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Laying Tracks

August 4, 2020 - -
Gerstle Brothers

It’s approximately 384 miles from Blacksburg, Virginia to Louisville, Kentucky, traveling on I-64. Alum Peter Gerstle is very familiar with that distance—he used to hitchhike his way from his hometown of Louisville to Virginia Tech as an undergrad. “My mom would let me out by the off-ramp, and I’d hitchhike all the way to Blacksburg,” said Gerstle. “That’s before I came home to UofL.”

Peter Gerstle understands going the distance and the miles between which comprises a return home. Since 1987 the company he co-founded with his brother, Road & Rail Services, has evolved from light maintenance on rail cars to offering a full complement of logistic services to the railroad industry with 70 locations, 36 locomotives, and employing 1,400 people. From moving nearly six million vehicles a year to servicing and repairing over a million rail cars annually, Road & Rail Services is built upon the sweat equity and foundation rooted in work ethic and family.

Peter Gerstle is the youngest of seven, born in the working-class Germantown section of Louisville. His parents’ commitment to the family meant sacrifice and instilling a work ethic in every one of their children. “All we knew how to do was work,” Gerstle laughs. This ethic was further codified during his time at Saint Xavier High School, creating a lifelong learner. “I’ve been lucky enough to be surrounded by teachers everywhere in my life—from my parents to professors at UofL and St. X, to my wife and even my ex-wife! I’ve always tried to put myself in a room with people who were smarter and more successful than me. I got good at observing and listening—that’s where you really learn.”

After a coaching change at Virginia Tech, Gerstle left Blacksburg and returned to Louisville to finish his degree at UofL. To make ends meet, Gerstle worked the dayshift in construction and industrial maintenance while taking night classes—ultimately graduating in 1980. “There was never a question about going to college,” said Gerstle. He spent the next several years working in warehouses in progressively supervisory roles until 1987 when he and his brother Tom formed Road & Rail Services.

“I remember it was Derby Week and coming home to my then-wife and telling her I was starting up a business with Tom,” recalls Gerstle. “[Tom] worked in the railroad business and saw an opportunity for us. He’s the smartest and most honest businessman I’ve ever met… He still has his first dollar bill framed in his home. I think he was ten.”

With that Derby Week decision, Peter Gerstle set out on the road once again, building a business for him and his family. The evolution from inspecting rail cars to offering track, train, and transloading services weren’t without barriers and setbacks. “We had some difficult times,” explains Gerstle, “But we didn’t think about failure. You worked harder and packed a bigger suitcase.”  For years, Gerstle put in twelve-hour days and hundreds of thousands of miles annually to build his emerging business. All that dedication paid off as Road & Rail Services has grown into an industry leader—recognized with a myriad of awards and accolades ranging from safety to customer service to overall excellence. “The first and last mile is what we [Road & Rail Services] are all about.”

Regardless of the distance, Peter Gerstle always came home to Louisville and his family. A father of four, his two sons Nate and Ben both followed in his footsteps as UofL alumni. His current wife, Sandy, also has a deep connection to UofL, furthering his love of the University and the College of Business. “I see UofL as family.”

While he and his brother have stepped away from day to day at Road & Rail Services, Peter Gerstle has continued to build—this time much closer to home. “I’m re-treaded, not retired!” he quips.  Rooted in activities he participated in with his children when they were school-aged, Gerstle has been a coach and scout leader. He is also an active alumnus and supporter of both Saint Xavier and UofL.

“When I was younger, I didn’t understand the concept of home and the home team,” reflects Gerstle. “Until you sit at a meeting with alums of all ages and see [and] understand that dedication—a sense of respect and love they have for where they’re from—it’s all about appreciating home and school, and all those things around you.”