I recently had the good fortune of meeting a driver named Ernie Coverdell at the Walcott Jamboree in July, where he was proudly displaying his Katana truck and trailer. He told me that I had to do a feature on the company he works for. After talking to Ernie and doing a little research, I realized that he was right. And, after talking to a few others at the operation, I was really sold – we spoke the same language – truck!
Katana, Inc. was first established in 1989 as a refrigerated carrier after over 25 years of specializing in flatbed and LTL freight, but their roots go back to the 1950s. Katana is a family-owned Midwest carrier with small town values. Establishing long-term relationships with their drivers and customers, the folks at Katana live by the credo that we are all in it for the long haul – together. They are very proud of the country we live in and have strong moral values. And, with an outstanding safety record, they go through great strides to keep everyone safe and happy, while pursuing their American dream.
It was about 1955 when Stephen Rosenberger bought his first Ford truck and started hauling grain. From grain he started pulling a flatbed, hauling steel out of Detroit or Ohio to the West Coast. Working hard he drove a variety of old trucks to provide for his growing family. Jane, his wife, told me they were always a team. She didn’t drive trucks, but because he did, she was able to stay home and raise the kids and hogs. Dennis is the oldest, and then came David (the “wild child”), then Diane, the only girl, and then Dirk, who called himself “the dirty one” because he runs the shop.
Talking with all four of the grown kids, there is a special bond between them, and the business is their common passion. David said, “We have fought the battles together,” and Dirk added, “If it had tires, gears and a motor, we were going to drive it.” Dennis said that all of them were involved in any way they needed to be. Diane has absolute pride that her dad was a truck driver. Some kids will hold it against their parents, for not being there, but that is not the case here. They all worked hard together then, and they are still working hard together now – and that says a lot.
The business grew and a terminal was set up in the Los Angeles, CA area in the 80’s. David lived in L.A. and ran that terminal when it first opened. Later, he moved back home to Iowa and then Dennis and Stephen (dad) took turns going to L.A. for a month at a time. During this time, they had their own trucks, as well as some owner-operators, that hauled machinery and anything that would work on a flatbed. Eventually, the terminal was closed and everything came back home to Iowa.
In the late 80’s machinery hauling slowed down, so the family switched gears and started pulling reefers (people always have to eat). Diane told me the company created in 1989 “Still has the heartbeat from dad.” That company is Katana Inc. based in Indianola, IA. The name was a combination of Kathleen Diane and Jane Ann’s names. So, they started pulling reefers, hauling meat out of Iowa and Nebraska (they also load in Minnesota now) to the West Coast, and bringing produce back. Unfortunately, Stephen passed away shortly after Katana started, but the family pressed on.
In the beginning, the fleet was made up of FLD Freightliners. The boys all talked about the days when they would put together trucks from the ground-up. Dad made sure they all owned their own truck at one point so they would really know what it’s all about. In 1998, when David bought a Peterbilt, he took a lot of ribbing from the others, but now I think he gets the last laugh, as the entire fleet is 379 and 389 Peterbilts. He said, “If you want to get drivers today, you have to have a long nose.” And I agree!
Katana’s beautiful Caribbean Blue and white 379 and 389 Peterbilts pull 48’ spread-axle reefers. The Caribbean Blue has been a signature color for this family ever since Stephen picked it over 40 years ago. Today, that color graces the fenders, frames, whale tails, reefer units and rub rails of all their trucks, and it is also used for all of the old-school-style pinstriping. Their pride shines as bright as the green lights under Ernie’s truck and trailer!
Service is all a trucking company really has to offer. So, when you get the reputation of being 100% on-time in this business, and you pull in with a clean dependable truck and trailer, piloted by a professional driver, that is a winning combination. It took years to develop the customers and accounts they have now, but the work doesn’t stop when you get the customers – you still have to work hard to keep them.
This is an old-school fleet and it works! One couple has been around for almost 30 years, and they have several drivers that have been with them 20+ years. In trucking, this doesn’t happen by accident. It happens by treating their drivers the way they want to be treated, giving them great equipment to drive, and appreciating the job they do. Today, Dennis oversees the shag operation and takes an occasional load when the need arises. They load the loads that the drivers take west so that the drivers can get some extra home time, instead of spending it on the dock loading.
David eventually parked that old Peterbilt that everyone gave him such a bad time about, but he is planning to restore it one day. Now, he is part owner of Harley Davidson shops in Indianola and Des Moines, and in true Rosenberger fashion, on the back of the trucks is a beautiful ad for their brother’s business, Harley Davidson Route 65, along with a variety of sayings pertaining to riding. Back in the 1970s, David used to get kicked out of some of the truck stops in Texas because of his long hair – if they could only see him now!
Jane, the matriarch of the company, says that the business has attained the dream of her late husband, Stephen Dell Rosenberger. I hope she doesn’t mind me sharing her age, but at 81 she is still putting in 60 hours a week, dispatching, putting loads together, and anything else that needs to be done. She asked me, “What would I do if I retired – go nuts?” Diane told me what an amazing woman her mom is, and after talking to her, I totally agree. Dirk said that mom and Diane are now the heartbeat of the outfit, as dad is gone but not forgotten. On the side of every bunk it says, “In Memory of S.D. Rosenberger” in his honor.
It doesn’t look like the grandkids are going to go down the trucking trail, so the future might be a little uncertain for Katana. They built a beautiful new shop in 2008, when the economy was going down, and it was tough for a few years, but I think they are proof that working hard and doing the right thing eventually pays off.
Giving credit where credit is due, I wanted to thank Ernie Coverdell for leading me to this story. But, he wanted to surprise Diane and the rest of the family with this story in the magazine. Well, Ernie, the surprise is for you! And you were right – the story of the family you work for did need to be told. I also want to thank everyone at Katana for sharing your stories with me and letting me tell them. I look forward to getting to Iowa real soon to meet all of you in person. In the meantime, keep working hard, and keep that heartbeat going!