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COVER STORY J.E.Williams Trucking, which now has 35

refrigerated trucks, has come a long way since J.E. founded it in 1969. After dropping out of high school and getting married at age 17, he began driving a truck at age 19 and then at age 25 started driving for Idaho-basedGarrett Freightliners. That arrangement lasted for five-and-a-half years until he borrowed $3,000 from his dad for a down payment on a $25,000 new cab-over Freightliner sleeper. “He told me when I was working doing

manual labor and doing whatnot and so forth,” he said, “he told me, ‘I kind of had hopes for you to go to college, but you wouldn’t even go to high school. ... I think you’d better look around and find a job to do that you really like because you’re going to have to be doing it for the rest of your life.’ So I did.” The early years involved a lot of work

and slow growth. J.E. hauled potatoes, grain, and whatever else he could find to California and hauled produce back to a warehouse in Billings. The roads out of the city were entirely two-laned and required traveling through small town after small town.His wife, Lottie, took care of the office and bookkeeping while he drove and hired the drivers.

“If it hadn’t have been for her, I’d have

been down the tube a long time ago,” he said. This was before the days of deregulation,

back when trucking companies were required to obtain Interstate Commerce Commission authority. That legal arrangement favored established carriers and made it harder for a new company like J.E.Williams Trucking to compete.He did what was required to survive. “We hauled produce and anything else we

could get in that trailer,” he said. “We didn’t have any authority, so we had to sneak around quite a bit. Eventually we gotDOT authority to haul about anything. ...Doing stuff like that, you know, you kind of drive on a few back roads and stuff like that. You know where all the scales and stuff are. There’s really nothing to it.” Despite those early challenges, the

company began to grow. J.E. added a second truck about a year-and-a-half after starting the company and within several years had built a fleet of five or six semis.He hauled produce intoWinnipeg, Saskatchewan, Alberta and Thunder Bay, Ontario – sometimes driving in 40-below weather.Until his fleet had grown to about six trucks, he did all his own maintenance.

“I knew enough to get by, but I had some

friends in that area, too,” he said. “I’m a likable guy, you know.” Along the way, he was introducing Bobby

to the business. Bobby was driving at age 12. The two would haul swinging meat to California and return with produce to haul into Canada. It wasn’t easy for a boy to drive a truck that didn’t have power steering, but Bobby managed to turn that big steering wheel like he was climbing a rope. There was also work to do back home, and not all of it was pleasant. “He always used to drag me down to work

on weekends to grease trucks, wash the floor, scrub out the inside of trailers,” Bobby said. “He hauled a lot of swinging meat back then, and you had to scrub out the trailers by hand with a can of Ajax and a scrub pad, and you had to get every single mark off the trailers. ... That was not fun.” Bobby initially became a carpentry

apprentice and, according to J.E., became quite good – good enough, in fact, to construct his own house.However, he decided to join the company at age 24 in 1983. By then the company had grown to about 10 trucks. Over time, Bobby took more of a leadership role.He stopped hauling into Canada because

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ISSUE 4, 2013 |

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