2018 marks the 40th anniversary of the incorporation of Thomas E. Keller Trucking. Tom’s humble beginnings taught him the value of family, hard work, and building a legacy as told in his memoir, The Life and Legacy of Thomas E. Keller.
For some reason, opportunity was always on my mind. Every time Dad had the chance to make an investment, I had an opinion about it. Usually, if the investment made the work less cumbersome or had long-term potential for profit, I was in favor of it. I wanted to watch our financially conservative family take a few risks to see what would pay off.
I saw how my Uncle Louie was able to talk to people, and how his networking abilities created new opportunities for him. I heard stories of my Grandpa Keller and the risks he took buying a farm in Indiana because this land was more productive. He saw a tremendous opportunity. This land being further south and more fertile, he could grow three crops each season. I believed if there was opportunity to be had, you had to step up or get out.
My parents didn’t share my philosophy, but they did manage to take a few practical risks that later proved to me the importance of trying something new. One of those times was when we started raising melons. We were part of a community of other melon farmers who grew fruit completely differently than melon farmers in the more popular fruit-growing states of Florida, Georgia, and Mississippi. We used hotbeds to grow our plants.
Our hotbed method was perfected over the years. It turned out to be a labor of love for Dad. We found our rhythm. We learned what worked the year before and what needed to change. We talked to other Knox County farmers to see how they were planting. Every year, we got better and produced more.
Faith was important to Dad as well. I remember hearing Dad having a conversation with one of my aunts when my parents had their first set of twins, my younger sisters Jeannie and Janice.
“Gene, how are you going to support those twins, and the rest of the family you’ve already got?” my aunt asked Dad.
“God will provide the opportunity,” Dad said. “I’ve just got to take advantage of it.”
And every year, just as Dad believed, the good Lord provided to our family every harvest season. Melons became a major source of our annual income.
But to really make a profit, we needed to purchase our own truck. I just knew I wanted our family to get into the trucking business. Other successful farmers in our county had trucks, and I saw them take their melons straight to the market to sell. I asked myself, “Why not take them to market yourself and cut out the middle man?”
This was an opportunity for my Dad and our family. When I turned 16, I was legally allowed to drive a truck if it belonged to the family. I told Dad how I could make the melon hauls and drive to different states to get top dollar. I mentioned it often. He must have rationalized the investment and when I was 16, he finally invested in a truck.
Innovation, paired with the new truck purchase and the rented land, came at just the right time for my family with the two sets of twins born after Gib. It created real financial stability for the Keller family.
Dad really shined in his management of the fields. He took conservative risks by renting land, leveraging his management capabilities and work ethic, and the small investment in the truck. I learned hard work, resourcefulness, and taking small steps for greater profits are all worthy pursuits.
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