Richard Hale, an OOIDA member from Rockford, IL, is a trucker with an attitude, a positive attitude. He is one of a few owner-operators to run with hand-operated controls for foot pedals and a lift-gate in his sleeper. Hale is a paraplegic (paralyzed from the mid-chest down) who says a wheelchair is his second favorite mode of transportation.
“If you’ve got the love of driving in you, you can put up with about anything to get back in a truck,” he says. He began trucking with his dad when he was 16. “I rode with my dad and he taught me the basics. We teamed together until I was 27, then I thought I’d try something else. Dad’s still trucking, only now he teams with my brother.”
When Hale left trucking, he went to work for a hammer shop. “As soon as I started there, I wanted back in a truck, but before I could, an ATV three-wheeler threw me head-over-heels and I broke my neck.”
Paralyzed from the chest down, Hale says he sat at home for four years until he couldn’t stand it anymore. He read about another paraplegic who drives flatbeds. Hale contacted him and learned there were a handful of men like him that were driving trucks.
With newfound resolve, he took his ideas to the Illinois Department of Rehabilitation. He began a state rehabilitation program, and they encouraged his dream of owning a truck. A state truck was rigged for him to get used to being back behind the wheel, and then he ordered a 2000 Freightliner Classic with an 84-inch Double Eagle sleeper, Eaton 9-speed auto shift and a 500 hp Detroit Series 60. He also equipped the tractor with a seat that swivels completely around so he can get into his wheelchair.
“I could hardly wait for the truck,” Hale says. “But, it took a year to build it because of the lift-gate in the sleeper and the remote controls.”
Hale has been running 48 states until recently for JVS out of South Glastonbury, CT.
“Completely amazing,” says Helene Alice, his dispatcher. “He’s an outstanding driver, one of our best. Richard is such an upbeat person, we wanted to help him in any way we could. He ran solo mainly hauling mail inserts. We paid for off-loading when he needed it.”
Hale says truckers give him a lot of encouragement and support. Most are amazed at how well he gets along on his own. “You learn which truckstops to stop at, which have handicapped spaces. I’ve only had one driver get rude with me,” he said with a laugh. “I knocked on his door and asked him to move out of the handicapped space and he gave me a funny look and sassed me with, ‘I didn’t think the government let handicapped guys drive.’ Then he moved his truck and let me in the wider space.” Hale’s lift-gate requires about eight feet of space. His sleeper is equipped with a sink because he can’t use truckstop showers. “I don’t like getting my chair wet and I have to lie flat to get dressed so I wash up in the bunk and stop at a motel when I need a shower.
Other challenges include high fuel islands and heavy winds. “I don’t like calling someone out, I like to fuel up myself,” he said seriously. “As for wind, I got caught in a Minnesota storm once and it took some doing to open the doors in those howling winds and heavy snow.” Snow presents a particular challenge to Hale.
“I haven’t had to chain-up yet and don’t want to try. Snow is the one thing I have trouble with,” he noted. “I can deal with fuel islands, tight isles in stores, docks and weigh stops without ramps, but my chair doesn’t maneuver well in snow.” His special chair has arms that fold back so he can transfer from the cab seat to a special transfer board to his wheelchair and onto the lift-gate.
Hale says when he started hauling he thought he would have trouble at loading docks. “But I don’t. Guys like me develop tricks to get around freight yards, like pulling a wheelie to get up steps,” he says. “That scares some people.”
He can get up on some docks with ramps by putting his head on his knees so he doesn’t tip over. “If I can get up on a dock, I unlock my own loads. Mostly I try to haul no-touch loads.”
Hale is also making plans for a little R & R. He says fishing is a favorite pastime when he’s not trucking. “A realtor sent me some information on a piece of property in southern Missouri near one of the lakes. I’ve been living at my mom’s place, but I want a place of my own where the snow leaves early. I plan on buying a pontoon boat so I can strap my chair on it and fish.”
Clarification: In the February issue member profile on Tony Pennello, it was reported that Tony coordinated water safety for Tom Hanks’ smash hit “Cast Away.” It should have reported that Tony was part of the group providing water safety for the movie.