Paul Schenck And Wanda Tunnell

The last face of a family business

Sept. 20, 2023
TBB celebrates the legacy of its last surviving founder, Wanda Tunnell, in a tribute by Bruce Sauer who worked with 'Tod' and founding editor Paul Schenck for 40 years
[Kevin’s Editor’s Note: I’ve asked Bruce Sauer, who retired as editor of TBB in 2017 after 40 years with the magazine, to step in for this tribute. As I’ve discovered on many occasions over the past 5 or so years, I often find myself vastly underqualified for many tasks compared to my predecessors.]

Wanda Tunnell, the last surviving founder of Trailer/Body Builders, died July 24.

Dwight Eisenhower was president, and the Interstate Highway system was only three years old when Wanda Tunnell, her father Charles, and husband, Paul Schenck, decided that they could do something no one else was doing—produce a magazine specifically for manufacturers and upfitters of commercial trucks and trailers.

Read more: God, family, country, Corps, TBB

Each of the three founders contributed their own skill sets to make Trailer/Body Builders an early success. Charles brought publishing experience. During the depths of the Great Depression, he started Tunnell Publications and had launched multiple business-to-business publications for the dairy industry and baking industries. As the magazine’s first editor, Paul delivered insights and news of your industry for 38 years. And Wanda used her people skills to make friends throughout the industry—and to sell the advertising that made everything else possible.

For four decades, Paul and Wanda were familiar faces at every major industry convention—including the Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association, the old Truck Body & Equipment Association, and what is today the National Truck Equipment Association. Industry events were important to Paul and Wanda because that’s where relationships are established and renewed. Every new employee was reminded of that when they were about to attend their first industry event.

“When we get to the convention, don’t talk to us,” Paul or Wanda would tell them. “The next few days will be a great opportunity for you to make new friends and to learn new things. Let’s make the most of our time with the people in our industry.”

It was great advice. No one at Trailer/Body Builders—including Paul and Wanda—had any experience mounting truck equipment or making a production line more efficient. They understood that for Trailer/Body Builders to serve the industry, we had to know your needs and earn your trust.

They asked good questions and listened carefully. Trailer/Body Builders sprang from one of those discussions held nearly 70 years ago.

In the 1950s, the flagship magazine for Tunnell Publications was the Southwestern Baker. The magazine was written for mom-and-pop bakeries who supplied bread to mom-and-pop grocery stores. But the baking industry was changing.

National companies were devouring the small bakeries that made a regional bakery magazine viable. Charles expressed this concern to one of the magazine’s readers.

“Why don’t you start a magazine for people who manufacture bread trucks,” the baker replied. “No one publishes a magazine for bread truck manufacturers.”

Charles knew that he couldn’t support his family business with a magazine for bread truck manufacturers, but he didn’t dismiss the idea. Instead, he asked more questions and discovered that no one was serving bread truck manufacturers.

Or dump truck manufacturers. Or any other manufacturer of truck bodies or trailers. And these companies back then were mostly small family businesses, just like Tunnell Publications.

The Tunnell family sold the company 27 years ago, but the family vibe has remained for many of us who have helped continue what the family started. As these words are being written, employees who haven’t worked there since the ’80s and ’90s are making plans to attend Wanda’s funeral.

Sometimes we develop relationships that endure. The founders of Trailer/Body Builders did that. They valued the people who worked for them, and the readers and advertisers they served. It’s why years after Paul and Wanda retired, people continued to ask us, “How’s Wanda? How’s Paul?”

The people who have been part of the Trailer/Body Builders team (past and present) are grateful to have served your industry.

And we are grateful to Paul and Wanda for showing us how.