Thirty years is a long time to be a professional truck driver.
But driving for 30 years with the same trucking company is just about unheard of nowadays.
For Byron Bigelow, Transport America was the right fit for him when he started driving for the comany starting back in 1988 at the age of 28, and it continues to be a great fit.
“Why would I change trucking companies?,” Byron asks rhetorically. “This company has been good to me since day one. They care about safety and they care about me as a driver. I plan to keep driving for Transport America until I decide to retire.”
A resident of Austintown, Ohio, which is located about eight miles from Transport America’s North Jackson support center, Byron is a solo dedicated driver who is currently serving Transport America’s client, Kmart retail stores, primarily supplying stores in Ohio, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Virginia.
In his 30 years with Transport America, Byron hasn’t missed a day of work. He’s never filed a Workers Compensation claim for an injury while on the job. He’s driven more than 3 million miles safely. That’s a lot to be proud of, but to him, that’s just the start.
“I’ve been married for 30 years, I have three wonderful grown children and three grandchildren, and when I retire, I’ll probably be a millionaire, thanks to the 401k plan at Transport America that I faithfully invested into with every paycheck,” Byron says. “I have a lot to be thankful for. That’s all I can say.”
What is Byron’s secret sauce?
To him, it’s about maintaining and feeding a positive mental attitude.
What’s kept me at Transport America for 30 years is my attitude,” Byron continues. “It’s what you make of every experience. For example, there was this one time that a shipper was giving me a hard time about different procedures. I kept a positive attitude, kept my mouth shut, and listened carefully. After I was loaded she asked my name and truck number. She told me I was the first driver to not complain and she sent a letter to Transport America about how nice I was.”
“I’m happy I stayed,” he adds. “I’ve made good money, good friends, and I’ve safely driven 3 million miles. In addition, I’ve never had a problem getting home when I needed to be home.”
Another factor, says Byron, is that over the years, Transport America continued to invest in its fleet of trucks, and in the safety of its drivers.
When Byron started driving for Transport America, he drove a cabover with manual transmission. All communications with one’s dispatcher was done with a rotary (dial) telephone. Drivers used CB radios to communicate with each other about road conditions in their local area, because there were no cell phones and trucks didn’t have Qualcomm technology.
“Every new thing that Transport America has done has helped to make the life of the driver safer and more productive,” Byron says. “The more we can concentrate on our driving, the safer we can be as drivers.”
For example, Byron points to the forward dash cam.
“I know that there are some drivers who don’t like it,” Byron says, “But I had a hard brake situation in Buffalo, New York, where I came within a foot of hitting a car. When we looked at the video, two things were clear – it showed the driver merged into my lane while giving me very little space, and that the car’s back brake lights were out!”
Or, Byron brings up the electronic log books.
“Do you know how much time that has saved me!” says Byron. “It wasn’t my favorite at first. But listen, I’d much rather focus on driving than filling out more paperwork. Now I appreciate it.”
Byron has a good friend who works with another trucking company. One day, his friend stopped by with his truck and the two got to compare their trucks side by side.
“He was absolutely amazed by how much nicer my Transport America truck was compared to his. For example, at their trucking company, you don’t get a mini-fridge automatically installed in your truck,” grins Byron. “This is what I’m talking about – Transport America consistently goes out of its way to make our lives as drivers nicer and more productive.”
So what words of wisdom can someone who has driven for 30 years share with other drivers? Here’s what Byron has to say:
Find a trucking company, such as Transport America, that respects you and puts safety first.
Work for a company that offers good benefits, such as a 401k plan and healthcare. And start investing in your 401k from day one.
Be open to new technology.
Always do a proper inspection of your truck and the trailer that you’re hauling. Don’t leave problems for other drivers.
Treat your spouse with respect, love him/her for who they are, and help them learn how to take responsibility (and make sound, independent decisions) for managing the home while you’re on the road. Byron has been married for 30 years and has relied on his wife’s support in taking care of their home life.
Carry extra valve stem caps.
Use your 5th wheel puller.
If you’re upset about something, talk to your fleet leader right away to get it resolved so you can focus on driving.
Give yourself more time, so you’re not rushing to make a delivery time. The more you rush, the more likely you will have issues.
And most of all, keep a positive attitude.
With an eye toward retiring in about nine years, Byron intends to live by his own words of wisdom and keep saving toward his dream of buying a Harley-Davidson Trike Motorcycle.
“Because when I retire, I’m going to pay cash for that bike!” says Byron.
When Kathi Alberg, a recruiter with Transport America, picks up the phone and talks with a driver about what it takes to drive as a team for the company, she leans on the hundreds of thousands of miles that she and her husband Scott put in, hauling trailer after trailer for Transport America clients.
Whether she’s recruiting a team of drivers that is driving for another company, or she’s bringing two drivers together who have an interest in driving team, the lesson that Kathi has learned is “don’t rush anyone to make a decision.”
That’s because she says, driving a truck with another person, even a spouse, goes far beyond the technical aspects of operating a tractor.
“You need people who are open and willing to communicate really well, compromise, and work together,” she says. “They need to feel safe with one another in order to drive safely.”
So why would anyone consider driving as a team?
The fact is, based on Kathi and Scott’s experience in driving for two years for Transport America, drivers can make significantly more money as a team than as solo drivers.
Weren’t Planning to Drive as a Team
Of course, as stories like this go, it’s important to note that Kathi and Scott weren’t planning to drive together. That’s because Scott was a truck driver and Kathi was a nurse, and they both enjoyed their respective careers.
“When I had some vacation time, Scott invited me to ride in the truck with him,” she says. “And I immediately loved it! Maybe I had truck driver blood in me – my father was a truck driver.”
With the kids out of the house, Kathi went to truck driving school and obtained her CDL in 2009, and in 2010, she and Scott hit the road together. In 2012, they joined Transport America.
“Lesson learned!” she says, “Scott and I wish we would have found Transport American when we first made the transition to team drivers. At our first company we weren’t treated very well, to put it kindly. But eventually we did find Transport America, and it’s been great ever since.”
Passion for Driving
In driving together as a team, Kathi learned that having a passion for driving is essential for a team to succeed.
“If one team member likes to drive and the other always wants to take breaks or wants to come home frequently, it’s probably not going to work out,” says Kathi. “Both Scott and I have a passion for truck driving, and we worked closely with our Transport America fleet leader to keep our truck moving.”
From coordinating sleep schedules to getting in and out of a fuel station as quickly as possible, together, Kathi and Scott built a system for keeping their truck rolling to obtain as many miles as possible.
“So when I’m looking to bring two people together as a team,” she says, “I’m looking for two drivers who are responsible in their own right. They have a strong desire to want to work together, and that comes through communication.”
In a way, Kathi acts like a matchmaker for truck drivers.
“I’m kind of like eHarmony,” Kathi says, “In addition to watching for how drivers communicate, as well as their attitude, I also look at their work habits, their personal habits (such as keeping the interior of a truck clean), their music preferences, and their home-time habits.”
If everything looks good on paper, she lets two drivers talk. And talk. And talk with each other until they truly feel comfortable.
“We want our drivers to actually interview each other before committing to be team drivers,” she says. “We don’t give two drivers the keys to the truck and say, ‘hit the road.’ Our drivers need to know for themselves that it’s going to work.”
Some drivers know almost instantly. For others, it may take more time.
As for husbands and wives who worry about the effect of spending so much time together in a confined space, Kathi speaks to her experience.
“Team driving actually made my marriage stronger,” she says. “It wasn’t just the time we spent talking, it was learning how to communicate better with each other, and learning to trust each other.”
By being more thorough and more transparent about the process, Kathi and the rest of the recruiting team at Transport America, have put more teams on the road who are better prepared to be successful.
“We are constantly looking for more teams,” Kathi says. “It really is a win-win. More team drivers means that drivers make more and that Transport America is more profitable. But we take our time to make sure two people are truly compatible – we want them to be a success for a long, long time.
Have you ever thought about driving team for Transport America? Whether you’re a current solo Transport America truck driver or you’re driving team for another trucking company, we’d like to meet you. We want to expand the number of our driving teams across the country. We offer great miles, great pay, sign-up bonuses, great trucks, and we even let you bring your four-legged friend with. Learn more, call us at 877-223-1759.
Safety is always on the minds of Jim and Shelby Burnett.
So that’s why, when they switch driving duties, they give each other a kiss and most of all, tell each other, “drive safe and take care of us.”
“That’s as much romance that we’re going to share with the readers of this story,” says Shelby, who has been with her driving partner, Jim, for more than 26 years.
The married couple, who are parents to six grown children, began driving together about 19 years ago when Shelby decided that she was ready to hang up her dispatching duties and give driving a try.
“Our kids were grown and out of high school and I just wanted to be with him more,” says Shelby.
“So one day,” chimes in Jim, “after Shelby had received her permit, she got behind the wheel and she’s been driving with me ever since.”
The owner-operators, who live in Dunnellon, Florida, a small town located on the Gulf Coast side of Florida, have been driving with Transport America for two years. Jim started driving back in the 1970s after he was discharged from the U.S. Army after serving in Vietnam.
“I always wanted to be a professional truck driver,” says Jim, who grew up on Army bases as a kid, and attended driving school in Alabama. “My dad used to drive a feed truck, and when I was in the military, I had the opportunity to drive trucks. I guess it’s something in the blood.”
While Shelby doesn’t recall having any family members in trucking, managing a gasoline station and convenience store put her in contact with other truck drivers.
“I remember the first truck I rode in,” she says, “when I was younger, in my 20s, my car broke down on the side of the highway. A nice truck driver pulled over and gave me a ride to the nearest gas station. I remember sitting up there in the cab thinking, ‘Well, this is interesting.’ Little did I know that I would one day be driving a truck as my career.”
Today the couple criss-cross the country with their three dogs, Abbie, a yorkie, and Daisy and Mandy, both morkies. In the summertime, they will deliver pretty much anywhere in the lower 48.
“I grew up in Iowa,” says Shelby, “we like heading up north during the summer, when Florida is dreadfully hot, but neither of us are big fans of the cold and snow.”
The couple tend to stay out on the road for five to six weeks at a time and then take a break of between seven to ten days.
“We’ve found that it’s really hard to get anything done around the house in a weekend, or to simply take time and enjoy ourselves and relax. That’s why we take that much time off. It’s more efficient,” says Jim.
When they’re at home Jim and Shelby enjoy dinners and playing cards with their neighbors, taking bike rides and practicing their trapshooting. Because they live in a 55+ development, they don’t need to worry about caring for their lawn.
And whenever they can, they visit their children, who are scattered across the country, as well as Shelby’s parents, who live in Iowa.
So what’s their secret to success? What advice would they give to other couples that are considering driving together?
To make a decent living, Jim says, “You should both know how to drive.” The couple keep their truck moving throughout the day with Shelby driving during the day time hours and Jim taking the nighttime shift. Their “together” time usually occurs around 1 to 2 p.m. each day when they eat together and catch up on the day’s schedule.
“We also have a rule to wake up each other whenever we need a spotter, or when driving conditions call for an extra set of eyes,” says Jim. “We want to be as safe as possible. That’s why neither of us minds being woken up to navigate a loading dock or a truck stop.”
The next piece of advice offered by Shelby comes down to chemistry. “I think you really need to get along together. This is our home away from home. It’s a small space. Fortunately, we really like to be together.” This has worked for us because all of our kids were out of high school when we decided to start driving together.”
Both admit that they get upset with each other at times (“That’s what the curtain is for!” says Jim), but those moments are short lived because they both say “we are each other’s best friend.”
“We show our love for each other by doing little things for each other, like filling up coffee mugs or making the other a meal,” says Jim, “and by protecting each other.”
They also note that managing their business today with all of the technology at their disposal allows them to concentrate on driving first.
“Here’s one tip I’d give to a couple – get a good accountant,” says Shelby. The couple uses ATBS, a service provided through Transport America for its owner-operator drivers.
“Taking care of the paperwork was a full-time job,” Shelby says, “with ATBS, we send them all of our information electronically and they take care of our taxes and maintain our books.”
As the couple thinks about retirement some day, they both say that working with Transport America has been one of the best decisions of their driving careers.
“We have an excellent team behind us,” says Jim. “Ty, our fleet leader, and everyone at Birmingham, they’re helping us live our dream.”
“And you know what,” Shelby adds, “It’s been a good living. We’ve seen some of the most incredible places in our country (western Utah is their favorite), we get all the miles we can handle, and we get paid well.”
“And best of all, we’ve got each other,” says Jim.
So the question that the leaders of Transport America have been asking themselves is:
What really matters to truck drivers?
It’s a question that Bonnie Audie, who oversees the company’s recruitment efforts, understands all too well.
Each day, Bonnie’s team of recruitment professionals’ talk, text and email with dozens of drivers who contact Transport America because they’re ready to make a change.
Based on Bonnie’s 25 years of experience with current drivers and driver candidates, she believes that America’s truck drivers are expecting more from their trucking companies. What exactly? She says they want:
Safety as a top priority;
Flexibility with home time;
More miles; and
“We take these requirements very seriously,” says Bonnie. “We’re listening closely so we can create the type of trucking company where our drivers will be happy and successful.”
To that end, Transport America is upgrading its pay program to demonstrate its commitment to its current and prospective drivers.
“Along with our reputation for respecting drivers and driver safety,” Bonnie says, “we want to be recognized as a company that puts their drivers first and is committed to changing trucking through improved pay programs, safety and better technology. To me, it’s all part of respecting the professionalism of our drivers, whom I consider the best drivers on the road.”
According to Bonnie, the pay raises will take effect as follows:
Immediate, Across-the-Board Increase for Company Drivers: As of Jan. 28, 2018, all solo, team and regional OTR drivers will see an immediate increase of 2 cents per mile, regardless of years of experience. On the top end, solo drivers can earn up to 54 cents per mile.
Increase in Student Pay: Transport America is also raising the rate of Military and Non-Military student pay. This goes in effect on Jan. 28, 2018, too.
“In addition, I want to stress to all drivers who are applying to Transport America – unlike some other carriers, we do not dock your pay to recover the tuition reimbursement,” says Bonnie.
In fact, Transport America pays drivers to participate in orientation based on a daily rate. Plus, new drivers also receive financial incentives after they complete orientation to help transition into their new position before their first paycheck arrives.
Referral Program – Transport America’s referral program is a great opportunity for drivers to earn additional income while increasing our family of professional drivers, adds Bonnie. Because Transport America’s recruitment team employs former drivers who bring a deep understanding to what matters to drivers, Transport America is able to attract and hire more drivers than the industry average.
“Some of our drivers have added an additional $30,000 or more per year to their income through our referral program,” Bonnie says.
“We’ve always been committed to paying our drivers well,” Bonnie adds, “But we realized that we need to do more. Respect for our drivers means respect for them as people who are trying to build solid financial lives. The less our drivers think about money, the more they’re focused on driving safely. So that’s why we’re bringing more to the table – for our current drivers and future drivers to help us continue to be the Trucking Company That’s Changing Trucking!”
“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.” – John Wooden, former head coach, UCLA men’s basketball team, 10-time NCAA National Champions
One of the most important things that Paul Simmons, the new President of Transport America, learned when he was a Captain in the United States Marine Corps was the concept of servant leadership.
“As a leader, I learned that leaders are here to serve those who report to me,” says Simmons. “As trivial as that may sound, the key is this: remove distractions and barriers to allow those with whom you work to do their jobs. When you do this, the entire team becomes more effective and productive as they become more confident in finding solutions (rather than wait for a solution to be provided to them).”
With more than 26 years of experience in the trucking industry, primarily on the operations side of the business, Simmons believes it is his privilege to work with truck drivers.
“Everything we buy – everything that’s on the shelves of our stores – depends on truck drivers to deliver those items,” Simmons says. “That’s pretty humbling when you think about it.”
It’s these perspectives that Simmons takes into his new role in leading Transport America.
“To me, our success depends a great deal on the success of our drivers” says Simmons, “This boils down to three things that we can do to make the lives of our drivers better: more miles, consistent time at home, and best-in-class treatment will add up to bigger things. I have learned that there is no perfect trucking company. Our focus will be on execution excellence that will lead to a great driver and customer experience and lead to growth for Transport America.”
So what exactly does this mean?
As we narrow our focus we need to drive quality freight and revenue across our assets.
“We want to team with customers who value us, and whom we value,” says Simmons. “From a day-to-day perspective, this translates into customers that respect our drivers’ time – they don’t cancel their loads at the last minute, they don’t keep them waiting, they have their loads ready to go or they’re ready to receive their loads when our drivers arrive, and they value the safety of our drivers.”
Likewise, Simmons wants to ensure that Transport America associates live out the number one core value of safety first. An example is that all drivers are getting outside of their trucks to measure up the situation before backing up their truck. A core value of excellence in all we do leads to making sure drivers are always paid on time; that fleet leaders and planners focus on loads that move in and out of major markets versus taking a load that potentially leaves a driver in a deadhead situation.
“Here’s the way I think: If we could get just 10 more miles on each truck in our fleet, each day of the year – that little change could add up to bigger rewards for all of us, such as more miles and higher pay for our drivers, and more improved customer service,” Simmons says.
The going won’t be easy, says Simmons. Transport America, as well as many other U.S. trucking companies, face a number of challenges in the years to come. These include finding enough loads to fill the available trucks throughout the industry, the shift from paper logbooks to electronic logs, to the ongoing treatment of drivers, regulatory changes affecting the safety of truck drivers as well as potentially allowing driver assisted vehicles on the road.
“Our particular challenge,” says Simmons, “is that we’re a mid-size trucking company that competes with other trucking companies that are much larger than us. I believe there are plenty of of opportunities for Transport America to team up with customers that value what we uniquely offer to the market, such as our flexibility and our high quality professional truck drivers. We’re aligning with customers that want a partner to help them solve their problems, not just another trucking company vendor.”
Going into 2018, Simmons intends to continue the work of Keith Klein, who recently retired from Transport America as President, in providing excellent service to Transport America’s customers. In addition, he wants to narrow Transport America’s focus on three specific areas:
Drive execution excellence that leads to improved driver and customer experience
Drive quality freight across our assets
Better manage costs
Simmons’ focus is grounded in the values he shares with Transport America.
“What intrigued me about Transport America are the values of the organization and the reputation of the associates that work here. Those values, such as respect for the driver and safety, is what sets this company apart from others. That’s why I wanted to come and work here. This company is absolutely committed to ethics, safety, and the quality of its people. This truly is a top notch place to have a career in the trucking industry and I am excited about our future.”
“Everyone says that we do a good job of serving our customers, taking care of our drivers, etc.” Simmons adds. “For us to keep changing trucking, we must do a great job, and that starts with taking care of our truck drivers. I want Transport America to not be a good place for drivers, I want it to be the best in the industry with everyone in our organization doing everything they can to support them. That’s where I want to take Transport America.”
For long-time Transport America driver Robert Harp, and new driver Ronald Satterfield, a trip to deliver Christmas wreaths turned into one of the most meaningful deliveries they’ve ever made.
What began in 1992 with a trailer load of wreaths, decorated by volunteers and laid at the graves of fallen soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery has now become a national organization with over 1,422 participating locations (cemeteries in all 50 states) – all focused on the mission to Remember, Honor, and Teach Americans about our fallen veterans.
Wreaths Across America is a nonprofit based in Columbia Falls, Maine, which brings together volunteers every year to lay wreaths at the headstones of fallen soldiers in local and national cemeteries across the country. This year, more than 1.5 million wreaths were presented by an estimated 1 million volunteers during December.
For the first time ever, Transport America volunteered to participate in this annual event. The company donated the use of a truck and 53-foot trailer and a team of drivers.
Robert Harp, from Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, who has driven safely for more than 2.5 million miles since joining Transport America in 1998, received a call from his fleet leader to see if he would like to participate in the annual event. Harp, an Army veteran who served for two years in the U.S. Army in 1970 and an additional 25 years in the Army Reserves (seeing limited action in Vietnam and being called up to serve in Operation Desert Storm in 1990), reaching the rank of staff sergeant, considered it an honor to be selected.
Robert was joined by Ronald, a new driver whom Robert has been providing 3.5 weeks of driving instruction before Ronald continues on as a OTR solo driver. Ronald joined Transport America recently after earning his CDL. Ronald served in the U.S. Army himself from 1997 to 2014. During his 17 years in the military, Ronald rose to the rank of sergeant first class and served six tours of duty — one in Kosovo, four tours in Iraq, and one in Afghanistan, where he was injured.
Ronald, who calls Orange, New Jersey as home, joined Transport America through its Military Apprenticeship Program. After driving trucks in the military and serving as a crane operator before joining Transport America, Ronald realized that he had truck driving in his blood. Turns out, his father was a truck driver.
“I came to this realization that I love driving trucks,” Ronald says, “and that driving would allow me to see America, the country that I’ve served throughout my military career.”
In addition to the Military Apprenticeship program, Ronald was attracted to Transport America based on the company’s safety record.
“In the research I did online, Transport America had this brotherhood among its drivers that reminded me of my military experience,” he says. “Their attention to safety and how they care for their drivers is what caught my eye.”
Their journey started in Chicago where Robert and Ronald hit the road in Robert’s specially wrapped, military-themed Freightliner tractor and headed to the company’s support center in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, where they switched trailers for a specially wrapped trailer to show Transport America’s support for Wreaths Across America.
From there, they hauled a load to New York, and then picked up another load, which they brought up to Bangor, Maine. Then Robert and Ronald headed to Columbia Falls, Maine, where Wreaths Across America is based. Columbia Falls is located an hour and a half east of Bangor, along the coast, near the Maine-New Brunswick border.
When they arrived at 10 a.m., there were at least 30 trucks waiting to be loaded up. When it came time for Robert and Ronald’s trailer to be loaded at 4 p.m., volunteers filled the trailer with 45,000 wreaths – 500 boxes with 9 wreaths apiece. According to Amber Caron at Wreaths Across America, Transport America was among 250 trucking companies that drove more than 500 loads of wreaths during this year’s event.
After they were loaded, they headed for their first stop, the Amityville Cemetary on Long Island, east of Brooklyn, where they dropped off 14 boxes of wreaths. They were greeted by a volunteer named Nancy who said she was in awe of an 18-wheeler dropping off wreaths for the fallen vets buried at their town’s cemetery.
From there, Robert and Ronald joined a convoy of 11 other trucks who were escorted 15 miles to the Long Island National Cemetery, located in Farmingdale, N.Y. by at least 20 police cars who stopped traffic along the route to allow for the passage of the trucks to the cemetery.
Because of the size of the Long Island National Cemetery, each truck was instructed to go to different locations throughout the cemetery. The cemetery, formed in 1936 to make space for the veterans of World War I, consists of 365 acres and holds the remains of more than 346,000 veterans.
Before the wreaths were unloaded from each truck, all of the drivers and more than 400 volunteers, many of whom were family members of a deceased veteran, gathered in the central part of the cemetery for a ceremony. “Taps” as played on a bugle, and those who wanted to share words of remembrance, were offered the opportunity to share their somber thoughts.
Among the volunteers were dozens of Boy Scouts who came to not only unload the trucks, but to place wreaths at headstones.
To say all of this was a bit overwhelming for Robert and Ronald would be an understatement. Robert laid a few wreaths at some headstones, but Ronald stayed in the trailer helping to unload the wreaths. Both men said they were choking up.
“When you lay a wreath at a tombstone, the Wreaths Across America people don’t want you to just lay a wreath down and go from one burial plot to the next as fast as you can,” says Robert. “They want you to address the fallen vet by the name on their tombstone and reverently place the wreath down as you remember that person.”
“It was very emotional for both of us,” says Robert. “We both have served overseas. We both know soldiers who were wounded or killed. When I placed a wreath at the tombstone of a World War II vet, I was thinking about the brotherhood and sisterhood that everyone who’s served in the military shares. It brought tears to my eyes.”
Both men agreed that they would like to do it again next year and hope that more Transport America drivers will be involved.
“It was breathtaking,” says Ronald. “While I’m new to this company, I thought it was very moving that Transport America would take the time and spend the money to recognize the sacrifice of these veterans. It’s clear they take care of their drivers.”
“I’m very proud of our company,” adds Robert. “It was one of the most rewarding days of my life. I will never forget being a part of this.”
Eagan Support Manager Darrin Corbin Makes Transport America Drivers Feel at Home on Thanksgiving (and every day of the year)
Before joining Transport America more than seven years ago, Darrin Corbin used to drive for one of the major package delivery businesses.
At the end of his day, he got to go home.
In his work for Transport America, Darrin realized that many drivers wish they could be home more frequently, but due to the nature of the job, couldn’t be.
Missing out on special moments and meals with their family over holidays, Darrin knew he couldn’t replace the moments with their families but he could provide them with a Thanksgiving feast.
As manager of the Eagan Support Center, each day Darrin and the Support Center team interact with an average of 50 to 70 drivers. On weekends, that number might be more than 100 drivers. And on the day before a big holiday, that number might be even more.
On the day before Thanksgiving, as some drivers ponder if they’ll be home in time for Thanksgiving Dinner, others are thinking about taking advantage of the light traffic to get some miles in. Still others don’t really have a place to go. A place they can call home. At the Eagan Support Center, like many of Transport America’s other support centers, Darrin and the team hear it all. Both the joy and the sadness.
“That’s where our team comes in,” says Darrin, who joined Transport America more than seven years ago as an Extended Coverage Manager. “Drivers want to be treated with dignity and respect. Sometimes I feel called to just listen to them.”
And to feed them, too.
Growing up in a family of seven kids raised by a single mother, Darrin understands the meaning of a home-cooked meal, and how good food, made with care, can aid in starting a conversation.
Taught how to cook for his entire family at the ripe age of 12, Darrin fondly remembers coming together with his siblings around the table.
“I grew up poor,” he says, “we didn’t eat out like some families did. We didn’t do take-out. We learned how to stretch the food budget, and how to make every meal taste great. All of my siblings knew when I cooked. I always liked to deviate a bit from the 11 recipes our mother made us rotate through. I liked to spice things up a bit.”
That love for cooking combined with his passion for caring for Transport America drivers is evident every day at the Eagan Support Center.
“It’s a home away from home for our drivers,” says Darrin, who likes to arrive early to work and get the coffee going for the drivers.
“I get the food out – the PB & J and the oatmeal,” he says. “And then tidy up a bit. Sometimes, when I’m in the mood, I like to bring in a crockpot with something that the drivers can eat throughout the day. Sometimes it’s chili. Other times it’s pork fajitas or my french toast bake. And in the summer months, we like to get the grill going on the patio and feed the drivers brats, hamburgers and hot dogs.”
For Thanksgiving this year, Darrin was joined by his colleagues Dean Patterson, Field Safety Specialist, and Richard Petterson, Maintenance Manager to cook up a Thanksgiving feast for drivers who found themselves in Eagan on the day before Thanksgiving.
Here was their menu:
Biscuits and gravy
Sweet and mashed potatoes, including gravy
Green bean hot dish
Pickles and olives
Two pecan pies
Two pumpkin pies
Cherry cream pie
Pioneer bread pudding
Cranberry sauce (homemade, not from a can)
“I added the biscuits and gravy because some of our drivers from down South didn’t think I could make real biscuits and gravy,” says Darrin, “but listen – I grew up in Indiana – that’s close enough to the South to give me some real cred when it comes to biscuits and gravy.”
To Darrin, serving the 100 plus Transport America drivers who visited the Eagan Support Center a Thanksgiving meal is an opportunity to say “thank you” for all they do.
But there’s something even more important to consider.
“I’ve learned that homemade food has a way of bringing people together,” says Darrin, “It gives us an opportunity to talk and share stories, and relieve the stress of being away from loved ones. In the end, it’s all about respect.”
And, Darrin adds, “to really get to know our drivers.”
That’s the kind of company Transport America strives to be every day. The kind of company that Darrin likes to work for.
Transport America driver Rick Kost Reaches 2 Million Miles Safely Driven; Dedicates Milestone to His Brother Ken
When Rick Kost reached his first million miles back in 2002, after driving with Transport America for almost 10 years, he did it for himself.
But he knew, starting with mile 1,000,001 that the next million miles was going to be for someone else. Someone who’s been with him every mile, day and night, from one coast to the other, and everywhere in between, and mostly in spirit. His brother, Ken.
Just before Thanksgiving, Rick Kost was invited to Transport America’s headquarters in Eagan, Minnesota, to be honored for reaching 2 million miles safely driven. And that’s when he dedicated those last 2 million miles to Ken Kost, his driving partner and older brother.
“It’s an awesome feeling to make it to two million miles, and with such as great company,” says Kost. “Transport America has always had my back. But to reach this goal and to dedicate it to my brother, makes it all the more sweeter.”
Beginning His Journey
The path to two million miles almost didn’t happen for Rick.
That’s because for six years, Rick left the world of trucking, unsure of whether he would ever step foot in a truck again.
Back in 1982, Rick was about 21-years-old when he started team driving with his brother Ken. The brothers drove as a team for a company that transported frozen food products. They primarily drove a route going back and forth from Cincinnati and Dayton, OH and Dallas, TX.
It was on one of those trips that Ken, who was slightly older than Rick and a passenger at the time, passed away in their truck.
“Ken was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes when he was in high school,” says Rick. “He controlled it with daily shots of insulin. He died of a seizure.”
“I just couldn’t do it anymore. I just couldn’t get back into an 18-wheeler,” adds Rick. “Every time I did, I would just immediately think about losing my brother.”
Rick’s journey into truck driving began when he was a senior at Bald Eagle-Nittany High School in Mill Hall, Pennsylvania. The father of one of his friends owned a truck company. Rick earned $5 for every truck he washed. He started learning how to drive by driving a Bobcat. And then, he learned how to move a truck around on the yard, where he washed them.
“There was no requirement for truck driving school back then,” Rick says, “I learned on the job.”
After his brother’s death, Rick went to work for a while in the woolen mill at Woolrich, PA., where Rick was raised and continues to call home.
Because of the pay, Rick moved to another company, hauling incinerated ash in 36-foot coal buckets from Niagra Falls, New York, to Long Island, N.Y.
“I had a good friend who also drove the coal trucks,” says Rick. “He made the switch to Transport America. Eventually, he convinced me to give it a try. To get back behind an 18-wheeler after six years wasn’t easy.”
For his first solo load with Transport America, Rick found himself doing six stops in downtown Chicago.
“I figured it out,” he says, “but you see, my brother Ken used to do all of the navigating and all of the paperwork. When we drove together, he would point me in the right direction and I would just drive.”
Little by little, Rick found his way back to feeling confident in driving solo over the road.
What It Takes
So what does it take to drive two million miles safely?
To Rick, the key is complete dedication to the job.
“Don’t allow yourself to be rushed. Build time into your schedule so that you have plenty of time to arrive on time,” says Rick. “And always check the weather. If the forecast calls for bad weather, leave a day or even two days early so you can get in and out before it hits.”
A focus on driving safely is one of the reasons that Rick values Transport America.
“They don’t force you to drive like some companies do,” he says. “If you feel it’s unsafe, you park it. It’s that simple. That’s one of the ways that Transport America is changing trucking.”
Another important tip offered by Rick is maintaining a positive attitude.
“I strongly believe that if you get behind the wheel and you have a negative attitude, it’s going to put you at risk,” Rick says. “That’s why I tend to avoid truck stops where you’re bound to hear small groups of drivers publicly complain about the profession, or about their home life.”
To Rick, it all boils down to learning.
“The thing I like about this business the most is that there is always something new to learn,” he says.
But Most of All, It Takes a Team
Rick is clear. He didn’t accomplish this all by himself.
Besides his brother Ken, Rick is quick to point out that his wife, Jean, to whom he’s been married for 18 years (together for 20 years), has been instrumental to his success.
“Jean’s been by my side the entire time,” says Rick. “She’s a very special woman. She gets it. She’s been a real trooper.”
And right behind his wife Jean, Rick counts on the support of his kids, Ricky and Krista, his two grandchildren, P.J. and Julian, and his three sisters.
Rick also points to the support that he’s received from Transport America. He couldn’t have done it without Steve Kohl, Mechanicsburg Support Center Manager, Angie Sholly, Fleet Leader, and Joebob Wilson, Field Safety Specialist.
“Everyone I’ve worked with at Transport America has been just great,” Rick says. “They’ve taken really good care of me.”
Rick is looking forward to a few more years of driving and then eventually retiring with Transport America.
Note: Are you a military vet who has what it takes to train other drivers about how to become a professional truck driver?
Approved by the Department of Veteran’s Affairs and the Department of Labor, Transport America’s Certified Professional Truck Driver Program helps eligible veterans use their G.I. Bill benefits that they earned in the military to advance from a student driver to a driver instructor and/or a student driver instructor. This hands-on training program incorporates concepts core to the military – leading by example, safety, and preparation through training.
We’re proud to share Tracy Garrett’s story as she begins the process of becoming a driver instructor through Transport America’s Military Apprenticeship Program. To learn more about this program, click here or call 651-688-4580.
Tracy Garrett’s Story: Finding a Home with Transport America
After serving in the Navy for seven years, Tracy Garrett, like many military vets, faced the prospect of change.
As in: “What am I going to do with the rest of my life?”
To add to the complexity of her situation, she was a single mom with two teenagers.
Like many vets, she decided to take advantage of her G.I. Bill benefits and returned to school with her eyes set on a new career in the business world.
But deep down, there was this little voice calling out to Tracy.
“As a little girl, I used to ride in a pick-up truck with my mother, Linda Hanewald,” Tracy says. “My mom used to be a test driver for Michigan International Speedway (in Brooklyn, Mich.). She would transport the test cars with a pick-up truck and trailer from the Speedway to other test tracks.”
“On those trips, I remember her being on the CB radio talking to truck drivers,” adds Tracy. “As we would come up to a driver, she would ask them to honk their horn for me, her little daughter. I remember thinking that one day, I would like to be a truck driver.”
Back in her hometown of Fort Smith, Arkansas, Tracy earned her college degree and found herself working in the front office of a local trucking company.
“I worked there for nearly two years,” she says. “I kept finding myself drawn to the shop – talking to the mechanics and the other drivers.”
It’s then that she realized that she had to follow her dream of being a truck driver.
With her children out of high school, she finally acted. Tracy entered a CDL training program at the University of Arkansas at Fort Smith to begin her journey as a professional truck driver.
Stationed on the USS Kearsarge, a Wasp-class amphibious assault ship within the United States Navy, Tracy, who served as a work center supervisor, recognizes similarities between the two professions — the need for order, discipline, organization, respect, and safety.
While in school, studying for her CDL with her G.I. Bill benefits, she learned about Transport America’s Military Apprenticeship program, ironically, from a female driver who drove for a competitive trucking company.
“I remember her saying, ‘You should check out Transport America, they’re more respectful of truck drivers, especially women truck drivers.’” says Tracy. “So I did.”
What’s cool is that Tracy connected with Claudette Forbes, a Transport America recruiter who also served in the military.
“Claudette understood when I said that I’ll miss being ‘deployed,” Tracy says. “She got it.”
Now, on the road, Tracy is learning life as a truck driver with the intent of preparing to be a driver instructor within a year.
“I’ve learned that life in a truck is really not all that much different than life on a ship,” she says. “You don’t get to shower every day and you live in close quarters. Heck, there’s more room in a truck actually, so this feels like a luxury.”
Asked what does it take for a military vet to make the move back into civilian life, Tracy says it’s all about mindset.
“To me, it really does boil down to safety. It’s what we’re taught in the military, and I see, from my experience with Transport America so far, it’s what really matters in terms of being a truck driver,” she says. “Being the captain of your own ship is really important to me.”
Tracy says it also takes support from home. She points to the support provided by her mother in helping to raise her two kids who are now 18 and 19.
“It’s all about determination and integrity,” Tracy says. “That’s what I’ve learned. If I can do this, you can do it.”
As many truck drivers know, the temptations of the road are all around.
Such as delectable homemade, fresh-from-the-bakery caramel rolls, SuperMa’s mega-burritos, monster jug soft drinks, and doublewide candy bars. After all, after putting on all those miles, you deserve a little treat, don’t you?
That’s what Veronica Porter learned the hard “weigh.” The Bodfish, Calif., resident starting driving professionally 11 years ago. She joined Transport America in 2010.
“Within my first year of driving, I gained about 100 pounds,” says Veronica. “I did everything that everyone says you’re not supposed to do. Whenever I came to a truck stop, I would eat. And I always ate the worst stuff for you. And I would never exercise either.”
Then, over the summer, Veronica and her driving partner, Carole Kelley, learned about a weight loss challenge issued by Transport America to all of its drivers. The winner of the “Biggest Winner Weight Loss Challenge” would win $750 and the runner-up would win $250. Prize money was available for both men and women drivers.
“We had already been thinking about doing something to change the way we took care of ourselves,” says Carole, “That’s when we said to each other, let’s just do it!”
For the two women, who had only driven a few months together, the friendly competition not only helped them bond, but it helped them become more aware of how they could change their lifestyle to lead more healthy, productive lives.
With 20 years of driving experience, Carole, a resident of Wofford Heights, Calif., joined Transport America after she was introduced to Veronica by a mutual friend.
“I was inspired by my Dad,” says Carole, “I will always remember the day when I was about 10 years old. I remember my Dad coming home in a purple Peterbilt. I think that’s why I’m a driver today.”
For Veronica, the route into the world of professional truck driving was inspired by a customer. By day, I was a nail stylist and by night a karaoke DJ. One day, a customer comes into our karaoke bar flashing all kinds of cash and saying he was making a lot of money as a truck driver. That got my attention. So I checked it out and here I am, 11 years later.”
When Veronica and Carole decided to embrace the weight loss challenge issued by Transport America, they knew it wasn’t going to be easy. Veronica had already been dieting for about a year and it was going just so-so. For Carole, who grew up identifying with the “fat girl” label, there was a lot of skepticism.
They also knew this: They were not going to do a half-ass job at it. “We decided, if we’re going to do this, we’re in it to win it,” says Veronica.
“The first week of our new diet was hell,” Veronica added. “That’s the only way I can describe it.”
To obtain big results, Veronica and Carole went bold.
They eliminated all processed food – especially carbohydrates such as bread, pasta, rice, potatoes (French fries!), sugar and alcohol.
They even eliminated vegetables that have high levels of sugar, such as carrots. Yes, carrots!
Instead, they focused on eating more protein (such as chicken and eggs) and raw vegetables.
And, they added a lot of water to their diet – they drink at least six 16 oz. glasses of water a day (1.5 gallons) — minimum.
“It’s called a ketogenic diet,” says Veronica. “The diet forces the body to start burning fat for fuel and the water detoxes our bodies.”
Probably the biggest change they made was how the two would shop for food. No more truck stop food. Each week, they stopped at Walmart to buy food for the entire week. They store their produce in extra coolers, and the meat in their truck fridge. And before each day, they planned out their meals.
So how did they do?
Within just 10 weeks, Veronica lost 29 pounds (14.72% of her body weight) and Carole lost 30 pounds (11.16% of her body weight).
“I’m so glad I lost this weight,” says Carole, “I can really feel the difference. It’s easier to get around and mentally, I just feel more alert. I also feel better about myself. I can see the difference.”
Veronica seconded Carole’s comments, and added this story:
“So after we won the challenge, we decided that we were going to go to an IHOP and just go all out,” says Veronica. “Pancakes, sausage, bacon, maple syrup, whipped cream – everything.”
“Well, before we even left the restaurant, we both looked at each other and just knew that we weren’t feeling good. We realized that our bodies were rejecting all of this food that wasn’t healthy for you. It was an eye opener!”
You Can Do It!
Both Veronica and Carole say that if they can do it, you can do it!
They also say, that it’s been important to have the support of a company like Transport America.
“It’s not about losing weight. This whole challenge is about caring for us, the drivers,” Veronica says. “This company puts its drivers first. They put safety first. Encouraging us to lose weight not only makes us healthier, but it helps make us safer drivers!”
After coming this far, Veronica and Carole aren’t stopping. They’re starting to work out and they’re planning to keep up their diet.
“Check in with us this time next year,” says Carole. “Our goal is to each be 30 pounds lighter than we are today.”
Go for it Veronica and Carole – and all Transport America drivers. Let’s not only be the safest trucking company on the road, let’s be the healthiest!