Family-owned business based in Waverly
By David Blanchette
Whalen Trucking Inc. of Waverly is celebrating 50 years in business. The family owned and operated trucking firm has gone from one truck in 1973 to 70 trucks, 70 employees, and terminals in several cities today with a reach that extends to 46 states and Canada.
Recently, the three family members who are instrumental in Whalen Trucking Inc.’s success sat down with The Source and discussed the company’s past, present and future.
Richard E. “Rick” Whalen Jr.
Founder, owner and treasurer, Whalen Trucking Inc. and Specialized Transport Inc.
Rick Whalen’s father and uncle were in the grain business and owned a couple of trucks that they used to haul grain, livestock and dry fertilizer. The men had a contract to truck hogs from a buying station near Waverly to the former Oscar Mayer plant in Beardstown.
When Rick turned 19 his father and uncle asked if Rick wanted to make the daily haul to Oscar Mayer. Rick took over the route, and then the next summer he bought a new truck.
“I didn’t see any future in the grain business, which is what my dad and uncle were in, so I wanted to do something different,” Rick said. “I was a one truck operation for about a year, then my dad and uncle sold me the rest of their trucks the following year.”
“We ran under Whalen Grain for a couple of years and then they switched all of the authority over to my brother Patrick and me, which was how Whalen Trucking started in 1973,” said Rick, who noted that his brother Patrick retired from the business in 2022. “Back then everything was all manual controls, they didn’t have power steering or air conditioning. There’s no comparison to the trucks we use now. Trucks now drive kind of like a nice car and they have a lot of creature comforts.”
It didn’t take long for Whalen Trucking to grow. The firm started hauling liquid fertilizer in 1975 and anhydrous ammonia in 1976. The company acquired a Moorman Feed contract in 1984 that opened the door to hauling materials in enclosed trailers. Whalen Trucking started hauling fuel in 1995, which spurred the creation of Specialized Transport Inc., a company formed because Whalen’s insurance carrier at the time wouldn’t cover the hauling of flammable products.
“We had to get big or die, we had to go with what our customers wanted and that’s how we grew,” Rick said. “So we grew some every year, we didn’t jump to where we are overnight.”
Five years ago, Whalen Trucking purchased Boesdorfer Trucking in Pleasant Plains, a large acquisition that greatly increased Whalen’s chemical hauling and got them into the building materials hauling business. With the Boesdorfer purchase, Whalen Trucking now makes runs to 46 states and into Canada, but the bulk of their business is in the Midwest.
The 70-year-old Rick still enjoys climbing in a truck cab to haul anhydrous ammonia in the spring and fall, something he does to help the company during those busy seasons.
“I remember the time we hauled 200 loads of anhydrous in a day, that was a pretty good achievement,” Rick said. “We had 45 or 50 trucks doing that, that’s 4,000 tons of ammonia in a day and it’s a pretty good move.”
Rick has learned a lot during his 50 years in the trucking business.
“Everybody can say ‘I work for myself.’ You do, but not really. You work for that customer. If you don’t keep him happy, you’re not going to be around,” Rick said. “You also don’t want to over-promise yourself. When you say you can do something, you’d better be able to handle it.”
Richard E. “Richie” Whalen III
President, Whalen Trucking Inc.
Richie is Rick’s son, and he joined the family business after graduating from college in 2008. Richie had to learn the business from the bottom up, and started out washing trucks, driving and “following my dad around.”
Richie’s opportunity to step up occurred in 2009 when Whalen Trucking bought Elm Transit in Springfield, and with it a terminal in the Capital City and a major food products hauling contract with M.J. Kellner Foodservice. Richie took over the new Springfield operation and ran it for several years.
“After some things slowed down I thought it best to get back down to Waverly to get my hands on a few things,” Richie said. “I was in Waverly for two years when the Boesdorfer purchase happened. Since that purchase I am now primarily in the former Boesdorfer office in Pleasant Plains.”
Richie is now in charge of the day-to-day operations of Whalen Trucking and its Waverly, Pleasant Plains and Springfield terminals. But his father Rick is never far away.
“Most middle aged men have hobbies like golf or weekend getaways, but coming here to the office is his primary hobby,” Richie said of his father, Rick. “Another hobby of his has always been working in the fall and spring hauling anhydrous.”
There are inevitable conflicts in a family business, and Whalen Trucking is no exception.
“When you get enough family members together with different opinions, it happens,” Richie said. “Dad always wins those arguments because he will just walk away. When there’s conflict he’ll let the fight happen but he’ll just remove himself from it.”
“The best times are when everybody comes together at the end of a busy time, or during the holidays,” Richie said. “We are able to celebrate as a family and look back on some of the negative things that turn into positives.”
Richie’s fondest memory of the business came from a brief time last year when he, his father and two of his brothers were all in a line waiting to load their trucks at the same time, something that rarely occurs.
“I am so fortunate to see the ones I love every day on this job,” said Richie, who added, “It’s really hard to get fired from a family business.”
President, Specialized Transport Inc.
Ryan Whalen, Richie’s brother, is in charge of Whalen Trucking’s associated business, Specialized Transport Inc., which hauls fuel and hazardous materials. Ryan enjoys being part of the overall family business.
“You get to see the ones you love every day, and it gives you incentive to be successful and to not let others down,” Ryan said. “Working with and for your family, you do not want to fail.”
That family feeling extends to Whalen Trucking and Specialized Transport’s 70 employees, many of whom have been with the businesses for many years.
“All of our employees feel like part of the Whalen family, and that’s what separates us from other trucking companies,” Ryan said.
Ryan still enjoys driving because it allows him to see the countryside, and you can often find him in a truck cab when business picks up in the spring and fall.
Seeing his father and brothers every day has its ups and downs, but Ryan wouldn’t have it any other way.
“It can be stressful and difficult but I wouldn’t change it,” Ryan said. “How many people do you know who get to work with their dad and brothers every day?”