early days, drivers took care of customer service issues. “If a customer had a problem, it was handled on the spot.” He points out three things that have carried him through life and could possibly be viewed as the key to his success: “work hard, be honest, and do for other people.”
I asked about his first years in business and what types of challenges he had to face. He remembers spending his winters hauling milk during the day and then working on equipment at night (outside on the snow-covered ground). Since he didn’t have a garage, he used a canvas bag to lay on and a gas lantern for light. He lived by the motto that you “did your job and you worked hard.”
Complaining never got him anywhere. The equipment available today offers luxuries that he could only dream about, such as heat, air conditioning, and radios. He can remember when trucks were only equipped with one side mirror and the only power steering available were strong arms. If you wanted to hear music, you learned how to whistle and keeping warm was accomplished by tying burlap bags around his feet.
He purchased his first truck in 1949, with the help from a neighbor who loaned him $1,000.00 (The neighbor was paid back as promised, as he has never missed a payment in his life). He says, “A man’s word is as good as his bond.”
The truck was 10 years old, a 1939 International D-35, which was equipped with a hoist so that he could haul peas & sweet corn in the summer. Both driver and truck earned $2.50 per hour hauling for Comstock Foods. In the fall of the same year, he began his first milk route, consisting of 13 farms; hauling a total of 48 cans of milk, (each full can weighing 100 lbs.). He thought that he had struck it rich, earning $222.00 during his first month of operation. With these earnings, he began to buy milk routes that were already established by other haulers, paying them their normal income for the first 3-4 months of doing so.
During this time, he could have been easily discouraged because of the long hours hauling milk, (in addition to farming 500 acres) and the remarks of one specific customer who looked at his lanky 160 lb. frame and told him that he would “never last a week in this business.” That was the beginning of a 15 year span of canned milk runs, consisting of 3 routes, in which he worked for 7 straight years without taking one day off.
In 1953 he bought a 1950 White and a 1945 K-8 International in which he installed a third axle and dump body to haul apple peelings for Lyons Vinegar factory. He figured “the more wheels the better”. He could now haul bigger loads, which were about 15 tons each. The apple peelings came out of Haxton Foods in Wyoming, New York. When apple season was over the trucks were used to haul grain, coal, feed and other bulk commodities.
In 1956 he bought his first new truck to haul can milk. It was a International R-170 equipped with an enclosed 18’ body. In 1956 Red bought his second new truck. The truck was a 1956 Ford F600 for $2850.00. He brought the truck home, jacked it up in the front yard of his grandmother’s house and cut into it so the wheel base could be lengthened to accommodate a 18’ can milk body. This body would hold 108 cans of milk on the floor. They would “double deck” the rest.
1956 was the start of a new era. Bulk tanks were being installed at the farms, so the first tank was purchased from Walker Tank Co. in Lisbon Wis. The tank held 2,000 gallons and cost $10,000.00. It was installed on a used International K-6 and started hauling for Mello-Rich Guernsey Farms in Geneva N.Y.
Throughout the last 54 years, the company has taken on many different identities; hauling milk, vegetables, bulk feed, fuel, asphalt, cement, general freight, etc…Expanding mostly by word of mouth and a firm handshake. Red admits that customers aren’t as loyal to trucking companies as they used to be. It takes a lot of planning and hard work to operate this business on such a narrow margin. There are many factors to consider, such as the costs of equipment, insurance, labor, licenses, road taxes, government regulations, fuel etc…
I asked Red if he had anything that he wanted to say to today’s employees, and this is what he had to say, “In closing, I would like to say that I always hear employees commenting on how my life must be great because I own a trucking company. I want to remind them that with every piece of equipment comes a payment book and risk. Life has been good to us, but it didn’t come without many aggravations and sleepless nights. This is America where everybody has the same equal opportunities. If anyone thinks we have it so good, just remember that nothing comes without working hard and taking chances and having good faithful employees.”
As a note, our founder Earl “Red” Wadhams passed away on October 15, 2010. He is fondly remembered and sadly missed.