Not long after Interstate 5 pierced the Rogue Valley, supplanting U.S. 99, Rod Witham and his father, Harlan, constructed a truck stop near the north Medford interchange on 20 acres along Biddle Road.
Nearly 50 years later, Witham Truck Center, a multi-generation family business, is becoming part of Ridgefield, Wash.-based Pacific Power Products, which has 17 locations in six states and more than 500 employees.
"We've done well in this town," said the 87-year-old Witham. "We've carried lots of employees and customers and made good customers out of them."
Witham Truck Center has been a Freightliner dealer since 1954, selling new and used trucks and parts and providing a service garage and machine shop. Rod Witham turned over day-to-day management to stepsons Gene and Jerry Schneider more than a decade ago, but still showed up to the shop regularly until three years ago. "It got to the point where frankly I didn't care that much and I'd only go in to get stamps," Witham said.
Witham said Pacific Power Products (not to be confused with the electrical utility) will lease the 64,000-square-foot, block-long facility for three years with an option to buy in 2014. It will be known as Pacific Truck Center.
Pacific Power Products dates back to 1966 as a distributor of engines, transmissions, generators, remanufactured components and parts. The company began in Portland and transferred its headquarters across the Columbia River in 2002.
PPP was a Detroit Diesel Allison distributor serving the Portland metro area before it began gradual expansion in the 1980s, first entering the Medford market in the 1990s. "It's been a steady march," said Doug Wakefield, a company spokesman. "After Daimler Trucks acquired Detroit Diesel in 2006-2007, we had to look a lot harder at our business plan. We've adapted and made a conscious effort to grow our market share and look at key locations."
What Pacific Power Products lacked in Southern Oregon was a franchise giving it access to warranty work. "The on-highway truck business is one of the fastest growing segments of our company," said PPP President Mark Dawkins, in a statement. "This strategic location on the north-south freight corridor strengthens our sales and service presence in Southern Oregon and extends our ability to serve fleets across the Northwest."
Earlier this year, PPP combined Farwest Golf, along with its John Deere distributor organizations — Cascade Turf, Pacific Turf and Northwest Outdoor — into a single unit, Pacific Golf & Turf.
Medford, Portland, Snohomish, Wash., and Spokane, Wash., are the primary locations for golf cart and utility vehicle sales, service and rentals. "We know the interchange has definitely been a challenge (for drivers), but a lot of trucks drive past the same exit, the same time every week," Wakefield said. "Once you are a destination and known for services they are going to find you."
PPP's present Medford location on Kingsley Drive, off of Highway 62, will be phased out in the coming months.
"We expect Pacific Truck Center operations will perform a smooth transition," Witham General Manager Jerry Schneider said.
The Witham connection with automobiles can be traced back to 1923 when Witham's Battery & Electric, the region's first automotive electric store, was launched. Later, the business was called Witham's Super Service and at the end of World War II, the family began selling trucks and became known as Witham's Parts and Equipment. The truck stop was opened in 1965 and the remainder of the operations were moved next door in 1968.
Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or email email@example.com.