Elk Grove, CA
by Donna Carlson
OOIDA member Mark Oden can best be described as a trucker who is pulled between his love of trucking and being a dad. When he isn’t pulling expedited freight for U.S. Express in “The Wombat,” his 1995 Freightliner Classic, he is at home on his small California ranch with his family. When he’s on the road, Mark’s wife Kathy and son Matthew watch over the ranch, known to friends as “Old McOden’s Farm.” A growing number of chickens, goats, sheep and cattle roam the ranch with the purebred Arabians Mark raises.
“I’m an outside kind of guy,” Mark says, “I come from a farming background.” Mark says always wanting to be outside led him into becoming an owner-operator. “Don’t take me out of a truck,” he says. “I love it, I’ve been doing it for 24 years. I’ll always be in trucking even if I’m not driving.”
The Odens are in the process of getting their own authority and buying one or two more trucks. “I hopped off the truck a while back and blew out my knee, then the knee gave out on me and I fell and broke my wrist,” Mark says. “My driving future looks iffy, so if I find I can’t drive much, I’ll hire out the trucks. Maybe a small trucking business will let me be home more with my family.”
Twelve-year-old Matthew often rides with his dad and they are fishing buddies whenever possible. Mark says he likes hauling expedited freight, but misses the time when he could pick his loads and still coach Little League.
In June of 1997, something happened that caused Mark to rethink the importance of being a good dad and being home with your family. “It was one of those right place, right time things,” he says. “I saved a young boy from being killed on the highway and I will never be the same.”
It happened this way. Mark was pulling a load on California’s Highway 80 (between Davis and Sacramento) about 1:00 a.m. when he caught an image out of the corner of his eye. He quickly realized it was a child running down the center of the highway. Mark pulled over and caught up with the child. The boy told him his name was Keith and his family had dropped him in a field and told him not to find his way home or he would be killed. Lost and frightened, he clung to Mark, who took the child to the truck where he tried to calm the boy down while he dialed 9-1-1.
When police arrived, Keith seemed very frightened of them and locked himself in the truck. He just wanted to go home with Mark. Police and Social Service personnel were sympathetic and finally talked Keith into going with them to a foster home. Thinking there was nothing more he could do, Mark called his dispatcher, told him what had happened, jumped back into the truck and drove off.
Later, he called the police station to see if Keith was OK. “They told me his biological dad had seen the story and had taken him home.” In the news reports, Mark had been called “the mystery trucker.” Police told him he had been nominated for a number of awards.
For the year 1997, Mark was awarded both the Goodyear Highway Hero and TCA Highway Angel award. He also was named Distinguished Citizen of the Year by Yolo County (where the incident happened) and given a Sacramento County Business Owners Chamber of Commerce accommodation.
And the little boy he saved? Mark still sees him when possible. “He is always happy to see the truck pull up,” Mark says.