Jack Chafee is used to long days. Whether it’s working at one of his three Western Star dealerships in Wyoming or as a volunteer firefighter for his community, Chafee gives it his all.
After moving to Gillette, Wyo., in 1975 as a mechanic, Chafee decided to start his own business in 1981 by trading in his motor home for a truck and crane and investing his savings.
Soon Chafee’s shop, Jack’s Truck and Equipment, which repaired heavy machinery, grew to include several pieces of equipment and a full crew of mechanics. Its service offerings later expanded because of Chafee’s savvy business intuition and a rather unexpected opportunity.
“We were working on a large repair order for a customer, but he didn’t have enough cash to pay the bill,” explained Chafee. “So, he made a trade by giving us five pieces of construction equipment. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I started renting it out.”
That decision turned out to be a successful business venture for Chafee and he began renting and selling construction equipment regularly. As Jack’s Truck and Equipment continued to grow and evolve, Chafee added a truck dealership to his service offerings and began selling Western Star® trucks in 2000.
“Since coal mining is a big business in our area, we sell a lot of Western Star vocational trucks,” said Chafee. “Western Star trucks are very durable and the cabs are great for mining applications. Once you get a customer in our dealership, the trucks sell themselves.”
Currently, Jack’s Truck and Equipment has 55 employees and three locations in Wyoming, including Gillette, Casper, and a parts and service shop in Rock Springs. He is joined by his two sons, Kevin, general manager of Casper and Rock Springs, and Richard, service manager of the truck division in Gillette.
“My sons have been part of my business since they could walk,” joked Chafee. “I told them that if they joined me, the potential of what we could do here would be unlimited. They were both willing to step in and I’m glad they did. They’re hard workers.”
Move to the Countryside
In 1997, Chafee and his family moved to the countryside near the Black Hills, about 50 miles from Gillette. He loved the peace and quiet his new home offered, but unfortunately, everything has a downside.
“We live on an old homestead with a granary that we fixed up,” said Chafee. “We lost that granary and a lot of our belongings to a fire. It was horrible, but everyone in the community showed up to help.”
Since the dry area is prone to rapidly spreading fires, this incident was not likely to be the last time Chafee would find himself in this type of situation.
Touched by his community’s support, Chafee wanted to do all that he could to help anyone else who may face a similar challenge. So, he bought a one-ton truck and a water sprayer, spent all winter assembling it, and offered his time and equipment to the volunteer fire department. In the forest fire-prone Wyoming area, the fire department needed all the help they could get. Chafee soon put together a second fire truck.
Last summer, Chafee’s community experienced a lightning storm that created several fast-moving fires, many close to his and his neighbors’ homes.
“We worked for four days fighting these fires – all day and all night,” added Chafee, “and thankfully, we didn’t lose a single home.
“If you live out here, you have to help. It’s the least we can do.”
Making enough time for his roles as a volunteer firefighter and truck dealer has always been a challenge for Jack, but he has been able to build some new relationships. Dan Blakeman, Crook County fire warden and road & bridge superintendent, has since become one of Chafee’s customers.
“Since I’ve been volunteering, I’ve gotten to know Dan and I’ve helped him find good deals on trucks and equipment for the county through our dealership,” Chafee said. “I don’t think about building my business when I’m fighting fires, but I’m glad I’m able to contribute to my community in more ways than one.”
Western Star Trucks, headquartered in Redford, Mich., produces heavy-duty custom trucks for long-haul and vocational applications. Western Star is a company of Freightliner LLC. Freightliner LLC is a unit of DaimlerChrysler, the world's leading commercial vehicle manufacturer.