The Risslers – A Family of Professional Drivers
By Steve Pollock
CALIFORNIA, MO… With six children and nineteen grandchildren, Paul, Jr. and Marian Rissler could literally operate a fleet of trucks driven by their own family. As it is, the grandchildren are not old enough to drive yet but their parents own and operate nine trucks between them.
Paul’s father, Paul Rissler, Sr. operated a sawmill in Terre Hill, Pennsylvania. Mr. Rissler was a devoutly religious man and the Rissler family was raised in the Mennonite faith. The opportunity to buy a truck and make good money for his family prompted Paul Rissler, Jr. to get his Chauffeur’s License and buy a milk tanker. (In those days in Pennsylvania one only had to check off the Chauffeur’s box and send in the appropriate fee on your license renewal and you were now licensed to drive a truck, bus, limousine or taxi. The kicker was, however, no company would hire you without driving experience in the form of actual logged miles. Most Professional Drivers got their start by learning to drive with a friend or relative. Once they gained enough experience, many would buy their own truck or drive a truck owned by the person who trained them. Once you had a sufficient number of logged miles you could seek a job at a larger carrier. Individual truck owners in those days could not hold their own authority. Gaining ICC Authority was nearly impossible unless you were a large carrier, so nearly all owner-operators would lease to a larger carrier. This of course changed when the trucking industry deregulated in the early 1980s.)
Paul, Jr. bought his first truck, a milk tanker and started a regular “milk run” hauling milk from local dairy farms to processing plants. Paul’s wife Marian would occasionally drive until she had to stay at home to take care of the couple’s growing family. Paul’s favorite truck has always been Marmons with the 8V 92 Detroit engine. In his over 48 years as a Professional Driver and Fleet Owner, Paul has always owned his own trucks and has only purchased one brand new truck, which was of course a Marmon.
Paul, Jr. eventually gave up the milk run to start hauling freight. His fleet had grown to 7 trucks that were leased to West Motor Freight. In the late 1970s he decided it was time for a change and sold his fleet except for one conventional. Paul bought a farm near California, Missouri and tried his hand at farming for a couple of years. As time went on he realized that he could make more money trucking than farming. Paul purchased another truck, then another and another. At one time he owned 9 trucks. His family of six children was now growing up quickly and helped operate the family farm. As Paul’s fleet grew, they would also help clean and maintain the trucks in a shop on the farm. Paul’s sons John, Paul III, David, Arlin and Delton all learned to drive and work on trucks. The only family member who didn’t drive was their sister Loretta. The entire family still lives near or around California, Missouri.
When his sons decided to start buying their own trucks, Paul gave them a piece of advice; “You will always have a job if you haul food.” The boys took Paul’s advice to heart and to this day all of them pull refrigerated trailers.
Paul’s company was Rissler Trucking. He eventually sold a truck to his son, Paul III who started Rissler Transport. David bought one of his dad’s trucks and started David L. Rissler Trucking and John also bought one of Paul’s Marmons and became an owner-operator.
It was around this time that John was running loads back into Eastern Pennsylvania and the Northeast. John would often stop on his layover and visit family and attend Church with them on Sunday. Before long John had another reason for his Eastern runs, he had met a young lady at the Church and they had fallen in love. John and Karen married in 1997 and the first thing on their agenda was to help Karen to obtain her CDL license. Driving came naturally to Karen, who comes from a farming family. Karen’s brothers are now all Professional Drivers and her dad takes an occasional load as well. In their first year of marriage, John and Karen trucked in all of the lower 48 states. The couple flew to Alaska on their 1st wedding anniversary, adding a 49th state to the list of states they had traveled to during a single year. By the time their first son was a year old, he had already been in 32 states. In 1999 John and Karen bought a 2000 Kenworth W900 with an aerodyne sleeper and started up Horse-N-Buggy Express under their own authority.
John and Karen, as well as John’s brothers Paul and David have become well known among truck show enthusiasts from the Midwest to the East Coast. The Risslers have competed in numerous truck shows, including Shell SuperRigs®, the Walcott Truckers Jamboree, Carlisle All Truck Nationals and many smaller community-based shows such as the Transport For Christ Show in Mt. Hope, Ohio. They especially enjoy showing at the small community based shows that are raising money for charity. The one thing that is most impressive about the Risslers is that they are extremely nice people with a very strong work ethic. They usually only compete in a truck show if they can find freight going to and from the area where the show is being held. John, Karen, and Paul have done the most truck show competitions of their family and have won numerous trophies for their efforts. Equally impressive is the fact that they are true working trucks competing at the shows, the Rissler trucks all have well over a million miles on the odometers. John and Karen’s 2000 Kenworth has 1.7 million miles and Paul’s 1996 Peterbilt 379 has 1.5 million miles.
Today John and Karen own two trucks, Paul III bought his father’s business in 2002 and owns six trucks (his brother Arlen drives one and his dad Paul, Jr. still takes an occasional run) and David who has owned several trucks over the years now owns a 2007 International 9900IX. Their brother Delton does truck lettering. The Risslers have always done nearly all of their own maintenance, as well as customizations on their trucks. They keep their trucks in top condition and always do an excellent job of cleaning them for every truck show. Paul Rissler III’s sons Jordan, Justin and Josh have become a great help in the shop and office, helping to keep the trucks rolling.
Occasionally a number of the Rissler clan will all attend a truck show together, such as the 2012 Mid-America Trucking Show. It is great to see a family that is traveling on the highways in different directions everyday taking the time to get together. What better place, considering their love of trucking, than the Mid-America Trucking Show. With 19 grandchildren growing up in the Rissler family, the Rissler fleet is no doubt going to get a lot bigger in the years to come.