The Coffee Wagon Gang

Published on April 26, 2018 in PECO Culture and Leadership & Development
Dan Boyle
Dan Boyle
Senior Project Manager, Construction

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In our newest coffee-fueled People of PECO story, Senior Project Manager Dan Boyle shares the lessons he and his “Coffee Wagon Gang” learned selling coffee to the I-70 construction crew in 1968. The young entrepreneurs’ time on that road side helped set the stage for Dan’s future success.

 

Dan has been perking up the PECO team since 2009. During that time, he has “bean” busy, overseeing more than 500 projects. His first role with PECO was as Operations Manager of the Bridgewater Falls project in Cincinnati, Ohio. Dan moved into PECO’s construction team in 2013. The recent completion of a JD Becker store at PECO’s Central Station Center in Louisville was an energizing experience. The building was included as part of a property tour for PECO’s 2018 Annual Meeting and Dan says that it was extremely rewarding to have PECO’s CEO, COO and other leaders take associates through the project, and sharing the success of the redevelopment. True to PECO’s culture of learning and teamwork, Dan also mentored a new PECO associate during this project. This former intern became a fulltime associate last summer and with JD Becker as their first official project, it gave Dan an opportunity to pass along many lessons learned.

 

Outside of PECO, Dan and his wife of 41 years have two children and two granddaughters, that he says have grabbed ahold of his heart.

 

Coffee Wagon GangMy story begins in the early summer of 1968 when I was a mere lad of 11 years old, one of seven kids, ages three to 14. I remember my parents discussing, in very serious tones, the North Korea capture of the USS Pueblo, the Tet Offensive launched by the North Vietnamese, and the assassinations of Dr. King and Bobby Kennedy. I did not realize at the time just how impactful those two deaths would play, in not only my life, but countless other lives as well. You could tell there was a change in the air and the ’68 Olympics later that summer, with the black athletes taking a stand, cemented that change. Those social topics tore mightily at my parents but to be honest I just remember riding my bike, playing baseball and “discovering” girls for the very first time.

 

It was during this turbulent summer of ’68 that my dad approached us kids about starting a business opportunity. An opportunity, I’m sure, that was conceived to teach us valuable lessons about business and all that goes along with it but also as a way of keeping the seven of us from driving my mother crazy all summer. It so happens that during this time the federal government was in the process of constructing what is known today as Interstate 70, right through my hometown of Indianapolis, Indiana and not more than 100 yards from my backyard.

 

OSHA be dammed, my father’s idea was for us kids to set up a coffee stand for the interstate construction workers. At the time I wondered if this was a ploy to “thin” the herd, as we were now within yards of two-story tall pieces of earth moving machinery, but soon realized that he was setting us up for the future, while having the time of our lives. My parents loaned the soon-to-be entrepreneurs the $3.79 it took to buy the can of Folgers coffee, milk, sugar and paper cups we needed to begin our business and we all had to promise our mother we would behave for a whole week if we could borrow, not rent, her two-gallon coffee percolator.

 

Per my father’s instructions we were up before dawn the next day, made our coffee, loaded everything into our beat-up wagon, strategically placed our newly made cardboard advertisement and headed towards an area we had previously been warned to stay away from. As we cleared a way through the small wooded area behind our house, and made our way up a slight incline, we had arrived. For pretty much all the eye could see was flat level dirt with massive earth moving machines running around in a well-choreographed dance. I forgot how the decision was made, or who it ended up being, but one of us made their way a little closer to “I-70”, flagged down one of these beasts, and managed to ask a rough, tough, truck driver in pre-pubescent youthful voice if he wanted a cup of coffee for $0.35.

 

The cost of the cup of coffee was another area where the wisdom of one of my parents, in this case my mother, made a lasting impression on me. The “Coffee Wagon Gang”, as we would become known, studied this subject intently and were pretty much set on the going rate of $0.25. When my mother in her calm, soothing but firm voice said, “believe me those men will gladly pay the extra dime (unheard of 40% increase) for the service you are providing to them”. So, $0.35 it was and within 45 minutes we had sold out of our first couple of gallons and unbelievably we had close to $10.00 in our shocked little hands… we were on our way. We were all sat down that first night as my parents showed us how we had turned “their” original investment into a nice little profit. They explained how we could do it all over again but with “our” money this time if we were willing to make a little sacrifice. In my mind I had pretty much spent my $1 share of the profit on baseball cards and comic books, but once again the wisdom of the parental team of “Mom and Dad” was able to penetrate my brain and I was ready to sacrifice.

 

By the third day we had added a second shift at 9:30 am, and by the second week one of our new friends asked if we had any doughnuts, which turned into sandwiches at lunch. The next thing you knew there was the Coffee Wagon Gang at the local Wonder Bread Thrift store on Shadeland Ave. buying day old loaves of bread and doughnuts. Each evening the assembly line was formed with even the youngest of us, at three years old, doing their part to get everything ready for the next day’s adventure.

 

We followed the crew that built I-70 between Franklin and German Church roads (2-3 miles) on the east side of town, from the original stages of excavation till the asphalt was being laid. It made for a summer that I will never forget, full of lessons that I have passed along to my children, grandchildren and really anyone that wants to listen. I do not remember how much we ended up making that summer, but I do know today I have one heck of a baseball card collection dating back to 1968.

 

The Coffee Wagon Gang were truly one-hit wonders as we never repeated our performance. To make matters worse, within a year or two a school friend’s dad started a business of trucks with shiny silver boxes on the back that would pull up to construction sites and sell food. Chuck Wagons or Roach Coaches as they have been called- I remember thinking they stole my dad’s idea. I am not saying that the Roach Coach did not already exist somewhere in the country, and it wasn’t like I was going to “Google” it to find out, but I do know that I never saw those trucks before our adventure began like I did after.

 

The gang was ready to go again that next year but before that fabulous summer even ended we woke up one late summer day only to find our normal route blocked by a chain link fence and ultimately, vehicles flying by at very high rates of speed. My parents knew the interstate would move on without us and they also knew that we were dirt poor with only one income and nine mouths to feed. But they took full advantage of what was around and made the best of it, throwing in a lot of love along the way. They gave us so much more than what money could buy. We were taught that hard work, reliability, teamwork, and having fun will pay off in the long run if you are committed and stay with it. I am proud to say that the lessons we learned that summer stayed with us, as all my sibs went on to lead very productive lives along with my own children, and my nieces and nephews.

Dan Boyle
Dan Boyle
Senior Project Manager, Construction