FREEPORT — Forty-two years ago, Al Andrews became L.L. Bean’s first full-time truck driver after a forced promotion from the clothing department – his boss told him to drive the truck or hit the road.

Andrews laughs about it now.

After half a century with the company, he’s ready to hand back the keys.

Andrews, 67, grew up in Durham, in the same house he lives in now. In high school, he tried out shoe shop work; that wasn’t for him.

“I worked there two months and quit twice,” he said.

His father worked at L.L. Bean and would remain there for 29 years. Two uncles and an aunt had jobs there, too. He started with the company part time at 17 in the clothing department and went full time the day after his high school graduation.

He and two others pulled catalog and phone orders and helped stock the main store.

“We’d take turns at lunchtime and sit out by the desk and they’d come over the intercom, ‘Do you have a 7¼ pork pie hat?’ and we’d either go check the rack or you’d know there was some there because a customer had called in asking if we had that,” Andrews said. “If you had it, they’d make out an order for the customer.”

L.L. Bean was so small back then that if they needed to grab more inventory, or run an order somewhere, employees shared an open-back 1965 Ford truck.

“So if it was raining, you couldn’t go to the warehouse anyway,” he said. “You’d ruin everything. You’d just have to wait a day or two when the weather was good, then they’d run up and get some more stuff. It’s just hard to comprehend, even for me.”

After eight years in clothing, Andrews’ boss asked him into the office one day.

“He was explaining how they needed a full-time truck driver,” Andrews said. “There was no putting in for jobs back then, this equal opportunity stuff, none of that. He says you’re it. I started to ask him some questions. He says, ‘The truck’s right there. The front door’s right there. Now you take which one you want.’ That’s the honest to God’s truth. I said, you know something, I better take the truck. That’s the way things were done.”

With his wife, Jackie, and two little boys at home, “I figured I better not take the front door,” he said.

A few years into driving his bare-bones box truck, Andrews shared with a salesman at Casco Bay Ford that he’d really love a radio in the next company truck. His boss wasn’t keen on spending the money.

“I was talking with (salesman) John Sargent down there, he says: ‘You want a radio in that truck, I’ll get you a radio. I’m going to order it with one and I’m going to charge them $50 to take it out – they’ll leave it,’ ” Andrews said. “They did.”

Suddenly, he was on the road with tunes.

These days, driving a truck three times the size of the one he started on, Andrews makes the same runs almost every day: to the retail store, to a call center, to a warehouse.

It’s been a good job with an excellent company and great co-workers, he said. When he started, Andrews was employee No. 543 and about 200 people worked at L.L.Bean.

Today, it’s close to 6,000.

He officially hit 50 years with the company on Nov. 13. He’s taking L.L. Bean’s voluntary retirement offer this spring and retiring March 30, with mixed feelings. If the offer had not come with an increased pension, he would probably have continued driving for a few more years.

He doesn’t have retirement plans aside from finding ways to stay busy on the farm he and Jackie own.

“One shift, one truck, one driver, and that was me. It’s hard to believe,” Andrews said. “(The years) go fast. I joked a few years ago, the first 20 were kind of slow, the second 20 went like that, and boy, the third 20 are speeding by.”

Kathryn Skelton can be contacted at:

[email protected]

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