Life on the road

by Rene Tankersley, feature editor

At the center of the Owner-Operator Indepen- dent Drivers Association’s name is the word, “Independent.” Webster defines “independent” as: “not subject to control by others; self-governing; not affiliated with a larger controlling unit; not requiring or relying on something else; showing a desire for freedom.” In addition to describing owner-operators as independent business owners, the term also describes the trucking lifestyle of being self-reliant and not dependent upon others to make personal, as well as, business decisions. Whether the decision involves layover activities or freight rates, it’s your decision.

Land Line talked with owner-operators who take seriously their independence, which affords them opportunities they otherwise would not have in a stationary location. Owner-operators travel the highways hauling everything from onions to jet engines to explosive chemicals. Along the way, they see landscapes, city views and skyscrapers many nine-to-fivers will never see. In between loads, they visit many places unheard of by corporate yuppies and unseen by typical tourists.

While millions of retired baby boomers toddle along in their RVs, Todd and Karen Humphreys haul jet engines for airline companies and bed down for the night in airport hangers. While corporate executives play the same 18-hole golf course every week, George Earls probably doesn’t play the same course twice. While couch potatoes scream at the ball players on ESPN, Chad Jessup watches live minor league baseball games along the West Coast. While Wall Street stockbrokers tug at their neckties, Danny Doss leisurely reads back issues of the Wall Street Journal and researches potential investments at the public library. All these people have at least two things in common – they are owner-operators and OOIDA members.

All the comforts of retirement in a Peterbilt

Many couples cannot imagine a better retirement than living life on the road in a luxury RV, visiting far-flung grandchildren (17 of them). Todd and Karen Humphreys are doing just that, experiencing America through the windshield of their version of a luxury RV – a 1998 Peterbilt with all the comforts of the most luxurious RVs – and getting paid for it.

“I don’t know why anyone would want to buy a motor home,” said Todd. “These people should go into trucking, see America, spend time with their grandkids and get paid for their efforts.”

Todd and Karen got into trucking 13 years ago after retiring from the private business sector. Todd was a businessman who over the years owned three veterinary practices with his father, operated a satellite dealership and owned a small trucking company that serviced oil fields. Karen drove dump trucks. In fact, she was involved in building runways in Fort Wyuka, AZ, for the space shuttle.

When the couple became empty-nesters, they began driving team. As owner-operators and team drivers, Todd and Karen log 1,200-plus miles a day (more than 235,000 miles a year) mostly hauling jet engines and aircraft parts to major airports for Southern Pride Trucking.

In their Peterbilt, the couple enjoys all the comforts of home – a queen-size bed in the Ultra Sleeper, an entertainment system with satellite dish, 13-inch television, VCR, computer, power tools and a vacuum – all powered by AC using a Series 1 inverter-charger, manufactured by Trace Engineering of Arlington, WA.

The couple frequently spends their weekends at one of their five kids’ homes or at an airport where they are delivering jet engines. Delta in Atlanta, in fact, often invites them to bed down in a hanger. Being a pilot, Todd loves being around planes.

“I don’t fly much anymore, except on the computer,” Todd said. “Microsoft has a great simulator program I use to keep my skills up.”

Although they spend an average of only three days at home, Todd and Karen have two homes – one in Worland, WY, and one in Oracle, AZ. “Oracle is more on our trip route,” Todd said. “We enjoy the weather and plan to retire there when we quit trucking.”

Golfing along America’s truck routes

From a loading dock in Red Bluff, CA, OOIDA member George Earls talked about a golf course he spotted somewhere on Interstate 40.

“I’ve got to start taking more notes,” Earls said when he couldn’t remember the exact location of the golf course he hoped to play some day when he didn’t have such a tight schedule. As an owner-operator, Earls looks for opportunities to play a round of golf and meet new people. When he can’t find a public golf course, Earls usually can find a country club driving range to hit a few buckets of balls. Finding truck parking at golf courses is difficult, but Earls doesn’t let it deter him from his appointed rounds.

“When you drive up in a truck, you can see people kind of shudder,” Earls said. “They don’t realize the investment truckers have. It’s a lot more than an 8-to-5, and I don’t think people understand it.”

Earls played the corporate scene for many years, but now he says he owns the company after getting his authority this year. With more control over his schedule, Earls gives himself plenty of time to make his deliveries and have a day for himself. “I don’t get in a hurry,” Earls said. “I give myself a day’s time to complete a turn, then plan a day in there to do something fun.”

Last winter, Earls spotted a truckstop in Cheyenne, WY, with its own golf course, but the winter weather didn’t provide much opportunity for golf. Now, the Little America Truckstop in Cheyenne tops his golfing to-do list. He says there’s another Little America Truckstop further west on I-80 that has its own course and its own town, Little America, WY.

Earls plays golf purely for entertainment. If he figured his average, he says it probably would be 100 “if I’m lucky.”

“I don’t go out to break Tiger Woods’ record,” he said. “I don’t even keep a score card. If the ball stays on the fairways, I’m happy. If the ball stays on the green, I’m ecstatic. Competing takes the fun out of the game, and it becomes an edge, stressful.”

In addition to carrying his golf clubs in his truck, Earls has what he calls a “swing trainer,” a short-shafted golf club with a grip that positions your hands in the perfect position. He swings this device to engrain the feel and swing into his mind. While he’s waiting at a dock, he stands outside his truck and swings the trainer club while people look at him like he’s a bit crazy.

Although playing golf courses throughout the United States is his greatest over-the-road pleasure, Earls enjoys many other conveniences that make the trucking lifestyle worthwhile.

“I have my home with me,” Earls said. “I have everything in here you could want – refrigerator, microwave, coffeemaker, TV, VCR and computer with printer and scanner. I use my cell phone to uplink online from the truck.”

The great American pastime

In the late 50s, Chad Jessup dreamed of playing for the Yankees, but his hopes were dashed when he messed up his shoulder while serving in the U.S. Navy. Now, as an over-the-road owner-operator he follows minor league baseball and, when time allows, bobtails to a game or two at the old-time ballparks.

Using a minor league baseball schedule and a directory of truckstops, Jessup plans for parking and games. Because the ballparks are in the older parts of town with narrow streets, he drops his trailer at a truckstop (with permission of the truckstop manager) and bobtails to the games.

In the summer he hauls produce on the West Coast, so he has seen such teams as the Sacramento (CA) River Cats, Bakersfield (CA) Blaze, San Jose (CA) Giants, Eugene (OR) Emeralds, Salem-Keizer (OR) Volcanoes, Yakima (WA) Bears, Spokane (WA) Indians, Boise (ID) Hawks and Clinton (IA) LumberKings, but also has visited home games for the Jamestown (NY) Jammers, Memphis (TN) Redbirds and Macon (GA) Braves.

“It beats sitting at a truckstop drinking coffee and griping about the same old stories,” Jessup said. “It varies from season to season how things time out. So far this year, I’ve seen one, two, three … oh, I forgot the Sacramento River Cats, five games and summers not over yet.”

When he gets home in the summer, Jessup plays fast-pitch softball. “I can still mix it up with the younger guys,” Jessup said. “I don’t stink up the place too bad. It keeps me in shape. I’d like to get into one of the senior games in Phoenix. They’re always looking for guys to walk on, but I haven’t been able to time it right.”

In the winter when there is no baseball, Jessup stops by the All-American Softball School to see a friend who is an instructor there. “We just sit and talk about the game,” Jessup said. “I’m also a 49ers football fan and watch on Sundays at a truckstop or when I’m home.”

Investing downtime in intellectual endeavors

Danny Doss, Greenwood, SC, told Land Line his hobbies or interests can be projected into the trucker’s downtime. While other drivers watch television, play video games, read paperback novels, practice guitar or go fishing, Doss follows the stock market. He keeps investment books and financial literature on board.

“It is difficult to get the Wall Street Journal delivered to an OTR driver,” Doss wrote in a letter to Land Line. “So I arranged for a hometown friend to divert his used journals into the closet. When I am leaving home, he usually has 10 to 15 issues ready for me for rich downtime reading.”

When Doss is stuck somewhere with a lot of downtime, he does the bobtail library run to update his reading of Forbes and Fortune magazines. He says most libraries have the Value Line Investment Survey in their reference rooms.

Doss says being an over-the-road trucker gives him a good view of the economy. He added, “Just remember, when you hit the dock at any company, imagine you are a stock analyst disguised as a truckdriver.”