MANSFIELD — Harold Mitchell Jr. got the bug for trucks at an early age.
"I've always liked trucks. That's all I played with when I was little," he said, noting he was driving the real thing on his father's farm as a teen before he received his driver's license.
So it wasn't much of a surprise when he basically walked out of his Mansfield High School graduation in 1969, climbed into a semi and has been driving ever since.
That same year he formed Mitchell's Trucking, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year.
Despite some health issues that have kept him in the office and out of the cab the past year, Mitchell has no intentions of retiring.
"I've done office work, and I've driven. I'd just as soon drive," he said. "I like driving. I see the country, meet other people."
Mitchell has also found time for family and community. He and his wife Patti, who died three years ago, had two daughters and four grandchildren. Harold served as village president of Mansfield for three terms until Patti — who took her share of constituent calls while he drove — put her foot down.
"Patti told me in the 12th year when I came up for re-election that 'if you run, I'll divorce you,'" he laughed. "She made a believer out of me."
His truck driving almost made him late for his own wedding. He was drafted in February 1970, and just after returning from basic training, he heeded the call of the cab.
"When I got home from basic, we had a load of oats to pick up in South Dakota. I got in the truck and took off," said Mitchell. "She was afraid I wasn't going to make it back.
"There was no need to worry. I got back early on Thursday, and the wedding was Friday night. So I had plenty of time," he said with a smile.
Growing up in Galesville, he is a lifelong Piatt County resident, and claims that Mansfield is an ideal base of operations for Mitchell's Trucking.
"The dairy farm is about five miles up the road, FS is two miles down the road, the elevator is one block from me, Bayer is eight miles, and Pioneer is 15 miles from here. That's basically what we do," he said.
His daughter, Jamie Berbaum, helps manage the office. It maintains a long tradition of being a family affair, with Mitchell's father helping after he retired from farming in 1976 until he died in 1986. He also trucked with his brother Rick for several years.
His truck firm leases eight trucks and employees seven drivers, along with other additional leased drivers.
They drive both short and long hauls, from Gibson City to Texas and Louisiana, and focus on agriculture — corn seed, soybean seed, fertilizer, feed and the like.
Business startups that last half a century are rare. What is Mitchell's secret?
"Hard work, loyal customers, and then we give them good service. Those are the main things," he said.
Steve Hoffman is editor of the Piatt County Journal-Republican, a News-Gazette Media community newspaper. For more, visit journal-republican.com.