Ronnie Jones: 50 years and still going strong

Ronnie Jones 620 x 240

With a half-century of service and well over three million over-the-road miles under his belt, Ronnie Jones of A. O. Smith’s Ashland City plant shows no signs of slowing down.

Ronnie celebrated his 50th anniversary with A. O. Smith on June 20. Lyndon B. Johnson was president of the United States when Ronnie joined the company; the Beatles’ “Paperback Writer” was the number one song on the charts.

At that time, Ashland City was the headquarters of State Industries. “When I first started to work here, I never thought about retirement,” Ronnie pointed out. “It never crossed my mind.”  A. O Smith acquired State in 2001.

His first job was working in returned goods, but it wasn’t long before a new opportunity arose as an over-the-road truck driver delivering State water heaters. “I started as the youngest driver, and I never looked back,” he remembered.  “At the time, there were 150 drivers. I worked my way up, by the time I moved on; I was either seventh or eighth in seniority.”

Over the next 34 years, Ronnie estimates he drove enough miles to go around the world multiple times, “everywhere except Canada,” he noted. He liked most of his routes, although he found Florida “too hot” and was not a fan of Wisconsin winters. For eight of those years, he made a regular run from Ashland City to the former State water heater plant in Henderson, Nev.

In addition to their regular hourly pay, drivers in those days earned money for every mile they drove.  When Ronnie started driving in 1967, the allotment was a whopping three cents per mile, but then again, the cost of a gallon of gas was about 25 cents.

Ronnie is particularly proud of his safe driving record—the high point was earning an award for driving three million miles without an accident. “I would watch the other person all the time,” he explained.  The rest of his prescription for safe driving: getting plenty of sleep, staying healthy, and checking with his doctor on a regular basis.

His safe driving record is even more remarkable given some of the difficult driving conditions he encountered.

“One time, I was going to Boston, but the weather was so bad, I could hardly make it out of Virginia,” he remembered. “I could only get so far and no further. It took two or three days just to get there (to Boston).”

Just before he reached the three-million-mile record, he was making one of his regular trips to Texas and encountered a stretch of solid ice on the roadway near Amarillo. He made it through without incident.

In addition to safe driving awards, the truckers also were eligible for customer awards, and Ronnie got his fair share. One of the main reasons was his willingness to do a little extra for customers, such as helping unload water heaters from his truck or putting pallets in place. “It’s simple, you treat the customer the way you want to be treated,” he advises.

As a result, Ronnie was well known by his customers, which included Ferguson Enterprises, one of the largest plumbing wholesalers in North America, and nearly every wholesale distributor in the State of Texas. 

For 17 of his over-the-road years, Ronnie drove as a team with his wife. There were never any issues with the two of them driving together, he pointed out. “Understanding is the best thing in the world.  We knew we had a job to do; we would leave any of our problems at home.”

For the last several years, Ronnie has worked as a truck switcher in the distribution center in Ashland City.  He and one other driver cover the entire 20-acre area and serve the shipping area that consists of 27 docks. Their job is to move trailers into place at the docks for loading, then re-position them for the truckers to pick up. “We make it look easy,” he said, “but you have to be careful. You can’t come around corners too fast, and you have to be accurate when you back up the trailer. The name of the game is safety.”

Ronnie still gets together for annual reunions with the former over-the-road truckers, although their number is dwindling. Most have retired, some have passed away.

“People ask me, ‘why don’t you retire?’ When I was getting close (to his anniversary), I thought how many people can say they’ve worked someplace for 50 years. I enjoy life. If I need something at work, all I have to do is ask.”

His advice to younger workers: “Be a team player, a team player. That’s what I would tell them. You may have to start small, but if you hang in there, good things come to those who wait.”

Ashland City stands out for its amazing number of long-service employees. Larry Blaylock, who was profiled during the company’s 140th anniversary celebration as A. O. Smith’s longest-service employee, retired in May after 50 years with the company. Gaylon Harris will celebrate his 49th anniversary in August, and Larry Shearon recently reached the 48-year mark.