Trucking People
Just ‘plane’ driving

René Tankersley

Curtis and Donna Turk, OOIDA members from Azle, TX, have been trucking for 25-plus years, with 23 years as owner-operators. In 1997, the Turks found their niche in the industry, hauling jet engines for airlines, private companies and the military. They are currently leased to Aviation Express out of Sparr, FL.

Timeliness is a big reason why team drivers like the Turks are chosen for the airline shipments. Donna explained that an “aircraft on the ground,” or AOG for short, costs the airlines $15,000 per hour while waiting for an engine. The Turks deliver the new engine and wait while the bad engine is removed, then they haul the bad engine to be repaired or used for parts.

In transit, the jet engines sit on a special stand equipped with shock absorbers to cushion the ride. To further protect the engines from the shock of road travel, the Turks’ entire rig — truck and trailer — must be air-ride equipped. The Turks can haul two to four jet engines on their drop-deck trailer.

All this special handling is necessary because of the cargo’s high value. Even a bad engine to be parted out could be worth up to $500,000, and the Rolls-Royces of jet engines go for $2 million up to $16 million.

“When you’re hauling freight like this, you become more aware of how you secure the load to your trailer,” said Donna.

The Turks have another good reason to make sure those jet engines arrive in good working condition — their 29-year-old son, Capt. Jody Turk, is a U.S. Air Force pilot ferrying VIPs in and around Iraq. They’ve even hauled an engine to Scott Air Force Base in Illinois, where their son is stationed. Later this month, the Turks are making a run to the Air Force base to deliver a car. Actually, it’s a battery-operated racecar for their grandson’s first birthday.

A while back, the Turks hauled an engine for Air Force One from Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, DC, to Ontario, CA. They recall being instructed not to tell anyone what they were hauling and to make no unnecessary stops. They were also subject to being followed by government security personnel.

“We knew we’d be able to get through the scales with no trouble,” Donna said.

The Turks’ 2001 Peterbilt 379 extended-hood truck is another source of pride for the couple. Although the truck is powered by a Cat 550, that’s not why the Turks named their truck the “Cat House.” The truck was named for its floral wallpaper, which Curtis said looks like the something you’d see on the walls of a “cathouse.”

With a 355-inch rear end and 305-inch wheelbase, the truck features a 132-inch sleeper. The sleeper was custom designed by ASI in Tulsa, OK, well known for the limousine windows and lights in all their sleeper designs.

The truck’s exterior features flames, which Curtis and Donna painted themselves, and a flame light bar created by RoadWorks from Donna’s design. The Turks get most of their chrome accessories from the 406 truck stop in Weatherford, TX.

Called “one of the most livable sleepers you’ll ever see” by Land Line Senior Technical Editor Paul Abelson, the Turks’ sleeper is like kicking back in a comfy living room. The neutral-colored floral wallpaper gives the sleeper a homey feeling. The homey warmth continues into the truck’s cab with wood trimmings, including some woodwork done by the Turks themselves.

Although they don’t take off work for every truck beauty contest, they do try to get to a contest or two when they get the chance. They’ve taken home four trophies at the 2001 Great American Trucking Show and the 2003 Billy Bob’s Texas Truck Show contests. They even took four trophies at a recent Columbus, GA, car show; as the only semi in the show, their truck competed in the pickup truck class. The Turks are planning to show their truck in a couple truck shows this year, especially since they’re adding some “unique” things that they want to show off.

In addition to their working show truck, the Turks also have a 1962 Peterbilt 281 and a 1937 Chevrolet sedan delivery truck they’ve restored. They also are planning to show the antique Pete in a contest or two.

Despite the time spent on the road, the Turks have found time to give back to communities.

The Turks participate in their motorcycle club’s annual toy drive in Fort Worth, TX. The group collects the toys for handicapped and underprivileged children. Donna says the highlight is when Santa Claus rides in on his Harley Davidson to deliver the toys.

“The sincerity and joy on their faces will bring tears to your eyes,” Donna said. “We’ve ridden through freezing rain and even hail to go up there to see the kids.”

Donna also helps educate high school driver’s ed students about sharing the road with heavy trucks. Donna takes her truck and shows students what a driver sees when a car is in its blind spot. She also wants these future drivers to think about the truck driver inside the truck.

“It’s not just a truck going down the road,” Donna says. “There’s a family in it, or a man with a family in it.”

Letters from the home front
OOIDA senior member Ray T. Smith just began his second year hauling fuel in Iraq for Halliburton’s subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root. His wife, Linda Warren-Smith, dropped a note to Land Line. Here are excerpts from her letter.

May 8, 2004

“As I write this, I am filled with a wide range of emotions because I have just returned this day from taking [Ray] to the airport to return for his second year in Iraq. Yes, he was just with us for 21 days of R&R, and we have weathered an entire year of service thus far.

“People ask us why did you go? Why in the beginning and why again? People ask us if ‘we, the USA, should be there?’

“We can only answer for ourselves. He went because he felt it was the ‘right thing to do.’ He went because we heard supplies weren’t ‘happening’ for our troops, who needed everything trucked from Kuwait up through Iraq. Ray knew he could make a difference, and he has. He has returned for a second year because he made promises to those he left behind to come back to continue to help where he could …

“I am so proud of my husband. When most people fret and say, ‘It’s all terrible. What can I do?’ Ray, at age 50, stepped up and offered his expertise and did not hesitate to go.

“And, yes, I am fearful for him every single day, but I also know he has told me that if something happens to him that I must always keep in mind he was doing what he wanted to do. Therefore, like the other wives, I keep the home fires burning, keep the letters and goodie boxes mailing out (including Land Line), keep our lives and business together and progressing, and wear all the ‘hats’ required on each task to take all home worries off his shoulders. This has been quite an eventful change in our lives, but one we have been willing to sacrifice.

“Ray began as a driver, moving freight out of Kuwait into Iraq … even to the farthest northern locations (I won’t go into everything endured and encountered), then quickly advanced to convoy commander, putting his no-nonsense expertise in high gear for his men, and the last half of the year has been in a logistics coordinator position at one of our largest bases north of Baghdad …

“Make no mistake, this continues to be an everyday life and death situation. These courageous OOIDA civilians and civilians from other walks of life and countries are the lifeline for our troops, and vice versa. The civilians and soldiers are gelled into a team rivaled by none.

“It makes me proud to know we still have a country made up of courageous individuals who are out there, both here and abroad, every day looking after us.

“My best to each and every one of you.”

Linda Warren-Smith
Smith-Warren Trucking
Wheeling, MO

Truckers in Iraq
As more and more truckers head for the deserts of Kuwait and Iraq, a few members asked whether we would list the names of OOIDA members (denoted by an *) and other truck drivers serving overseas. Some are working for Halliburton’s subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root, while others are Reservists and National Guardsmen whose units have been deployed to the Persian Gulf. Thank you to Renee Taylor of Uglypuppy Exploration and Barb Wyatt of Truckin’ Bozo Interactive for helping collect the names. Here’s our list, in alphabetical order, and their hometowns and states, when available:

Andrew Abernathy, Douglas, TX
Ronnie “Lucky” Alexander
David Baker
Roy Bartness
Andy Barnett
William Barrett, Utah
Tom Bryan, Floravista, NM
Joseph Cantenada
Jimmy Casteel
Kelly Christopher
James Collins, Porter, TX*
Ernesto Colon, Florida
Jeff “Desperato” Dye, O’Fallon, MO
Roy “Tex” Ekstrom, Kansas
Ron Franklin, Hempstead, TX
Hilbert “Freeway” Gavel, Hinesville, GA
Jim Gladden, Killeen, TX
William Grimes
Dennis Hadd, Sprague River, OR
Alfred Harpe
Walter “Rusty” Harvey
Louis Hinote, Brewton, AL
Alice “Carolina Angel” Jackson
Andy Jandreau, Kemper, TX
Mark J. Johnson, Midwest City, OK*
Larry Kellett
John Larsen, Midland, OR*
Chris “Nighthawk” Larson, Manchester, GA
Jason Logan
Daniel Magnusson
Brad Martin
John McCandless
Ken McCarthy
James McDonald, Twin Falls, ID
Larriel McDonald, Killeen, TX
Sgt. Mark McVay, Arkansas National Guard
Donald Moomaw, Mustang, OK
Matthew Mohr
Cynthia Morgan, Tennessee
Benjamin Alan “Bounty Hunter” Morrison, Chattanooga, TN
Earl R. Nall, Canon City, CO*
Danny Olsen, California
Randy Orr
Van Overton
Bruce Palmer, Brunell, FL
Scotty Pardue
Michael “Thunderhoof” Parker, Indianapolis, IN
William “Bill” Parker
Ronnie Peterson, Tennessee
Jackie Philipp
Matthew Porter
William S. “Bill” Price, Rochester Hills, MI*
David Rainey
Paul Reed, Georgetown, TX
Bill “Postman” Rimley
Matthew Rogers
Sam Rogers
Scott Rudd
Frank “Steelbreezzz” Saey, Titusville, FL
Hank Shank, Texas
Talmadge Sigler
Mike Smith
Ray T. Smith, Wheeling, MO*
Gene Soliz, San Antonio, TX
Dan Sommerfield, Lynwood, WA
Eric Stringer
Phil Sullivan
Kevin Tanzie, Hanna, WY
Mark Taylor, Warren, AR*
Michael Trager, Wichita, KS
Herbert Wall, Sparta, TN
Darryl Watson
Eric Whiting, Athens, TN*
Steve Young, Las Vegas, NV
Mike Zehr

Editor’s note: Need to add someone to the list of truckers serving in Iraq? 
E-mail us at

Coming home
Steve Guimond, one of the OOIDA members we wrote about in the May issue’s “Under Fire,” came home in late April right after the magazine went to press.

Mark Taylor, OOIDA member from Warren, AR, spent some time in the U.S. last month with his wife, Renee, and 5-year-old son, Lee. Mark says he spent some quality time watching cartoons and rasslin’ with Lee. Taylor is a trucker for KBR. He’s now back in Iraq.

Member honored as one of Dart’s Contractors of the Year
Dart Transit Co. has selected professional truck driver John Gill as its 2003 Contractor of the Year for its Minnesota Operating Center. The Contractor of the Year award recognizes his outstanding safety, customer service and business management performance during his years with Dart. Gill has contracted with Dart for 22 years and has driven 2.9 million miles without an accident.

Gill received the award at a March reception at Dart’s home office in Eagan, MN. Executive Vice President David Oren presented him with a check for $1,000 and a marble trophy.

Gill has won a number of other awards, including a Two Million Mile Club safety award from the National Safety Council, Dart’s Contractor of the Month award in 1985, Dart’s Hall of Fame Safety Award in 1989 and Dart’s President’s Safety Award in 1992.

Trucker Buddy class gets driving lesson
Trucker Buddy Tom Grogan, an OOIDA member from Larsen, WI, recently visited his Trucker Buddy class — Kelly Landstrom’s second-grade class at St. Thomas More School in Appleton, WI. Keith Keller from J.J. Keller and Associates also visited the Trucker Buddy class that day.

The second graders got a chance to test their driving skills and learn more about the trucking industry by driving a tractor-trailer in the virtual world of the SAFE-Sim Truck Driving Simulator, a training tool created by J.J. Keller. Second-grader Andres, who was celebrating his birthday, drove the simulator during the class demonstration. After the simulator demonstration, the students were able to see inside a real truck, Grogan’s Freightliner.

Grogan, who is an owner-operator leased to Dart Transit, has been corresponding with the students this school year through the Trucker Buddy program, which matches professional drivers with elementary classrooms throughout the world. Each week, drivers share their experiences from the road, while the students track them on a map and correspond with individual monthly letters of their own. Through this relationship, the students not only learn about trucks and the transportation industry, their geography, writing, reading and math skills are improved.

There are nearly 4,000 Trucker Buddy drivers involved in the nonprofit organization, whose mission is to bring a positive image of the professional driver to the students, their teachers and parents, while educating them on safety and sharing the road with trucks.

Drivers or teachers interested in participating may call 1-800-MY BUDDY or sign up online at www.truckerbuddy.org.