Don’t ask truck driver Ron Szewczyk how many dogs he has. It’s not that it’s a secret — it’s just that the number might change at any given moment.
As a “service human” for Ronco’s Rescue Ranch, he helps find homes for dogs who need one, he makes arrangements for medical assistance or treatment, drives trailer loads of dog food to shelters that are always strapped for funding — the list goes on.
He’ll share whatever resources he has, including his income, to help his furry friends. Some of those friends are fortunate enough to ride along with Szewczyk in his truck.
Szewczyk, who owns Ronco Trucking of Tn Inc., says his passion for rescuing dogs is reciprocal, in that dogs rescued him first. Back in 2000, he was involved in a head-on fatality collision.
“I guarantee you, none of your readers ever want to deal with a head-on collision,” he said. “I still have some issues with it from time to time. Call it PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) or whatever term, it’s something to deal with.”
Szewczyk wrestled with the emotional aftermath of the accident on his own, until a friend suggested he get a dog for companionship and support. At first, he wasn’t keen on the idea.
“I said, ‘What, are you crazy? Deal with dog slobber and hair? No, thanks!’” he said with a laugh.
Eventually, he warmed to the idea … only to find that adopting a dog wasn’t always easy.
“I had a tough time, because of my lifestyle (as an over-the-road driver),” he said. Finally, he was able to adopt the first, and his furry family grew kept growing. “One became two, and two became three,” he said.
Szewczyk says his canine companions have helped him through several difficult experiences, including another vehicle collision and a home fire.
In addition to helping dogs, he’s quick to reach out to humans in need.
“If somebody is dealing with a fatality accident or something and they want to reach out to me, please get in touch. If somebody wants to find me, it’s not hard,” he said.
Szewczyk maintains three Facebook pages under the names Ron Szewczyk, Ronald Szewczyk and Ronco’s Rescue Ranch. He’s eager to listen to the experiences of others and to help connect them with a dog of their own — if they’re looking to provide a quality home for an animal in need.
The grandson of Polish immigrants, Szewczyk grew up in Chicago, part of a hard-working family in the inner city.
“They got on a boat not knowing where they were going. I mean, they heard rumors and stories, but there were no magazines or videos, they couldn’t FaceTime somebody to find out about the city they were going to,” he said of his grandparents.
“I could see Cabrini Green (an infamous Chicago housing project) from the building I lived in,” he recalled of his early childhood. His father often worked seven days a week, a practice Ron credits for his strong work ethic.
Occasionally, the family would take car rides to the suburbs to shop and visit the area’s forest preserves for some exposure to nature.
“I would smell skunk,” he said. “Most people think that’s repugnant and disgusting, but as a kid I learned to identify that smell with getting out of the city. Even today, when I smell skunk out on the road, I just smile. That’s the sweetest smell.”
There were other lessons Szewczyk absorbed during those suburban excursions. One is to get the most from each area he travels to.
“I like to get a pastrami sandwich from a shop in New York,” he explained. “Or see a local three-piece band in a New Orleans club. There’s something to see anywhere you go.”
Another lesson he learned was that relationships are an important part of both life and business.
“I work with people that I know from previous jobs in other places,” he remarked. “You never know when you’ll run across someone from the past.”
Like many drivers, Szewczyk worked in a different career before climbing into the cab of a truck.
“I worked in the automobile business in Chicago as a service manager, body shop manager for 20 years,” he said, adding that the frustrations of daily dealings with the public took a toll. “I was fed up with the lifestyle. I decided to go see the country.”
And off he went to become a driver. His trucking career began at North American Van Lines.
“They had a program called the ‘Summer Fleet,’ where you would go out for a month and learn to drive,” he said. “It lasted a month long, 16 hours a day. You were eight hours in the classroom and then eight hours on the parking lot. The last week of it, you went on the road with a trainer.”
It wasn’t long before Szewczyk was struck with the itch to buy his own truck, and he headed to Toledo to pick up his first, leasing on with a flatbed carrier out of Fort Wayne, Indiana. He cut his flatbed teeth hauling 60-foot steel beams to the West Coast
Today, Szewczyk hauls auto parts on a regular run using his own two-year-old Volvo VNL and 53-foot van trailer. He buys his own base plate and has his own IFTA (international fuel tax agreement) account.
“I get better than 8 miles per gallon,” he said. “I don’t want to pay fuel taxes based on a fleet average mileage number, so I have my own.”
When he isn’t working, Ron likes to load up the dogs in his toy-hauler RV trailer and go camping.
“The back of it is like a garage,” he related. “There’s plenty of room for the dogs to lay out.”
He’s also serious about his faith.
“I pray all day, and I like to pray with people I encounter,” he said. “There are homeless people everywhere these days. They don’t ask me for anything — just how the dogs are doing or where I’ve been.”
Szewczyk says he’s approaching retirement age and that he knows he’ll need to come off the road sooner or later.
“I won’t retire, but I’ll slow down drastically,” he said, adding that he’s looking for rural property to enjoy.
“Maybe I’ll take a couple of loads a month and then, on the other weeks, go fishing or traveling,” he said.
One thing is certain: Whatever he’s doing, Ron Szewczyk plans to bring his faith and his dogs along for the ride.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.