Rebecca Hahn Windsor was 17 years old, fresh out of high school and three weeks into her new job working as a secretary in Washington when a new opportunity arose.
Her father needed a bookkeeper for his trucking company back home in New Market, near Frederick.
With only the experience of a high school accounting course, she accepted the job for $10 a week.
Now nearly 50 years later, she is head of Hahn Transportation Inc., a company that employs 196 workers in Maryland and Virginia, operates 150 tractors and last year posted revenues of $14 million.
"I would not have done a thing different," Mrs. Windsor said. "I've always enjoyed each era I was in."
Hahn has operations in Dayton and Front Royal, both in Virginia, as well as New Market and Union Bridge in Carroll County. Its trucks haul products as far north as New Jersey and as far south as Georgia, although its primary market is in Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Delaware and West Virginia. Last year Hahn trucks logged almost 9.5 million miles, hauled almost 2 million tons of goods and consumed 1.6 million gallons of fuel.
"They are what I consider a class operation," said Don Mallonee, manager of transportation services for Genstar Stone Products Inc., which hires Hahn to transport cement and limestone. "Their service is superior. The people who manage the company, from Becky on down, are very oriented to their customers," he said.
"If it wasn't for Becky, the company wouldn't be successful," said Gordon Westcamp, president of Baltimore Tank Lines and a Hahn competitor for 40 years.
That is not to say that the company has not experienced its share of troubles. The recession, tighter environmental and safety regulations, a shortage of qualified drivers, drug and alcohol testing and higher taxes has made business increasingly difficult and the industry far different from the one Mrs. Windsor's father entered in 1933.
"Now it takes a lot more brains than brawn," said Mrs. Windsor, who has never driven a tractor-trailer.
Hahn hauls mainly petroleum and dry bulk cement, and the recession that hit the building industry last year reduced customers' demands for the cement and cut into Hahn's profits.
"I think last year has been the most difficult since I've been in the business," Mrs. Windsor said. Sales dropped 12.5 percent and the company had to lay off 13 of its 158 drivers.
She also is worried that pending environmental regulations to control tank spillage and storm water runoff -- spilled fuel becomes runoff -- will make it more difficult to make a profit.
Besides environmental regulations, the trucking industry also faces new safety regulations. In compliance with federal interstate trucking laws, Hahn randomly tests its drivers for drug use. Legislation pending before Congress would expand that testing to alcohol.
Mrs. Windsor said Hahn has tried for years to impress upon its workers the need for safety. About 15 years ago, the company hired a safety engineer. In the past the company gave free trips to workers with good driving records and now gives cash bonuses to drivers who maintain good safety records.
At times, she said, the company has had trouble finding good drivers, and it offers drivers cash rewards for finding new drivers.
The deregulation of the trucking industry in 1980 has done little to improve Hahn's operations, Mrs. Windsor said. The deregulation gave rise to some new competitors, but otherwise, had little effect on business, she said.
With all of the changes, the business has come a long way from the days when her father drove one truck and kept all of his records in a little notebook tucked in his shirt pocket.
Her father, James Russell Hahn, started the business after taking over the milk route his father operated. At first, Mr. Hahn carried milk from local dairies to a creamery in Mount Airy, and soon expanded the operation to hauling grain. To that business, he added coal transportation.
Mrs. Windsor said her father had one truck at the time. He got up early in the mornings to pick up the milk and take it to the creamery, and then drove to Pennsylvania to fetch a load of coal. When he returned to Maryland, he would unload the coal, wash the truck, and go back to the farms to pick up the evening's milking.
"He worked very, very hard," she said.
During the 1940s, the federal government inaugurated a transportation tax and a number of employment regulations. With a sixth-grade education, Mr. Hahn found it difficult to keep up with the paperwork, and he asked Mrs. Windsor, his oldest daughter, to help.
Mrs. Windsor found she loved the work. A fanatic about details, she enjoyed working with the numbers, and she continues today to monitor expense statements and scrutinize charges. "I'd say I'm a rather hands-on manager," Mrs. Windsor said. "I'm not very good at delegating."
In 1972, her father retired, and the business passed on to Mrs. Windsor. Her husband, a farmer and mechanic, joined the business at the same time. Soon, they expanded Hahn by buying a Dayton, Va., trucking company.
Hahn is in every sense a family business. Mrs. Windsor holds the title of chairman and chief executive officer. Her husband, Robert, is the president. And a daughter, Barbara, recently returned to Maryland and is learning the business from her parents.
The three of them, and another daughter who lives in Dallas, are the sole stockholders in the company.
Even their headquarters looks more like a home than an office building. The stately brick building on the edge of New Market was designed to blend in with the federal architecture of the historic town. It has porches, copper spouting and chimneys. The offices inside have a comfortable, homey atmosphere.
Mrs. Windsor said the key to the company's success lies in its service.
"Dad used to give service with less than 24 hours notice when some of the larger companies wanted at least a day's notice. We've specialized in immediate service and quality," she said.
Another factor, she says, lies in loyalty of customers to the route drivers.
Mrs. Windsor said behind quality service is training workers to do the job "the Hahn way." Many of her employees from New Market or the surrounding farms join the company right after high school. What they learn about trucking, they learn on the job.
"We instill enthusiasm here," she said. "We don't ask employees to do anything we wouldn't do."
The strategy is simple, she said, hard work and open communication. She tries to remember everyone's name. Keeping the business small helps, she said.
"You have to be there to see what's happening," she said.
Mr. Westcamp said he believes the family ownership provides Hahn with more flexibility than he has with Baltimore Tank, which is owned by outside investors.
"They are able to make decisions on emotion," he observed.
He said he could never justify to his company's stockholders practices of the Hahn corporation, such as maintaining an elegant headquarters in New Market, almost an hour away from their Baltimore customers, and keeping rates as low as Hahn does.
"They take pride in what they do," said Ed Brnich, terminal manager for Amoco's Curtis Bay Terminal, which has employed Hahn trucks for more than 13 years. "Hahn gives me good service and keeps the equipment in top shape."
Although the trucking business has traditionally been dominated males, Mrs. Windsor, or "Miss Beck" as she is called by her employees, said she never confronted any prejudices from from her colleagues or competitors.
In fact, in 1988 she was the first woman elected president of the Maryland Motor Truck Association, a transportation trade group.
(Besides Mrs. Windsor, there is at least one other woman in Maryland who heads a trucking company. Mary Jo Amer, president of Gibbons Transportation in Annapolis Junction, took over the family business from her father in the mid-1950s.)
Mrs. Windsor plans to take her pragmatic business approach to her new position on the board of directors for the Baltimore office of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. In that three-year appointment, she will act as an adviser to the board of directors of the Richmond district of the Federal Reserve.
Although both are 65, neither Mrs. Windsor nor her husband have any plans to retire. They put in 10-hour days at the company and play golf in their free time.
They are happy that their elder daughter, Barbara, decided to come home after 20 years in Kansas, and they are grooming her to eventually take over the business.
Ms. Windsor said she is in no hurry to take charge. "I anticipate jTC my learning process will be 10 to 15 years," she said.