Chester Charles “Shorty” Jones began his trucking business with a 1954 AutoCar diesel truck, a strong work ethic and family values while he hauled poultry from Arkansas to the West Coast and oranges back home.
Now, more than 60 years later, C.C. Jones Trucking Inc. of North Little Rock has 20 company drivers and an additional 15 independent haulers and is considered one of the pioneers in the state’s trucking industry. The work ethic and family ties remain. Jones’ daughter, Vicki Jones Stephens, and her son, Gabe Stephens, run the business. The company, which has an annual revenue of $7.3 million according to Dun and Bradstreet, still hauls to California and back and logs about 5 million miles a year.
“It’s extremely personal,” Vicki Stephens said of her own work ethic. “This is about my father.”
Although Vicki, 73, admits she cannot drive an 18-wheeler, she’s been around trucks all her life. By the time she was 5 years old, she had been to most U.S. states while riding with her father on cross-country deliveries.
C.C. Jones was 14 when he drove his first truck, transporting goods from his family’s farm to local markets in Little Rock. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II, returned home in 1945, got married three years later and had four daughters. In 1955, he became the first driver to haul California Sunkist oranges across the Mississippi River into Memphis, and after an accident that left him with a broken back, he continued to haul produce while in a body cast. Doctors told him he would never walk again, let alone drive a truck.
That was unacceptable for Jones; he had a wife and children, and he had to continue making money by hauling his poultry and citrus goods. People teased Jones, who was considered a pioneer in Arkansas trucking, that his initials C.C. stood for “Chicken Charlie” or “Cold Cash.”
In 1960, he wanted to be with his family so Jones and W. T. Kidd formed his company, C.C. Jones Trucking Inc., hiring drivers to replicate the long hauls he made to the West Coast and back. His daughter, Vicki, went to work for the company when she was 18. She had a choice then, she said, of either going to college or getting married and going to work. She picked love, marrying her childhood sweetheart, and applied for a job as an operator for the telephone company.
Vicki was given the job, but at the same time, her father needed a bookkeeper for his trucking business. Vicki graduated high school in May 1966 and began working for her dad at $40 a week.
“I was the son he never had,” she said. “My dad did a good job of laying the groundwork for this business. He was truly committed to the industry.”
Twenty years later, C.C. made his daughter and A.L. “Buddy” Eubanks partners with him, since the two had been with him the longest. At a time when women were not often considered for positions in the trucking industry, the choice helped establish Vicki as a viable executive. She later became the first woman to be named the chairman of the Arkansas Trucking Association and has served on several boards and committees in Central Arkansas.
Vicki and Eubanks bought the business from her father in 1990, and six years later, Vicki and her son, Gabe Stephens, bought out Eubanks. In 1997 Vicki’s father died, but he was able to see his daughter and grandson run the company before he passed away, she said.
Although Arkansas is located in the middle of the country and has no large metropolitan areas like on either coast, trucking has thrived in the state. Interstate 40, which cuts through the heart of Arkansas, is one of the busiest highways in the country for trucks, and the intersections of Interstate 40 and Interstate 55, rife with truck stops in Crittenden County, is one of the top three most congested truck-traffic areas in the nation. The Mississippi and Arkansas rivers are home for ports that provide more opportunity for transport trucks.
Along with C.C. Jones Trucking, several trucking-industry kings have made Arkansas their homes. J.B. Hunt, based in Lowell, has annual earnings of $9.165 billion. Other Arkansas companies include Tyson Foods, CalArk and Willis Shaw Logistics LLC.
“Dad grew up during the Depression,” Vicki said. “He thought Arkansas was perfect for his family and for what he needed for his business.”
Trucking companies are “extremely fragmented” in the state, said Shannon Newton, the president of the Arkansas Trucking Association.
“We see the large companies like J.B. Hunt and the smaller, family-owned ones like C.C. Jones,” Newton said, “That’s what trucking is about. But there are certain types of operations that make handling clients personal, and that’s what Vicki does.”
Newton said hauling produce is one of the harder ventures in trucking because food has a short “shelf life.”
“It’s important to get it there on time,” she said. “It’s a difficult type of operation. They [C.C. Jones] have figured out the best way to do it.”
It wasn’t always easy when Vicki first took over the company. A grocery store that had been a major client went bankrupt. One of the new trucks was struck by lightning. It was an ominous sign, one that even her father noted. She also went through a divorce, but she continued on and focused on keeping the company successful.
C.C. Jones has survived by hiring the “right people,” Gabe said. The company has maintained a close relationship with its employees. Both mom and son consider drivers as family.
“If you hire anybody who walks through the door, you’re in trouble,” Gabe, 48, said. “We often go with gut feelings. If a person doesn’t seem to fit, we don’t hire him.”
Drivers know exactly where and when they will be driving. They also know they won’t be “deadheading,” or returning with an empty truck, and instead they are insured loads wherever they go.
“We have an open-door policy,” he said. “Our employees are our friends.
“We’re far from perfect,” he added. “But we do what we say we’ll do. If someone says he wants to be home in time to see his grandson play baseball, we’ll get him home in time.”
The company lost some freight jobs when COVID-19 struck and businesses began closing. But the company continued to pay employees whether they delivered goods or not.
“Things got a little tough,” Vicki said. “We had some highs and lows during that time, but we kept going.”
Gabe has three daughters but has yet to determine if they will succeed his mother and him and keep the family in the business.
“They are a successful trucking company in Arkansas over three generations,” Newton said. “They’ve made a lot of impressions on people.”