My July trip was a virtual history lesson. In fact, to quote from the visitpa.com website “History is what makes visiting Pennsylvania a unique experience. This nation was born in Philadelphia, saved at Gettysburg and ushered in the Industrial Revolution in cities of Pittsburgh, Johnstown, Scranton, Allentown, Erie, and York to name a few.” I had the opportunity to visit a few of those sites, and some other lesser-known sites as well on my journey around central PA.
I landed in Philadelphia, the aforementioned birthplace of our country, and drove directly to Souderton, incorporated in 1887. Not so many years later, in 1924, Norman L. Bergey opened an automotive repair shop. From that humble start has grown a company still owned by the Bergey family that operates auto dealerships, truck centers, tire & auto service centers, commercial tire centers, and a tire retreading plant in addition to Bergey’s Leasing Associates, a NationaLease Member. I met with Ric Ciesielka and Hayes Conn to talk about their business and review some of the NationaLease programs. Ric gave me a tour of the remarkable 70 acre facility in Souderton before we sat down to discuss some of the purchasing programs, meetings, and other opportunities available to NationaLease members.
I left Souderton and headed west to Jonestown to find my hotel and settle in for the evening. Once I checked in, I went on a drive to check out my surroundings and find a place to eat dinner. The landscape looked just like the Midwestern corn and soybean fields I grew up in, with one exception: there were hills. Unlike the vast, uninterrupted plains that typify the Midwest, these picturesque roads wound around and through hills and creeks. Around one curve, I spotted the place to stop for a bite to eat. Harper’s Tavern Restaurant, established in 1804, was once a carriage stop along the heavily traveled Philadelphia to Harrisburg route. The house is beautifully preserved with ornate woodwork, chandeliers, and lots of old photographs. After a hearty dinner and the long day’s travel, I was glad to return to the hotel and turn in.
The next morning I had a short drive to Lebanon, PA, founded in 1740, to visit Greg Lesher at Lesher NationaLease. Lesher got its start in 1951 when brothers Robert and Donald Lesher Sr. opened a Mack dealership. The company has grown ever since, and now Greg represents the 3rd generation running the company. Greg and I discussed a number of topics including the upcoming Annual Meeting (insert link) which will be held on September 16-17 at the JW Marriott Marquis in Miami. I also had a chance to sit down with Crystal Allwein, Office Manager for Lesher. We discussed some of the upgrades coming to the billing system soon and she shared some great feedback. I so appreciate the opportunities to meet with members and get their input. It helps us so much as we constantly work to improve all of our programs.
My next stop was Carlisle, PA, incorporated in 1782. Carlisle has a rich history that includes Revolutionary War sites, appearances from presidents George Washington and James Buchanan, Civil War sites, and stops on the Underground Railroad. One notable historical site there is the grave of Molly Pitcher, a Revolutionary War hero who operated a cannon and helped to win the Battle of Monmouth. I was there to visit Lloyd Hair at Keen Transport, which opened in 1968. Lloyd met me in the parking lot and we hopped into his truck to tour the extensive grounds. Keen’s primary business is heavy hauling, specifically in the construction, mining, and agricultural equipment industry. The tractors and trailers they use to load and haul the massive equipment are highly specialized and Lloyd knows each one inside and out. After the fascinating and informative tour, we went inside to meet several of Keen’s staff and discuss the purchasing programs, as well as the challenges in recruiting diesel techs. I shared information with Lloyd about our partnership with Universal Technical Institute (insert link), as well as the many other resources NationaLease offers our members to help with recruiting.
From Carlisle, it’s about an hour’s drive to Gettysburg. I was scheduled to meet Dale and Sheri Stitzel of York NationaLease there for dinner later that evening, but since I had never been to Gettysburg, I decided to arrive early and explore as much as I had time for. Gettysburg was established in 1786. It is best known for two things: the Battle of Gettysburg, one of the largest battles during the American Civil War, fought between July 1 and 3, 1863; and the Gettysburg Address, delivered on November 19, 1863, by Abraham Lincoln during a ceremony to officially consecrate the grounds. Just outside of town is the Gettysburg National Military Park, which includes Gettysburg National Cemetery, where over 6,000 soldiers are buried. The park also contains many monuments to the fallen soldiers. Some 50,000 soldiers died in the three day battle from both sides. The gloomy, gray day provided a somber backdrop for these monuments as I drove slowly past, reading the inscriptions commemorating various regiments, units, and even individual leaders from the battle.
At the appointed time, I pulled into Dobbin House Tavern, where Dale and Sheri were waiting for me. In 1776 Reverend Alexander Dobbin built the Dobbin House for use as his family’s dwelling. Rev. Dobbin needed a large house as his wife had borne ten children before her early death, and he remarried a widow who already had nine children of her own. In the mid-1800s, a secret crawl space in the house served as a station for hiding runaway slaves on the Underground Railroad. After the battle of Gettysburg ceased, it served as a hospital for wounded soldiers of both the North and the South. Today the historic house is virtually the same as it was over 200 years ago. The stone walls, fireplaces, and woodwork have been restored, with traditional eighteenth century interior decor. Even the china and flatware match fragments that were found in the cellar. The atmosphere was surpassed only by the great company, as I had time to catch up with Dale and Sheri over homemade bread and fresh Maryland crab.
The next morning, NationaLease Sr. VP of Sales, Joe Gallick, joined me as we visited York, PA. York was founded in 1741 and named for the English city of the same name. The Articles of Confederation were drafted and adopted in York and ratified in 1781. In more recent history, the York Peppermint Pattie was created in York in 1940. Joe and I met with Dale and Sheri at their location in York, and chatted with them about opportunities the National Account team is pursuing on behalf of our members. We discussed upcoming NationaLease events including the Annual Meeting, and the Financial Officers’ Meeting (insert link), which will be held in San Antonio on October 15-16. We also discussed the NationaLease 20 Groups. These small groups give members the opportunity to share best practices in a confidential setting. They typically meet twice per year: once before or after the Annual Meeting, and a second time at a member facility to do a site review. Like all the NationaLease programs, these groups are designed to help our members grow and succeed.
From York, Joe and I made the short drive to Lititz, PA, founded in 1756. Along with much history dating back to the Revolutionary War, Lititz is known for its recent designation as “America’s Coolest Small Town.” We were there to visit Joe Butzer at Advantage NationaLease. The three of us discussed some of the recent challenges Advantage has faced, along with some great new business opportunities they have gained. We also discussed National Accounts and our new billing system, as well as the exciting new enhancements coming to NationaLease Road Rescue, the emergency breakdown service available to all of our members. Tracey Waschmann, Advantage’s Service Manager also joined us to talk about what he sees from a maintenance perspective.
Rudyard Kipling is quoted as saying “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.” I don’t remember much from the musty history books of high school, other than a dull feeling of boredom and dread at the prospect of memorizing an abundance of dates and names of battles for an upcoming test. Stories, however, I remember. From the story of a grieving president struggling with all his might to preserve and restore the country he loved, to the many stories of ambitious entrepreneurs who took advantage of that American dream to start truck leasing companies, they all come to life as I walked in the very places where they happened. These stories, this history, I will never forget.