In 1951 a very young Richard Dootson went to work for Mr. Wright at Wright Driving School. Richard enjoyed teaching and decided that he wanted to own his own school. He approached his boss and gave him two options. Mr. Wright could either sell his school to Richard or he could compete with him once he moved his new school down the road. Richard was a very good instructor. Mr. Wright decided to sell Richard the school. Two years later, in 1953, the name of the school was changed to Dootson Driving School.
Those early years were a struggle. Richard soon discovered that revenues were not sufficient to afford the office he was in. The school was moved into the kitchen at his home on Janine Drive in Whitter. By default, Marilyn Dootson, Richard’s wife, became the school’s first office manager, answering phones between housework and tending to the needs of her four children.
By 1960 the School had grown enough in size to justify leasing out a 200 sq. ft. single room office in the Fraiser Building on Las Tunas Blvd. in Temple City. Later a hole would be cut in the east wall, allowing the School to expand into the next unit over. The School continued to grow and by 1970 moved down the street to 9417 E. Las Tunas Blvd. Richard built the building himself. While at this location, Richard was approached by Dan Fransway who owned two trucks. Dan proposed that they go in together and start up a truck driving school. That proved to be a task easier said than done. Richard used to joke that had anyone offered to buy the School’s two trucks during the first five years of the school’s operations, he would have been willing to throw the school in for free to make the deal.
The Truck School eventually took off and in 1979 the school moved to 2679 S. Myrtle in Monrovia. Once again Richard built the building himself. Richard’s son Jimmy joined the company in 1981, followed by Jimmy’s brother John and John’s wife Arlene in 1983. John had just graduated Phi Beta Kappa from USC and Arlene had graduated Phi Beta Kappa from UCLA. That brought the count to five, five family members directly involved in the business. Richard was CEO of the company; his wife, Marilyn, was head of accounting; Jimmy ran the Property Investment company; John ran the Truck Driving School; and his wife, Arlene, was director of Student Services for the Truck Driving School. Indirectly involved with the School also were Jimmy’s two sisters, Terri and Debbie. When not grading papers, Terri, a teacher in the Pasadena area was filling the vending machines at the School and Debbie, best known for her tag-line, “Dootson is the best! Ask me, I’m Debbie Dootson” made a number of commercials for the School. Debbie and her husband, George also planted 90 palm trees on the grounds of the new school site. A number of those trees remain today and are close to 100 feet high.
While at the Monrovia location IBM and Brunswick Defense approached Dootson requesting the School’s participation in a federal defense project they were involved in. The government had fourteen very expensive tractor-trailer units that were to be utilized in the aftermath of a nuclear holocaust. The units were to be housed in an underground city in Colorado and were to be deployed in a nuclear war to determine when it would be safe for humans to leave their underground sanctuaries and once again roam the surface of the earth. The contract proved to be enormously successful and Dootson Fleet Training Services was launched as a division of the Truck School. Past clients have included:
- California Department of Motor Vehicles
- City of Burbank
- United States Marine Corps
- County of Los Angeles Fire Department
- Orange County Fire Department
- McDonnell Douglas
- Pacific Bell Telephone
- Universal Studios
- Dreyer’s Ice Cream
- Greyhound Bus Lines
The company continued to grow and by 1986 had outgrown its Monrovia location. Richard built yet another building, one which included 10,000 sq. ft. of office space for the School, and a three acre off road practice range (the “Pad”). The School moved into its new location at 11625 Clark St. in Arcadia and remains there today. In 2000 Erik Dootson, Richard’s grandson, joined the team, ushering in the third generation of Dootsons to work at the family business. Erik’s sister Sachi is still in high school, but has already begun working at the company during her summer break. From the days Richard and Marilyn ran the School out of the kitchen in their Whittier home up until the present – for nearly 60 years – Dootson has always been a family run business and remains so today.