Local trucking business booms after decline in dairy farmers
The Town of Kentwood has always been known as “The Dairy Capital of the South”. Kentwood formerly held a dairy festival each year in June. There was a parade, festival pageant, entertainment, etc. The festival has not been held for several years due to the shutdown of the dairy plant in the 1970’s and the subsequent decline of the town and its economy. When dairy business started to decline, that’s when the trucking business boomed for the town. What started off as a small business with families turned into a major economic impact in Kentwood.
In the early 1970’s William Hatcher started hauling calves to Oklahoma, then moved on to purchasing trucks for the long haul. He operated from Louisiana to California, Chicago, and New York hauling swinging beef, which is a slaughter beef that was bought at the sale barn. He then opened up a slaughter house and started buying calves that benefited the dairy farms locally because veal was a popular meat in New York. Eventually, he purchased more trucks, hired more people, and started hauling van freight. Hatcher’s Trucking now hauls water, plastic, etc… Hatcher’s now has about 25 personnel, including 12 drivers. The truck driver is almost like an office secretary. The drivers have to keep a log, keep inspections up to date on the trucks and follow a lot of regulations. Eva Watts stated, “It’s done a lot for the industry around Kentwood. There are several trucking companies beside ours. There are probably between 100-200 employees between them all in this area. Good truck drivers are very important, because if that load can’t get to its destination, the company isn’t making money. No one in the industry is making any money. Years ago there wasn’t a lot of work to do. The truck would go out, and that was it. These days we have to keep up with all the fuel, where they go, and their logs have to match up. If they are over hours, they have to be shut down. There’s so much to keep up with that it takes several people in an office to do that.” David Easley is the shop mechanic and has been with the company close to 30 years. If a truck is out of state and breaks down, the driver calls him. If the rig is close enough, he goes out to fix it. If not, he has contacts all over that he can call to get someone out to help the driver get back on the road. Hatcher’s major loading is in Kentwood. Mrs. Watts stated, “William always said the best thing you could have would be to load where you live, and we do.”
Hatcher’s is now co-owned by Mrs. Betty Hatcher and Jimmy Hatcher, the late William Hatcher’s wife, and son. Also working in the office is the third generation of Hatchers, Jimmy’s two sons, Major and Justin Hatcher.
Another family-owned trucking business is Frazier Trucking, Inc. When Willie Frazier was 15 years old, he was helping his dad on the dairy farm and driving trucks. He would haul gravel, dirt, cows, etc… When asked if he was legal, he laughed and said, “Was I legal?” He knew that when he got older that he didn’t want to go into the dairy business; therefore, he went to the next best thing ...trucking. He started out hauling cows for other people while working at the sale barn. In 1964, he married his wife, Mrs. Dianne, within the first year, his father helped him buy a truck and they moved to Baywood, where they met Mr. Williams. He then became partners with Mr. Williams. Within a year and a half they paid for their first truck. Mrs. Dianne stated, “without the help of Mr. Williams, we would have never made it.”
In 1968, they moved to Kentwood and purchased land in Liverpool and built their shop. Once they paid one truck off, they purchased another one. They recounted stories of how the trucks back then had no sleepers or AC. “The first few years that we were married, the only time Dianne would get to go out to eat supper, was on a Friday evening when we took a load down to Morgan City with no AC in the truck ,” laughed Willie. Laughing, Mrs. Dianne said, “We would burn diesel to keep the mosquitoes off of us while waiting to get unloaded. If I wasn’t a mess when I got home from my hair blowing and that diesel smoke.” Mr. Willie recalled a story of how Mrs. Dianne first started riding with him, she learned how to read a map. He laughed about how he would give her the map and ask what highway do they take, and she said, “well let’s see.” Laughing, he said, “come on, I’m almost there.” Today, most drivers-especially young drivers, can’t survive without the AC or even know how to read a map. GPS has taken over.
In 1992, they started hauling brewers grain for a very long time under contract for Anheuser-Busch. At the time, there were two other trucking companies that were hauling brewers grain out of Houston back to the dairy farms. Mrs. Dianne said, “they had about 125 to 150 customers at that time in a 50 to 60 mile radius from here, and no doubt we have ten customers now because the dairy farmers started going out of business.”
One of Fraizer’s oldest drivers, Carl Womack, started as a company driver in 1999 for four-and-a-half years. He then got the opportunity to buy his truck, and lease it through them. Carl said that a lot of things have changed since he first started in the trucking industry, such as Department Of Transportation regulations. He also used to dairy with his dad as well, but got out of it and went to trucking. “The trucking life has been good to me,” stated Carl. He said that he enjoyed working with the Fraziers and hoped to retire with them.
Scott Foster was reared on a dairy. After high school, he went into his own dairy business in 1981. He sold out in 1983-1984. He and Chris Frazier have known each other since childhood, and he started driving trucks with Chris’s dad, Willie. Later, Scott and his wife, Lori, bought their first truck and leased-to-own it to Willie. Starting out, Willie was driving one truck and Scott and Chris were driving the other one together. At one time, they had up to 20 trucks carrying grain. Now, Scott works in the office, but he still owns his truck and has a driver.
As you look around Kentwood at the trucking companies, you will find someone that is the backbone of those companies. A hard worker, who started out with nothing and built their way to a major family-owned business, that has been passed down from generation to generation. But, one can’t help to wonder what is going to happen if one generation isn’t interested in the trucking industry. Will trucking eventually die out around Kentwood as well? ~Nikki Carrier
Photos by Nikki Carrier
PHOTO: Frazier Trucking staff, from left: Lori Frazier Foster, Scott Foster, Chris Frazier, Lynn Frazier, Colton Frazier, Willie Frazier and Dianne Frazier.
PHOTO: Betty Hatcher
PHOTO: Eva Watts, Major and Justin Hatcher
PHOTO: Houston Travis and William Travis
PHOTO: Willie Frazier and son Chris