The Talley family has been involved with trucking for over 60 years. Their company, Talley Transportation out of Madera, California, has been around since 1946.
Today, Talley Transportation is just one of the many diverse companies this family operates, and with the third generation of Talley boys now involved, there’s no telling where this outfit will go next. To stay ahead and on top, Talley has always been a company that is willing to change and adapt to the latest trends and needs of their customers and community. Over the years, their companies have taken chances and shifted their focus – sometimes it has worked out, and sometimes it has been a flop. But, working together as a family and always having fun, Talley Transportation has been able to survive when many companies couldn’t.
O.W. Talley was eighteen when he married his sixteen-year-old sweetheart Elaine. Back then, they lived in Maricopa, California, just outside Bakersfield. O.W. went off to fight in WWII and served in Germany in the Motorpool – which is the Army’s term for trucking. After he got back, Talley Transportation was started on April 1, 1946 as a livestock hauling operation serving California, Nevada, Washington, Oregon, New Mexico and Texas. In 1947, O.W. and Elaine packed up all their belongings in their travel trailer and moved to Madera. One year later, their son Ken was born. Still living in that tiny trailer, Ken’s crib was merely a pulled-out drawer lined with blankets. Talk about humble beginnings.
The Talley color scheme (dark blue, yellow and red) was adopted right from the start with the first truck. O.W. bought a red 1939 KW with a 1946 front end from “Uncle Don” Keith in Corcoran, CA and a dark blue and yellow truck rack and trailer from an outfit in Arizona. Figuring it would be easier, quicker and cheaper to paint the truck’s cab instead of the entire rack and trailer, they kept the dark blue and yellow scheme and, 60 years later, not much has changed.
The truck of choice for Ken’s dad was always a Kenworth, but over the years he had other makes as well. Because trucks were hard to come by after World War II, Talley’s second truck was a Sterling and the third was a 1941 Peterbilt with an HRS 225 Cummins engine (the company still has that old Cummins engine and is planning on rebuilding it in the near future). O.W. had a buddy that sold GMC trucks and another buddy that sold Utility trailers, so, from time to time, one of these trucks or trailers would join the fleet.
At fifteen and a half years old, Ken Talley had his mom take him to get his Learner’s Permit. It was a Friday afternoon, and later that same night, Ken found himself running team with a man named Martin Rogers to Oregon to pick up a load of cattle. Ken did this for about six months and then got his license. At sixteen, Ken began hauling oil out of Bakersfield for his dad. O.W. had started a tanker and oil spreading operation in 1956 and was doing very well. At that time, oil was the highest rated commodity besides explosives and the hours and working conditions were much more favorable than hauling livestock. Ken went to college for a short time but flunked out. He has been working in the family business ever since.
As time passed and Ken got more involved with the business, he began to slowly take it over from his father in the late 1960’s. As most of the beef industry left California and moved to the Mid-West in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Talley phased out the livestock operation, opting instead to focus on hauling oil and other construction-related products. San Joaquin Sand & Gravel was started as an open pit mining operation in Fresno and ran for 21 years along the San Joaquin River until they ran out of sand and gravel. At that time, they sold off everything except for the crushing equipment, and today San Joaquin Sand & Gravel is a fast-growing and successful aggregate production and sales company, dealing with products such as base rock, crushed rock, sand, fill dirt and top soil.
In 1992, all of the tankers were segregated out from the other trucks and Zephyr Truck & Equipment was formed. Focused mostly on liquid road construction products, Zephyr hauls liquid asphalts, asphalt emulsions and liquid fertilizers throughout the Western states. Their latest company, Talley Oil Inc., was formed about a year ago and manages a two-fold operation consisting of the production and sales of asphalt emulsions, road oils, and dust palliatives and a construction branch focused on pavement preservation products such as chip seals.
Today, Talley Transportation is a full service trucking company with a specialty in road construction materials. Talley Transportation maintains a fleet of transfers, bottom dumps, end dumps and pneumatic tankers, and operates within the state of California, hauling bulk cement, sand, gravel and demolition materials. Talley Transportation also serves as the parent company to the other three. In total, the four companies operate about 60 power units, 125 sets of trailers and collectively have about 80 employees. But not everything that Talley has tried has worked.
On April 1, 1978 (they seem to like to start businesses on April Fool’s Day), Talley Concrete Inc. was started. At the time, the building industry was booming, so Ken thought that they should get into the ready-mix business. After a terrific first year, interest rates started to rise and building projects started to slow. By the time interest rates hit 20%, most or all construction projects completely stopped. Ken hung onto the mixers until 1984 – until their value had come back up enough for him to sell them – and then sold the business. This venture was a perfect example of a company in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Ken has always felt like he was stuck in the 1950’s. He loves the old iron and, over the years, has acquired some neat rigs. In 1979 he found a 1955 KW with a 300 Cummins sitting against a fence behind a truck lot. He bought the old truck to restore it, but didn’t get to it until around 1990. Today, this 1955 KW is completely restored and painted in the traditional Talley colors. This truck was driven to antique truck shows in Portland, Denver (a couple of times) and Phoenix before it used its first gallon of oil – it’s a true driver. At night, the 300 Cummins blows fire out the pipe as it screams down the highway. Ken also has a 1949 Low-Mount KW with a 262 Cummins under the hood. But our favorite truck (and the one featured on our cover and centerfold this month) is his classic Wide Hood KW.
For years, Ken drove by a house in Elk Grove, California, and saw the 1979 W-900A Long Hood parked out front. One day, about four years ago, he decided to stop, knock on the door and ask about the old KW. After a couple burgers and milkshakes with the truck’s owner at a local restaurant (not to mention a trip to the ATM), the truck belonged to Ken. Originally, the truck came with a Cat 3408, but when Ken got it there was a Cummins NTC 400 BC3 under the hood. This truck had already had a pretty rough life and it was not in very good shape, so Ken and his crew went to work, stripping everything off of it except for the cab and rebuilding it from the ground up. Today, the rig features a 1693 TA Cat with a retarder, twin sticks, KW 8-bag air-ride and 3.70 rears, all riding atop a 260-inch wheelbase. Much of the work and ideas came from Butch Koehn and Butch Simas, two men who (at one time) both worked for Ken, along with painter Nick Luna and Jim Raviscioni, an expert in air systems and wiring.
About three years ago, after longtime friend and old truck nut Terry Fortier passed away, Ken was lucky enough to get one of his mechanics, Ralph Ritchie, to come and join the Talley crew. Ralph is 81 years old and has been working on Cummins engines since the 1940’s. In fact, he worked on one of the first ones ever made. Ralph worked at Watson & Meehan, the first Cummins dealer in Fresno, from 1946 to 1948, and then again from 1957 to 1987. Ralph remembers working on O.W. Talley’s trucks 45 years ago. The day we visited the Talley shop, Ralph was working on a Cummins engine out of a 1938 Autocar. The owner wanted to get it running, and Ralph was very close to making it happen. Ralph also recently built a 1941 Cummins engine for a rare 1949 White-Freightliner conventional for the folks at the Cat Scale Company in Iowa. When they opened up the engine, they found that the block was cast on December 8th, 1941 – the day the United States declared war on Japan. The Cat Scale people plan on displaying this truck in their museum and using it in parades and other events. Truth is, there probably isn’t anyone out there that knows more about old, high-performance Cummins engines than Ralph. And the stuff he and Ken talked about to us, well, frankly most of it went right over our heads.
Another neat “toy” Ken has is a 1950’s Supercharged Cummins engine display. Mounted on a small trailer, the free-standing oil-sprayed (piston cooled) 275 Cummins is equipped with a Telma electric retarder (used in school buses that operate in mountain communities) and can be fired up at truck shows and other events. Unlike most rack-mounted engines, the retarder on Ken’s “Dyno” allows him to put a load on the engine and get her really hot – so hot that eight to ten-inch flames come out of the stack and the exhaust manifold turns bright orange. This baby always attracts a crowd when Ken starts it up – the old-timers hear it and go crazy!
At 57 years old, Ken is not planning on retiring any time soon, but when he does, his boys, Kenny (31) and Marty (30), will be ready. Both of the boys have college degrees and both are very involved in the family business. Kenny graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo with a degree in Ag Systems Management and Marty earned a Business Degree from Fresno State. Kenny runs the Talley Oil operation and Marty is president of Talley Transportation. Both of the boys get frustrated with their dad because of all the time and money he spends on his old trucks, but hey, he’s still the boss. Ken also has a step-son named Robby who is not involved in the trucking business (he’s an accountant). Ken has been married to his second wife, Chrissie, since 1978. And let’s not forget their big, black, German poodle, Annie. She is a bonafide member of the Talley family.
Ken takes his small fleet of antique trucks and trailers (and the Dyno) to four or five truck shows a year. When the ATHS National Show & Convention is on the West Coast, he goes to that, too. Ken belongs to three chapters of the ATHS including Reno, Tulare and the West Side Chapter. Currently, Ken has a few other projects of his own in the works like another Wide Hood KW and a 1955 Bullnose KW that he’s going to make into either a tanker or a cattle truck, in addition to a few “outside” jobs for some customers. When asked about the future, Ken replied, “Hell, I don’t know. That will be up to the boys.” He also told his sons that if they ever sold his old trucks after he’s gone that he would haunt them.
With 53 acres of wide-open space on their Madera property, all of the Talley-owned companies have plenty of room to grow. Most of the land is currently covered with a pecan orchard, but they recently plowed some down and put up a new shop dedicated solely to working on the old trucks and hanging out in. Every night after work, mechanics, drivers and other personnel (including Ken and the boys) gather around the famed “round table” and talk about trucks and whatever else is on their mind. The base of the table is a huge wheel from a Michigan loader, the spindle is an input shaft from a 13-speed transmission, the top is a custom-cut piece of steel and the rotating Lazy Susan that sits on top of the table in the center is made out of a truck’s flywheel. After sitting around that table for hours with everybody, we really felt like we were part of the Talley family. What a great bunch of folks. We also met 10-4’s biggest fan – Daniel “Squiggy” Arias. This guy doesn’t go anywhere without a 10-4 Magazine rolled up in his back pocket, and not a day goes by that he doesn’t whip out that magazine to show something to someone. Our thanks go out to Squiggy for all of his support.
All of the drivers and other employees at Talley are terrific, but there simply aren’t enough of them. Ken wanted us to mention that they are always looking for quality drivers who respect their equipment and take good care of it. If you are interested and think you’re up to snuff, call (559) 673-9014 and ask for Ken or Marty. Hey, tell ‘em 10-4 sent you.
Ken says he’ll retire when he gets tired, adding, “I’m not tired yet.” When he hears the term “retire” Ken thinks it’s time to call Goodyear and get a new set of caps. That’s a trucker for you. With 60 years already under this company’s belt and young blood willing and able to take the helm, we are sure that Talley Transportation could do another 60 years. The only question is what will the fourth generation want to do? One thing is for sure, if they hang around the “round table” long enough, at least a small amount of diesel is sure to seep into their bloodstream, and if that happens, watch out! As most of you out there already know, a drop is all it takes.
Copyright © 2006 10-4 Magazine and Tenfourmagazine.com
PO Box 7377 Huntington Beach, CA, 92615 tel. (714) 378-9990 fax (714) 962-8506