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
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.