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Karl Wiggins • Springfield, Mo. • Driving for 5 years
I turned 18 in 1976, and before my birthday could even cool off I’d had one too many arguments with my father. So out the door I went with just an old sleeping bag, a Boy Scout backpack full of canned goods and 5 cents in my pocket.
I left L.A. and hitchhiked my way to Kansas. In Amarillo, at the junction of I-40 and Highway 287, I caught a ride in a dusty old red 18-wheeler with a truck driver called Lonesome Red, who was hauling oranges out of California. He left me in St. Louis. I made my way to Lawrence, Kan., and began the journey to “find” myself — and I must have really been lost because it took 35 years to do it.
Life has a way of teaching hard lessons. I was 48 years old, with my own family in Colorado, before I eventually reached out to my father. Our relationship had not changed very much, it seemed. We talked on occasion, and he even visited me a couple of times but did not seem impressed with the fact that I owned my own painting business.
When the economy took a dive, I decided it was time for a career change. I went to school to get my CDL and become a truck driver. While in training I would pass the junction of I-40 and Highway 287 in Amarillo, and I would think of my father and how I had left home all those years ago. I earned my CDL and got my own truck, and my first dispatch request was to go to Topeka, Kan., where my father was living. I pulled up to the curb in front of the senior center where he lived and set my brakes. I climbed out of my rig, and as I walked up to my father I could see that his eyes were wet, and he looked me right in the eye and said, “Son, I’m proud of you.”
The next four years were the best for us. I even took him on a run with me from Topeka to Dodge City and back. My father and I knew that he did not have much time left — he called it “being in the short rows.” So before his time was up I took my truck in and had some graphics put on the back, naming the rig “House of Blues: Special tribute to Ruth Ann Spillman (my mother) and Carl ‘Traveling Man’ Wiggins, gone but not forgotten.” My father wept when he read it. He passed away June 9, 2009, with his family at his side.
Trucking has given me the greatest gift of all, and that gift is what every son really wants and needs to hear from his father, the words that set you free as a man, “Son, I’m proud of you.” There are times when I’m walking up to my rig, and as I climb in I think, “man, this has got to be the coolest job in the world,” and I carry my father’s pride with me every mile I drive.