Digging Through the Archives: Cook, West & West: A Truck Driving Family
I recently connected with a family with an impressive legacy of truck driving in the Valley. This linkage occurred when I befriended David West through some vintage pictures he posted of his father, John West, on the United Metro Materials Alumni Association website. But it turns out that his family has an even more extended history with truck driving, involving his grandfather on his mother’s side, James Cook, who worked at Arizona Sand & Rock Company.
Cook had some exciting jobs behind the wheel before driving a concrete mixer at ASR.“He drove an auto transport, probably late 1940's early 50's, out of St. Louis,” David says. “He had a stint as a test driver/mechanic for Ford Motor Company when the road to Flagstaff was dirt. A few cars would convoy together up and back. They carried tools and such, so they could take care of repairs as needed.”
Cook worked at ASR from the late 1950s until he passed away in 1975. “My grandfather died when I was 15, so I wasn’t exposed to much of his career,” David says. “I always found it comical that my dad, who worked as an inspector at Allison Steel, rode with my grandfather on weekends and off days to learn to drive a mixer. Then Maynard Graham at ASR would not hire Dad because he lacked experience. I always thought it was funny they let Dad ride for free but wouldn't give him a shot as a driver. That’s why he never worked for ASR.”
During his career at ASR, Cook won second place in the company’s “Driver of the Year” contest in 1960. His prizes included a Coleman ice chest, a Brazier barbeque, and a Sequoia sleeping bag.
David’s father, John, worked for another outfit that, at various times, was called Southside Ready-Mix, United Materials, and United Metro. "It was the same company, but had different names because of mergers and acquisitions,” David says. His father drove just about every major brand of the day, including Diamond Reo, Diamond T, Peterbilt, White, Kenworth, Cummins, and Detroit Power. “Dad drove mostly 5x4 twin-stick trannys,” David says. “I don't think he ran anything but mixers, maybe an occasional 10-wheeler dump truck, and a boost-a-load mixer by the late 1970s.”
His father drove to provide for his family, according to David. “He was very hard-working and a good Christian. Strict but fair. Well-liked by most everyone." John didn't talk about himself much and preferred to tell stories about other old-time drivers like Leroy Riddle, Arthur Fiddler, R.L. Compton, George Martin, and Richard Beeler.
John used his house as a pit stop to sip iced tea in the summers, which attracted his son to the occupation. "I was fascinated with the trucks!” David says. “I'd stand at the curb and just be mesmerized. Occasionally he would let me sit in the driver’s seat. It wasn't but a few minutes, but those moments have stretched into a lifetime. After my time in the Army, there wasn't any other thing I saw as a career but driving.”
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This article originally appeared in the bimonthly Arizona Contractor & Community magazine, Jul/Aug 2021 issue, Vol. 10, No. 4.