Monday morning meant it was laundry day for Joe Kegley’s mother. On this particular Monday — Dec. 11, 1944 — no one would have held it against her if she didn’t do the washing. She was in labor not to mention that 18 inches of snow lay on the ground.
Contractions and bad weather didn’t stop her. She did the laundry.
From that day of his birth, helped along by Dr. Winesett of Ceres, hard work was infused into Joe’s DNA.
It wasn’t long before he was developing his own work ethic. He declares that he started farming at the tender age of 3.
All that may explain that while Joe was in the ICU at the University of Virginia earlier this spring, he was conducting farm business via phone.
Despite his decades of farming, Joe is best known for his other profession — one that for half a century helped other farmers — dairy farmers to be specific.
Joe hauled milk for 50 years and, retiring earlier this year, spent 57 years in trucking before turning over Kegley Trucking Co. to his family’s next generation.
In 1969, Joe applied for and received his Virginia license to weigh and sample milk. He got license number 192. Since then, he understands, more than 500,000 people have received their licenses. His is now the oldest active license in the commonwealth. He intends to keep it that way. “I just want to keep it,” he said.
To get started in the hauling business, J.H. Groseclose of Ceres let Joe use his truck until he got his own.
Eventually, he went into business with Bland County’s Seldon Stowers. After a few years, Joe’s oldest brother, Bill, bought Stowers out and the two worked together for 10 years. In 1985, Joe and his wife, Debbie, took on sole ownership.
Early on, Joe didn’t have a relief driver so he worked without a break. Milk, he said, needs to be hauled seven days a week.
And, they were busy.
At one time, Joe said, he was making 150 stops at dairies. He has witnessed the decline of the dairy industry from the driver’s seat. When he quit hauling milk, it was down to 11 or 12 stops. They went from hauling 50,000 pounds of milk to 6,000.
The trucking took him all over Southwest Virginia and many nearby states.
He’d leave Nebo, making his first stop in the Black Lick area of Wythe County and go from there. “We always ate and drove,” Joe said, acknowledging that they never took the time to stop for meals.
The hauling would take them from Bland to Whitegate to Rocky Gap, Bluefield and Abingdon, regionally, and to West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky. Delivering to processing plants would often take them to Indiana and North Carolina.
Fortunately, Debbie was instilled with a strong work ethic at a young age too.
The couple, who met at a dance in Bland, where Debbie was a student, knew early on that they were right for each other.
Dating, however, wasn’t possible with Joe’s schedule. So Deb went with him on his Sunday runs.
Despite the demands, love flourished. This month, they’ll celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary.
The couple raised two daughters and a son. They’re delighted that all three live within a few miles of home and they get to interact with their six grandchildren and teach them the value of hard work.
While they prize a strong work ethic and believe they’ve been blessed, they acknowledge it’s not always easy to maintain.
Debbie remembers how Joe persisted through pain, working through broken bones, skin cancer treatments, and multiple surgeries to get the job done.
Even more, she said, he’d never ask an employee to do something he wouldn’t do. On many days, she said, he’d work 24 hours. However, family came first. He’d always make time, she said, to come home and eat dinner with the family and visit before going back out.
Many snowstorms brought nights of prayer for Debbie. When snow formed towering banks along roadsides in 1977, she worried constantly.
“We’d follow snow blowers to the dairies,” Joe remembered.
In the blizzard of ’93, Joe found himself stuck in Cedar Springs as 36 inches of snow piled up and blew.
Joe reflected, “Any business you own, can be trying.” Yet, he was quick to add, “It also gives you a lot of freedom.”
For the ability to stay in business and grow their company, Joe and Debbie give credit to God.
Self-described “hard-core Methodists,” Joe said, “We tell people all the time that what kept us in business was God.”
And, Joe said, “We were raised to work all the time.”
They’ve also been willing to diversify as times changed.
As the dairy business declined, another business was picking up speed in Saltville — salt production. Kegley Trucking now hauls about 250 truckloads of it a week. And, Joe notes, the company doesn’t handle all of the salt transportation.
The company has also hauled or hauls a variety of products, ranging from animal feed to limestone pellets and wood fibers to wood flour.
Kegley Trucking has its own eight-acre site in Chilhowie, featuring a shop and three-bay garage.
Joe knows their drivers, including one man who’s 82 and wanted to keep working some after he retired from ABF trucking.
When drivers fuss about the trucks, Joe reminds them of different times. “I tell them I wish I’d had a truck so nice. When they need a nap, they’ve got a place to stretch out instead of lying over the steering wheel.”
Not all the changes have been for the better. Joe pointed to the loss of country stores. He remembers 28 country stores from Bland to Saltville. Today, he said, there’s one open full-time and one that’s open a few hours.
Then, there’s the price of fuel. As he paid nearly $5 per gallon in Richmond, Indiana, in recent years, to fuel up a 300-gallon tank, he remembered a report he once heard that declared that anything beyond 50 cents a gallon was greed.
As Joe has recuperated from an illness this spring, he’s stayed updated on the trucking business and kept an eye on the 200 head of cattle on the farm. He thinks of the many kindnesses he’s received from his customers and he extends that to others. He shared a bowl of Debbie’s homemade soup with a Fed-Ex driver one day. After all, he knows what it’s like to work hard.