Trucker to enter Stanislaus County Ag Hall of Fame

jholland@modbee.comNovember 13, 2013 

  • AG HALL OF FAME ROSTER

    2013: Ed Rocha and Rocha’s Valley Enterprises, an Oakdale-based trucking company

    2012: Veterinary Service Inc., a Modesto-based distributor of livestock and pet care products

    2011: Stanislaus Food Products, a tomato canner in Modesto

    2010: Duarte Nursery, a Hughson-area supplier of trees and vines for commercial fruit and nut growers

    2009: Dave Wilson Nursery, a supplier of fruit, nut and shade trees east of Hickman

    2008: Flory Industries, a maker of nut-harvesting machinery in Salida

    2007: Burchell Nursery, a supplier of fruit and nut trees near Oakdale

    2006: Ratto Bros., a grower and packer of fresh produce west of Modesto

    2005: A.L. Gilbert, a feed company in Oakdale and Keyes

    2004: Ernie Gemperle, an egg producer in Turlock; Floyd Zaiger, a tree-fruit breeder in Modesto

    2003: Larry Carter, a former executive director of the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau; Daniel, Mike, Tom and Earl Perez, growers of diverse crops on the West Side

    2002: J.S. West & Cos., owners of egg, feed and other operations in the region

    2001: Ernest and Julio Gallo, founders of E.&J. Gallo Winery in Modesto

    2000: Mary and Bill Lyons Sr., owners of Mapes Ranch, west of Modesto; Max and Verda Foster, founders of the Foster Farms poultry and dairy enterprises

    1999: Bill Ulm, a Modesto-area farmer and county supervisor; Rolland Starn, a Hughson-area farmer and county supervisor; Gertie Zehrung, a Hughson-area farmer involved in Ag in the Classroom

    1998: Clare Berryhill, a Ceres-area farmer who served in the state Legislature and as California secretary of food and agriculture; Henry Voss, a Ceres-area farmer who also was state agriculture secretary; Richard Lyng of Modesto, who was U.S. and state agriculture secretary; Ann Veneman, a Modesto native who was U.S. and state agriculture secretary and executive director of UNICEF

— Ed Rocha has a photo of himself at about 5 years old, standing on the bumper of a milk truck owned by his father, John Rocha.

The kid looked mighty proud in this snapshot from the late 1930s, taken at the family home at 14th and D streets in Modesto.

Ed Rocha’s lifelong devotion to trucking has earned him and his company, now known as Rocha’s Valley Enterprises, a place in the Stanislaus County Agricultural Hall of Fame. The induction will take place at a sold-out dinner tonight in Turlock that will draw several hundred people.

The company, now based in Oakdale and run by son Doug Rocha, has about 35 employees and a fleet of about 200 trailers pulled by 28 power units or tractors. They haul wine, tomatoes and other agriculture-related goods in the Central Valley, along with livestock around the West.

The company has a simple approach, as stated by Ed Rocha, 78, during an interview at his headquarters: “You’ve got to be on time and have good equipment and be dependable.”

The 16th annual dinner at the Assyrian-American Civic Club will raise money for the National Ag Science Center, a Modesto-based group that educates young people about farming and related topics. Its programs include the Ag in Motion mobile classroom, a converted moving van pulled by a tractor that Rocha donated.

This is the first trucking company to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, which has honored people in the nursery business, winemaking, nuts, vegetables, livestock feed and other parts of the county’s vast farm sector.

Without trucking, none of the others could function. E.&J. Gallo Winery, founded by 2001 inductees Ernest and Julio Gallo, has used the Rochas’ services for most of its 80 years. Morningstar Co., which cans tomatoes near Los Banos, is another major client.

John Rocha started with a milk truck in 1924 and became a cattle hauler in 1935. In 1951, he gave 15-year-old Ed a taste of the business by sending him by train to Seattle with instructions to buy a truck and drive it back. That was two years before the boy had a driver’s license.

Ed Rocha became a partner in the operation in 1952, and in 1963 set out on his own as Ed Rocha Livestock Transportation. He expanded into tankers, vans and other types of hauling, taking over for his father after he retired.

Rocha became a leader in the statewide trucking industry and has served as president of the California Trucking Association. He said the main threat these days is regulation, especially new state rules on clean-burning engines that could drive small fleets and owner-operators out of business.

Rocha said trucking has changed over the years, with safety improving and drivers enjoying amenities such as air conditioning, power steering and satellite tracking.

But he has a soft spot for the old stuff. He owns 10 restored trucks of the sort used by the company over the years, starting with a 1924 Model T 1-ton. He also is executive director of the Hays Antique Truck Museum, which is moving from Woodland to Reno.

“Ed has worked really hard to keep the legacy of the trucking industry alive for people to see it,” said Michele Laverty, director of the National Ag Science Center.

The causes go beyond trucking. Rocha and his wife, Carole, helped start the Children’s Guardian Home in Oakdale and support the Children’s Crisis Center in Modesto. He also is on the National Ag Science Center board.

Rocha is semiretired, but at times he still takes a rig from his current fleet and hits the road.

“I’ve done it all my life,” he said. “I can relax while I’m driving.”

Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at jholland@modbee.com or (209) 578-2385.

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