- A driver builds up his own trucking business
- Father and son share a love of life on the road, even if it makes visits rare
- This driver always makes time to mentor the next generation — whether at home or on the road
- This driver helps rookie truckers learn the ropes
- Home-schooling in a truck means the country is a classroom
- This driver sees the world through Google Glass
- A career trucker brings his tales of the road to people in hospice
- How driver Paul Sedlak finds motivation to reach his fitness goals
- I Love Trucking: More than a job, driving is a way of life
- Big Rig Books: Driver delivers books to underprivileged kids
Meet the 2014 Citizen Driver Award Winners
By: Ashley Brantley, Nancy Henderson & Joe Morris
A call for nominees went out in May 2013. Who are the truck drivers who have made a positive impact on others? Who should be recognized as an example of the best the industry has to offer? Who creates a feeling of pride within the trucking community? Who does the general public need to know about? Many names came in. Eight were ultimately selected and will have a TA or Petro location named for them.
Meet the 2014 Citizen Driver Award recipients.
Henry Albert / Statesville, NC
“After Hurricane Floyd, I volunteered to haul relief supplies to the disaster areas,” he recalls. “It was harder to volunteer a truck then to find a paying load. That’s how many drivers showed up wanting to help.”
Albert says he was born to be a trucker. The running joke in his family is that even as a baby he gravitated to toys that had wheels. Once he had a license, the real thing had just as much pull. As a teenager, he’d drive for hours, just for fun.
He drove all sorts of vehicles before landing in a big rig, and immediately took pride in that job. While visiting a transportation museum he saw a timeline of truck driver wages, and noticed that at one point they made about $2,000 a year less than the average doctor of the time.
“That timeline was next to a mannequin of a driver of the era, wearing a company uniform,” he recalls. “I remarked on the wages to a friend with me, and he said, ‘Well, you drivers don’t look like that anymore. Why don’t you try wearing a tie?’”
Albert did just that, and was amazed at the difference it made. He was called sir. He got immediate respect. Just by looking a bit more professional, he made a positive first impression.
His approach to the job solidified that impression.
“I treat every delivery like I’m an extension of the company I drive for,” he says. “I represent what they think of their customer.”
He works hard to spread that message to other drivers. If someone comments on his tie, he explains the value of looking professional. But he has also made a point to be an advocate for truckers, through the Trucking Solutions Group and Freightliner’s Team Run Smart.
The Trucking Solutions Group is made up of working drivers who discuss ways to improve life for truckers, and contact industry leaders to express their concerns and offer ideas. In his Team Run Smart blog Albert shares his thoughts on how to succeed, based on his own experience.
“This industry has given me a lot,” he explains. “A lot of people have helped me along the way and this is my way of giving back. I really look for this industry to get back to the point where we are looked at as the ‘knights of the road’ again. I want the public to see us and say, “Wow!’”
Albert Transport Inc. / 3 million Accident-free miles
Location: Henry Albert Laredo Travel Center in Texas
Jimmy Ardis / Sumter, SC
“My mama said that when I was born I dropped a steering wheel and a gear stick on the delivery room floor,” Ardis laughs. “It’s all I ever wanted to do all my life.”
Having lost his left arm to cancer at age six, Ardis had to overcome many obstacles to become a driver, the biggest of which was that driving a truck with one arm was actually illegal when he started out.
“Everybody told me that I would never make it because I had one arm,” he says. “I needed a waiver, but if you didn’t have a waiver, you couldn’t get a job, and if you didn’t have a job, you couldn’t get a waiver!”
So Ardis did what he does best — he became the exception to the rule. He wrote Elizabeth Dole, then Secretary of Transportation, and told her his story. Three days later, she called him. Five days later, he had his waiver.
In his 36 years on the road, he’s logged more than four million accident-free miles. He once pulled a fellow truck driver from a burning vehicle. He’s active in Trucker Buddy, a nonprofit that pairs schoolchildren with trucker pen pals to help kids improve their reading, writing and geography skills.
He connects easily with kids because he is still very much young at heart. One of his most colorful nicknames, “Monkey Gouger,” actually comes from his childhood.
“I was always getting up in oak trees and on combines, so they started calling me a little monkey,” he says. “When I started driving, everything I drove was flat on the floor, so people would say I ‘gouged’ it. I’ve been the Monkey Gouger ever since!”
Ardis changed the industry’s perspective on drivers with disabilities. Now he wants to change how the public perceives truckers.
“We’re grandfathers, we’re daddies, and we are family people, too. Eighty-eight percent of the truck and car crashes are the four-wheeler’s fault, but we get the bad rap. Don’t text and drive – we like to go home at night, too.”
When Ardis goes home, he still looks forward to the next day’s drive.
“It’s about getting up in the morning and seeing how many people you can make smile that day.”
Cargill Meat / 4 million Accident-free miles
Location: Jimmy Ardis Manning Travel Center in South Carolina
Linda & Bob Caffee / Silex, Mo
“We worked for a major carrier,” Bob recalls. “We liked being on the road and we liked trucking, but Linda didn’t want to pull a 53-foot trailer.”
“That first time we were hermits,” Linda says. “We stayed to ourselves, didn’t do anything except drive and weren’t involved with anything else.”
They headed back home and started a lawn care business, but the road still held appeal. Linda started doing research to figure out a way to make it work, and hit on expediters. That’s what the two of them have been doing for the past nine years, and they definitely don’t keep to themselves.
“Linda’s research got us more involved in trucking,” says Bob. “In our downtime we were reading online forums and posting ourselves.”
The online conversations gave the couple a place in the trucking community to share ideas and experiences. They would post about what worked for them, as well as what didn’t work. Linda started a blog, and heard from many other women considering a career in trucking. The Caffees found that a lot of drivers and potential drivers were thirsty for advice.
“Our involvement kept growing as we met other drivers and networked and shared experiences,” Linda says.
They were part of the original group of drivers that became the Trucking Solutions Group, which works with industry leaders to improve things for drivers. They joined Trucker Buddy, keeping in touch with an elementary school class and offering kids a glimpse of what truckers do. They are active in Women in Trucking and St. Christopher Truckers Development Relief Fund (SCF), which helps drivers in financial need due to medical issues. They share their road experiences with other drivers as part of Freightliner’s Team Run Smart.
“It’s just about saying yes,” Linda explains. “Why not share something with another driver that can save them money or heartache? Why not give them information that will help them make a decision?”
“We just like to help people, I guess,” Bob says.
Fedex Custom Critical / Bob – 800,000 , Linda – 650,000 Accident-free miles
Location: Linda & Bob Caffee north Las Vegas stopping Center in Nevada
Charley Endorf / Fairbury, Ne
“I lived in Daykin, Nebraska, a little town of about 150 people,” Endorf recalls. “In high school, a friend of mind would take cattle to Omaha on Sunday afternoons, and wanted to know if I would ride along. For a kid in the 1960s, that ride to Omaha in a big truck, plus going to the truckstop and having chicken-fried steak on the way home, it didn’t get much better.”
After a stint in the military, Endorf found himself back in a cab — and this time he was sharing the driving.
By 1976 he had his own truck, a new Kenworth that cost him about $41,000. His father cosigned the loan, and Charley is proud that he never missed a payment on that truck, or any that he’s owned since. He eventually became a driver for Werner Enterprises, where he’s been ever since.
For 29 years he owned his own truck, and at one point had two other trucks and drivers, all of whom carried freight for Werner. In 1991 he downsized to one truck, then in 2002 started splitting a load from Lincoln to Denver. In 2006 he finally sold his last truck, a 2003 w900 Kenworth, and became a full-time company driver to finish out his career. As of 2013, he was still driving eight days a month, just to keep his hand in.
And along the way, he’s logged five million accident-free miles, something he attributes to his innate caution, and also a willingness to be a good ambassador for truckers, and trucking.
“The thing is, John Q. Public doesn’t understand what it is to drive a truck,” Charley explains. “It’s a different view of how the road works. I know that, so I work to make sure that we all get along on the highway.”
That has meant everything from being clean and presentable on every trip all the way to letting smaller cars get away with some bad behavior.
“If someone flips me off, I just give them a hearty wave back — using all five fingers,” Endorf says. “And I put a smile on my face and hope their day turns out better than it seems to have been going so far. Your image, and that of your truck, is a lasting image. By acting politely and driving decently, I’ve been able to come a long way and have a great career.”
Werner Enterprises / 5.4 million Accident-free miles
Location: Charley Endorf York Stopping Center In Nebraska
Jerry Fritts / Cordova, Tn
“My granddad said, “You’re going to learn to back that manure spreader into the barn, and you aren’t going to kill any of my cows,” Fritts recalls with a laugh.
He learned to drive carefully, whether it was a tractor or a cattle truck, because he was protecting a family livelihood. In college, studying logistics, he got his first truck-driving job. The minute he had the chance to haul a load down I-80, he knew his classroom days were numbered. There was good money in trucking, and that’s where his heart was anyway.
That’s still the case more than 40 years later. He gets the same thrill from being on the road as he did the first time, and he constantly looks for paths to greater profitability. Fritts developed a method to determine a load’s profit potential that has been adopted by the American Trucking Associations for its America’s Road Team, and he is happy to share his recipe for success with any driver who is interested.
His enthusiasm for trucking is matched only by his dedication to the American Red Cross.
“The Red Cross saved my life,” he says. “In 2003, I was deeply depressed. I was injured and in a wheelchair. I was told my driving days were done — even my walking days were done. Then I started volunteering with the Red Cross.”
Fritts learned to manage shelters during disaster relief efforts. He also volunteered for an organization that worked with people who were unemployed. The whole time he also developed his own physical rehabilitation program, losing more than 80 pounds, and getting fitter by the day.
“I knew that I wanted to get back on the road,” he says.
He returned to trucking with renewed fervor, coaching other drivers to succeed, while building his trucking business under his own DOT authority. He kept working with the American Red Cross, speaking to groups about the rewards of volunteering for the organization that helps so many people in their hour of need.
“Trucking is a physically demanding job,” he says. “On the day I can no longer truck, I look forward to working full-time with the American Red Cross.”
American Overland Freight / 5 million Accident-free miles
Location: Jerry Fritts West Memphis Stopping Center in Arkansas
Shawn Hubbard / Victorville, Ca
“I saw snow for the first time when I was 28 years old! Growing up in California, I had never seen the snow before,” Hubbard says. “My brother-in-law was in truck driving, and all he could tell me was how great it was to be out on the road and get to see the country for free. I wasn’t hard to convince.”
Having worked in law enforcement as a jailer and a police officer for nine years, Hubbard brought professionalism, selflessness and determination to his trucking career. During his 14 years as a professional driver, he has never received a moving violation; he rescued a man from a burning car; and he has earned an associate’s degree in Administration of Justice. He is currently working on his bachelor’s in transportation.
“When the public thinks of the term ‘truck driver’, they don’t associate the word ‘educated’ with it, and that’s one of the things I would like to change,” says Hubbard. “There’s a preconceived notion about truck drivers that we’re rough and tough, but there are a lot of really highly skilled, educated people doing it.”
For Hubbard, changing that perception means making little changes to the industry every day.
For example, Hubbard estimates only about 10 percent of drivers are doing pre-trips correctly, so he makes a point of never taking shortcuts.
“If a driver sees I’m doing my pre-trips every day, that may change the way he or she does things. One person can change the whole culture by setting the example,” he says.
And as a driver for Ruan Transportation assigned to the Target account, Hubbard knows that people are watching.
“I have a big target on my side – literally! I am aware that I may be the only Target truck people see that day, and they’ll tell their friends, so the image of two companies can be ruined by one driver.”
More than the image, though, Hubbard wants drivers to consider everyone’s safety on a personal level.
“I always think, ‘What if somebody was doing something unsafe or inconsiderate to my wife or my kid? How would I want to be treated and how would I want my family to be treated?’”
Ruan Transportation / 1 million Accident-free miles
Location: Shawn Hubbard Ontario Stopping Center in California
Norman Knight / Watkins Glen, NY
He’s there for drivers having trouble on the road. If a motorist needs gas, Knight gets gas for their car. If he sees that someone has a flat tire, he pulls over to help them change it. All he asks in return is that they do the same for someone else if the opportunity comes up.
The son of a bus driver, he naturally drifted into driving for a living. During his army service in Vietnam he drove dump trucks, and did the same once he got home before going over-the-road.
“I like being out there,” he says.
When he’s not on the road he has plenty to keep him busy. He’s involved with the American Legion; rides with the Patriot Guard, a motorcycle group that keeps watch over military funerals and with Warriors Watch, a charity that helps families of fallen soldiers. A dedicated family man, he and his wife raised six children, then raised another generation, taking in their grandchildren when their son-in-law passed away. Most important to him, he spends every spare moment working to raise funds to fight cancer.
“My wife is a cancer survivor. Our granddaughter is a survivor. One of my wife’s brothers and two sisters died of cancer,” he says. “We’ve lost so many in our family to this disease. Fighting it is a cause that is very dear to my heart.”
So Knight works year-round to plan Relay for Life events that raise funds to fight cancer, putting in many hours on weekends, evenings and holidays. He drives 2,700 miles a week between Syracuse, New York, and Port Reading, New Jersey, and talks to anyone and everyone about donating to the cause. Four years ago, he created an annual boat parade on Seneca Lake that benefits the American Cancer Society.
Organized volunteering efforts fit right in with Knight’s inclination to help others in need. Many people have described him as someone who would give you the shirt off his back. He has a collection of certificates from the Volunteer Fire Department and thank you letters for his volunteer work, and he inspires the people he meets along the way. “That’s just me,” he says. “I always try to help the other guy.”
T&D Transportation / 2.75 million Accident-free miles
Location: Norman Knight Columbia Travel Center in New Jersey