Trucker celebrates 55 years on Alaska roads
Jim Doyle, owner of Doyle Fuel Service and Weaver Bros. Inc., poses with the 1968 Kenworth tractor he still occasionally drives in Kenai, Alaska. Doyle is celebrating 50 years of trucking in Alaska. (Associated Press/ Peninsula Clarion: M. SCOTT MOON)
By BRIAN SMITH
The Associated Press
KENAI, Alaska — Whenever Jim Doyle interviews someone to work for his businesses — either Doyle's Fuel Service or Weaver Brothers, Inc. — he said he always makes sure of one thing.
After 55 years as a trucker and 50 years as a business owner, the 75-year-old Doyle said he's learned it is critical that trucking be not just a job, but a passion as well.
"Don't spend your whole life working at something that you don't like," he said. "An example — a guy comes in and wants a job and we give him a job but he don't like truck driving. So he spends 10 or 15 or 20 years driving truck and he doesn't like it. So he's miserable himself and he is miserable to the people around him. If you don't like what you are doing, then find what you like and go do it."
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As a young boy on his family's ranch in Whitehall, Mont., Doyle knew quickly what he wanted to do and it had nothing to do with the ranch.
"I can remember trucks going down the highway and, why, I'd have to stop what I was doing and look at them," he said. "I just didn't care for the ranching."
From that fascination grew a desire and eventually a business plan hauling fuel and freight around Alaska. He started with one truck and now his business has three terminals and about 130 trucks in the state, he said. Doyle also went on to serve as assistant fire chief for the Kenai Fire Department, served two terms on the Kenai City Council, was Kenai's vice mayor for two years and also spent two years on the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly, he said.
Recently Doyle's employees threw him a party to celebrate his 50 years of owning his fuel company and doing the work he has loved.
"I'll get them for that," he said with a laugh on a sunny Friday morning in his office as the company's phones rang off in the distance.
Doyle jokes that now his title with the company is "janitor," as his son Jimmy runs most of Weaver Brothers' operations from Anchorage or Fairbanks. But Doyle said he keeps busy ordering equipment and even drives a truck every now and then.
"I pull a load to Anchorage or somewhere down around here whenever I can heckle them into giving me a load to do it," he said. "They like to keep me on the floor, but sometimes I just got to go."
When Doyle was about 11, his father bought a Plymouth car and ripped everything, including the cab, off of it. Doyle, aided by a hitch on the back of the vehicle, eagerly drove around the ranch and gathered up hay with a dump rake.
At the age of 15, he started driving his dad's two-ton trucks full of sugar beets 10 miles to town to dump with the workers at the railroad.
After four years in the Navy, Doyle briefly returned to Montana before leaving for Alaska in 1957. He landed in the area with a little less than $300 in his pocket, he said.
"At that time it wasn't much money, but on the other hand, in them days it was quite a bit of money," he said. "I don't remember what I left Montana with, but I would guess $500 or $600 maybe."
Doyle blew a tire near Moose Pass and met Ed Estes who offered him a job driving trucks.
"There were no regulations then," he said. "At that time the only thing that I could remember that we had to do ... was change and get an Alaska license within 30 days."
Doyle trucked between Moose Pass and Kenai to start with and then switched to delivering fuel locally around 1958.
"I started doing hauling on nights and weekends for anybody," he said. "... See you didn't need permits then, so anybody that wanted something hauled, why I'd go do it to go make some more money in my off hours."
Doyle said he never felt overworked.
"I never got tired of working because I loved it," he said.
At the time there were about 600 people in Kenai and Doyle said knew most of them.
"Sometimes days were longer than others because I would go to deliver fuel to a person's house (and they'd say,) 'Hey Jim, you've got to come in and have coffee and donuts with me,' ... so I spent a lot of time in the people's houses visiting with them," he said. "That was just the way it was."
Eventually Doyle got a permit when Alaska became a state. But, he sold that permit to the founder of Mukluk Freight Lines when he moved to Canada to help his father start a ranch there.
After borrowing $1,500 from Harold Daubenspeck, owner of Kenai Packers, to fund a return trip to Alaska, Doyle sold his pickup truck, got a bank loan and purchased his first fuel truck to start Doyle's Fuel Service in 1962.
He bought his first Kenworth truck in 1968. Years later, his son had the phrase "Dream Come True" painted on the truck's driver side door. He said he still has the truck.
"It ain't going nowhere," he said with a smile. "I'll still get out and drive it once and a while."
In the fall of 1978, Doyle purchased the Weaver Brothers Inc. permit for interstate and intrastate hauling. The permit — number 19 — allowed him to haul anywhere in the state and he said he quickly learned that if he wanted to pay off the debt he'd have to expand his business operations.
"Those permits were the only thing that I bought for $500,000," he said. "They shut the company down and aside from that they moved most of their equipment to Seattle and had a big auction there and ... I bought some stuff there and some equipment from them in Anchorage before they shipped it outside."
However, the equipment wasn't the most important part of trucking at the time — the permits were nearly impossible to come by, Doyle said.
"There was a strong enforcement here at that time and if you didn't have a hauling permit, why you just didn't haul anything," he said.
Doyle said he credits his family and employees, sometimes one in the same, for his success in the trucking business. He said he and his son Jimmy, although they have differed, have never had a fight over the family business.
"He's been a big part in it for a lot of years," he said.
Doyle said he doesn't have any plans to step away from the business.
"On a three-day weekend I get bored," he said. "There's nothing else I want to do."
When reflecting on the business, he again returns to the concept of doing what one loves. He said he can't understand other drivers or owners who gripe and bellyache about the labors of the business.
"I wouldn't want to live like that for anything," he said. "That's no fun."
When he first started the company, he said he never thought about where he'd be 50 years later.
"I was more interested in today," he said. "I didn't have no goals set for what it is now. I never dreamed, I never thought of it. I knew that I liked trucks and I always told people that I figured I was the luckiest person in the world because the two things I love most is trucks and people."
Brian Smith writes for the Peninsula Clarion
Kevin Jones of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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