When brothers P.L., Earl and Roscoe Howard established a trailer-building business in downtown Fresno in 1930, they probably never envisioned that their enterprise would still be going strong years later as a statewide dealer of big-rig trucks.
What started out as the Fresno Trailer Company is now California Truck Centers, run by P.L.’s grandson, Doug Howard. Doug’s children Lee and Tiffany Howard represent the fourth generation of the Howard family in the business. The family recently celebrated Fresno Truck Center’s 85th anniversary with an open house at the newly remodeled dealership on Central Avenue at Highway 99.
“They built and manufactured trailers for the agriculture industry,” Doug Howard said of his grandfather and great-uncles. “But over time it became increasingly difficult to build and sell local-produced trailers compared to the national trailer companies, so they started selling trucks to supplement the trailer business” in about the early 1940s. By the late 1950s, “they ended up focusing just on trucks and got out of the trailers.”
The business has grown over the decades. From the headquarters Fresno Truck Center, Doug’s father Gary Howard established Bakersfield Truck Center in 1978, and the Golden Gate Truck Center was established in Oakland in 1983 when the family bought another dealership. Delta Truck Center was opened in French Camp in 1992, and Sacramento Truck Center was established in 1999. The company also has a parts-only store, also called Delta Truck Center, in Modesto.
Now, the company is establishing a more corporate identity as California Truck Centers. “We wanted to communicate to our customers that we’re statewide,” Doug Howard said. “A lot of people didn’t realize that the Fresno and Bakersfield truck centers were the same business. So we want to keep the individual identities of the stores, but we’re putting them all in a corporate house.”
Fresno Truck Center has been at its current site since 1992. The nine-acre dealership includes a service shop for big rigs and an inventory of about 50 used trucks and 150 new rigs. Across the five stores, the company has about 500 trucks in its inventory. “We always want to keep a good stock available so a customer doesn’t have to order something and sit around waiting for four months,” Lee Howard said. He added that there are about 150 employees at the Fresno headquarters and about 560 company-wide.
Most of the company’s customers are agricultural businesses. “They’re hauling milk or hauling produce or hauling fertilizer,” Doug Howard said. “The trucking market in the San Joaquin Valley is different than it is nationally. We don’t have the big truckload carriers, but you have a lot of niche players, smaller fleets that specialize primarily in the agricultural sector.”
Doug Howard said he’s proud of what the family has built. “Eighty-five years under one family is a long time, and hopefully we can go another 85 years if these guys can keep it on track,” he said with a laugh, elbowing his son. And with a 1-year-old grandson, “we’ve got generation five in the wings, but he just having his first birthday,” Howard added. “So he’s got a lot of training ahead.”