On Father’s Day this year, many will gather for barbecue, beer and family fun, especially in Denton. Around town, there will be live music, a food truck festival and other lively, family-friendly events. To remember why many celebrate this special day every year, meet Ed Pickrel.
A friendly, personable man, he likely will tell stories of small-town high jinks over a stiff drink after finishing his work day at Peterbilt Motors Co. in Denton. His drink of choice is Jim Beam bourbon and Diet Coke, and usually you’ll hear clamors of laughter erupt from several folks he just happens to strike up a conversation with, like fellow workers at Peterbilt.
“It was so fun growing up in Smalltown, USA,” Ed, 58, said, remembering times spent as a teenager in Aubrey on back roads with a three-speed 1968 Ford Mustang with a 289 V8 engine. “These kids sit and play video games all day. And they don’t engage life.”
Ed had his first job at age 14 working for the government testing water samples for $40 per month, or more so doing “whatever he was told for [$1.09] an hour,” as he puts it. Living in a rural area — with little else apart from familiar faces to see around town — when he wasn't working, he was finding ways to keep himself occupied, some of which were more wholesome than others.
“I was a very resourceful kid. I was quick on my feet,” Ed said. “There ain’t no telling what us country boys would do.”
As a blue-collar worker for almost his whole life, Ed is very familiar with hard work and a stiff back. At 16, he started working full time washing cars at what is now Stanley Ford Pilot Point under the dealership's previous owners. Here he started learning tricks of the trade, later changing positions from washing cars to mechanic to parts and service. After about 11 years at the Ford dealership, he started working at Peterbilt in 1987.
Several years into his time at Peterbilt, working hard hours on the assembly line, he decided he would return to school for a better education and to “get off that assembly line." At that time, "it was a mean place to be,” he said.
At one point, he said he was busy up to 80 hours per week between work on the line and school at North Central Texas College, later graduating summa cum laude in 1994 with an associate's degree.
With his degree, he was able to move up to a higher position and now works as a lead liaison engineer, solving key issues between the design and production groups at the manufacturing company.
"They design it, and if production can't figure it out, I fix it," Ed said. "It's a good job. I like it. If I didn't like it, I would've retired already."
In March, Ed reached the 30-year mark of employment at Peterbilt.
More than seven years ago, his eldest son, James, 31, began working at Peterbilt and is a district sales manager.
It’s pretty common for families to have multiple generations working at Peterbilt, said Jill Bezner, a digital communications manager for the company. In fact, she’s in one of those families.
About a year after James started, his youngest sibling, Edward, 27, started working on the line as a paint technician in the main paint department.
Edward said he remembers just how much it meant to be a hardworking Pickrel from a young age.
“If he wasn’t at work, he was working on the lawn mower, working on the tractor or up late getting his drafting degree,” said Edward Pickrel, the youngest of Ed and Susan Pickrel’s three children. “Once we were old enough to work a shovel, we were put to work.”
But just like their father, Edward and James got into some trouble when they were kids, too, they said, sharing a story of when Edward totaled his car on his first day of being a licensed driver. No matter what though, their father taught them how to be respectful and hardworking, and how to look out for your own.
Growing up, “we wanted for nothing,” James said.
A “man of the world” as he puts it, Ed has seen a lot. His father was a pilot in the U.S. Navy and could be gone months at a time. They traveled around with him sometimes, to and from naval bases and wherever work might take them. But now he’s settled in Valley View, close to where he grew up and a place where he doesn’t know anyone — which is how he likes it, he said.
In Valley View, he can barbecue some boudin-stuffed filets among the quiet trees with his wife of 33 years, Susan, or the company of his family, which also includes their 29 year-old daughter, Stephanie Stout, and and his five grandchildren, with a sixth on the way.
“You’ve got to take care of your family,” Ed said.
Ed, with three hip surgeries and two shoulder surgeries under his belt, can tell stories of times when he got caught up with “Johnny Law” growing up, or of getting into a few fights with some rough country folks around town. But he lives a life for his family now, he said, spending much of his free time on the weekends going to his grandchildren's basketball and football games, or going fishing or maybe even shooting some guns for fun — responsibly, of course.
On this Father’s Day, while families get together to celebrate the loved ones in their lives who have made a difference to them, a particular Ed Pickrel quote might liven up someone's day:
“Live it like you stole it, love it like you mean it and by all means, park it like it’s hot.”
KYLE MARTIN can be reached at 940-566-6897.
FEATURE PHOTO: Ed Pickrel, making his signature peace-sign pose, sits at a bar with his post-work drink of choice — Jim Beam bourbon and Diet Coke.