Driving on a new mission

By Cindy Hadish

Work wasn’t the same for Kurt Gudenkauf after he returned from his deployment to Iraq.

Loud noises at the factory became almost unbearable, leading to his discovery that he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

“I was really irritated and agitated,” said Mr. Gudenkauf, 32, who was twice-deployed to Iraq as a member of the Army National Guard. “It was like I was always on high alert.”

Even after leaving the factory work, shoulder and knee injuries related to his service hindered his ability to keep a job.

“He went through six jobs in one year,” said his wife, Becky Gudenkauf, 30. “They didn’t understand how to work with a disabled veteran.”

Trips to the Iowa City Veterans Affairs Medical Center, for example, could take up an entire day, something that Mr. Gudenkauf found himself repeatedly having to explain to his supervisors.

After driving for a trucking company that often left him sitting in a truck for more than a day, waiting for the next load, Mr. Gudenkauf decided to go into the trucking business, with his wife at the helm.

Jones County Transport, based out of their home in Wyoming, Iowa, launched on June 8, 2011, with one flatbed truck.

In just three short years, the fleet and company have grown so much that they are building a new shop in nearby Onslow, with an office also planned at the site.

The business currently operates from three desks – one for each of them, plus an assistant – in one room of their home.

They have added a logistics division, called Jones County Logistics, which oversees deliveries and ensures customer products are delivered in a timely fashion.

Jones County Transport now runs eight trucks, of which five are owned by the company and three are owner-operated. They recently made the switch from flatbeds to van trailers, moving freight such as pet food, paper, bottled water and plastic pipes.

Ms. Gudenkauf said the company is expected to gross $1 million this year, after hitting the three-quarters of a million mark last year.

More importantly, the Gudenkaufs adhere to high ethical standards and treat their employees as friends, rather than workers.

“It’s rarely ‘boss to employee,’” Ms. Gudenkauf said. “We try to keep it family-oriented and low-pressure.”

In fact, one of the company’s drivers “practically lives with us,” she said, noting that they helped him buy his own truck. “He’s basically a part of the family.”

Family includes the Gudenkaufs’ children: Hunter, 9, and Jasmine, 5. Having young children while running a company that operates 24 hours a day, 365 days a year can be difficult.

“It’s a challenge some days, that’s for sure,” Ms Gudenkauf said.

A trip to the zoo in Omaha, for example, ended prematurely when one of the company trucks had an emergency.

Even on vacation, “we’re still always on call,” Ms. Gudenkauf said. “Our cell phones are our ball and chains.”


Military time

While the two work long hours, Mr. Gudenkauf has responded well to being his own boss. He seldom drives any more, but is in charge of repairs, dispatch and the logistics side of the business, much of it learned through his military experience.

“He knows what he needs to do and prioritizes it,” Ms. Gudenkauf said of her husband.

While on active duty, Mr. Gudenkauf did mechanical work on military vehicles and moved supplies for bases from Kuwait to the northern borders of Iraq.

Ms. Gudenkauf has learned the trucking business after previously working as a medical assistant. Her military background includes having a father who was in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Both Mr. and Mrs. Gudenkauf are strong supporters of hiring military veterans and working with other veteran-owned businesses.

“A lot of employers don’t understand veterans,” Ms. Gudenkauf said. “We always try to hire veterans first. The veterans we’ve hired so far have been the most dependable (employees) and are more honest and upfront.”

Veterans generally have excellent driving records, Ms. Gudenkauf added. Bad driving records have become a national hindrance in hiring drivers, she noted, citing insurance requirements.

She also cited the strong work ethic of veterans and their resourcefulness. When encountering problems “they’ll always figure it out,” Ms. Gudenkauf said, adding, “I rarely hear much complaining from a veteran, either.”