Ralph and Randolph Cummings look alike, talk alike and together seek the same dream -- the black American Dream.
They are minority entrepreneurs -- black truckers who have taken over the business their father started more than 3/ years ago and are working day and night to keep it rolling.
The twins say their bread and butter is dirt and asphalt. And they haul a lot of it each year to and from construction jobs in the metropolitan area. Their company did $500,000 worth of trucking in 1978, they say, and the four partners (including their father and another brother) shared $100,000 in profits. Randolph, who owns 10 of the company trucks, (all trucks are individually owned) says his trucks grossed more than $180,000.
The Cummings brothers operate one of an estimated 5,000 small black businesses in Washington. For the most part, city officials say, these are Mom and Pop businesses. Despite their numbers, they represent only $200 million in volume, or less than 3 percent, of the gross receipts for all businesses in the city.
Ralph and Randolph have spent the last 2 1/2 years expanding their father's business. They have increased the company's fleet of trucks from 6 to 15 and they say two more trucks are on the way. But they want to expand slowly.
"We don't want to make a whole lot of money, just enough to survive. We don't need a fleet of a hundred trucks rolling to keep us happy," said Randolph.
The twins, who are both single and attended Phelps Vocational High School, acknowledge that they do not have visions of creating a trucking empire. They hold the dream their father had -- to earn enough money "to be comfortable." And for the most part, they works with construction firms that they have been dealing with for a number of years.
"I would like to keep business at the same level that our father has been successful at for the past 30 years," said Ralph. "There are too many large white trucking firms -- we just can't compete with them financially. Other blacks have tried and failed."
The Cummings brothers said one black trucking company had purchased a fleet of expensive trucks and stayed in business for less than a year.
As the twins talked, one would begin a sentence and the other one would finish it.
"Buying high-priced trucks you don't need...," started Ralph.
"Won't get you nowhere but in trouble," finished Randolph.
"And those guys with college educations that thought they knew everything," said Randolph.
"Ended up losing their shirts," finished Ralph.
As they talked, the phone would ring and break off Ralph's conversation. He would quickly change gears assigning trucks to new jobs.
"We have had a great year. There is too much work. I am hoping that things quiet down so we can take a rest," said Ralph.
Randolph said his company barely survived the building moratoriums in the Washington area during 1975 and 1976, when construction came to a near stand still. "We made it only by being very careful with our spending."
Business pitfalls are ever-present, said Ralph. Recently, he recalled, the company bid $25,000 to move a hill of dirt. "When we had gotten half-way through the job, we found that the owners couldn't immediately come up with the money to pay us. We had to go into our savings to pay our men and now we are still waiting to get $12,500. If the job had been a $100,000 job and we had to wait to get $50,000, we would have gone out of business."
When Metro construction began, Randolph said, both he and his brother had hoped to get a share of the work. They said they were dissappointed when they found the payment process favored larger firms, which could wait until the job was completed before getting paid. "We had cash flow problems and has to pull out of the Metro work," said Randolph.
The young trucker added that problems in getting Metro work were exacerbated by the fact that one firm dominated a special market set aside for minority-controlled small businesses. He noted that the firm, R&W trucking was recently indicted (Dec. 13) for posing as a minority-controlled small business to obtain $2.5 million in Navy construction contracts. (According to the indictment, the company was created by Excavation and Construction Inc., a white firm that allegedly created R&W to bid on contracts set aside for small businesses controlled by minorities.)
Ralph and Randolph, both 27-year-old, have divided reponsibilities in the company. Ralph takes care of company logistics, answering telephones, making assignments and handling company books, while Randolph rseolves driver problems and keeps the trucks running.
The Cummings brothers take their business very seriously.
"We don't take vacations," said Ralph, who like his brother, Randolph, dotes on the business.
Both brothers wear simple, blue trucker's caps, work shirts and blue jeans, rather than three-piece suits, to do their work.
"We don't need big cars or fancy clothes. This is a way of life," said Randolph. Their only fantasy, they say, is to take a ride on the SST to France. They both say they plan to do that in the near future.
The firm is operated -- as it has been for the past 30 years -- out of the basement of their father's Northeast home, where they once played as children.
The company was formed in 1947 when Griner Cummings drove a small truck from Dublin, Ga., to Washington and began a small hauling business. Year by year, the company grew larger. Now at age 74, Griner Cummings says he no longer wants to run the business.
Their father, who stopped by the "officec to check in with his sons, said proudly, "These are my boys. They can handle the business now. I'm tired. I have kept it running for 30 years. They are the future."
"Yea, the old man has been with it a long time. He has had some drivers that have been with him since he started the business. But things have changed. He doesn't know how to handle some of these young guys. You got to give them respect now and deal with them as people.... You can't just tell them to do something and expect them to do it," said Ralph.
Griner Cummings explained how he decided a few years ago to give each of his children a truck to see how they would do. The twins said their sister and older brother veentually sold their trucks and now their older brother operates company equipment.
"We are the youngest black truck company owners in the whole Washington area," proudly stated Randolph.