By Suzanne Stempinski
It’s sort of like the old Bertie Higgins song: “We had it all; Just like Bogie and Bacall; Starring in our own late, late show,” except instead of heading away to Key Largo, it’s driving away to our next load.
As much as Valentine’s Day wants to dress relationships up in pretty pink and trim them up in lace, today’s relationships, especially in a trucking family, are more like some of the famous lines straight out of old Humphrey Bogart movies.
‘Here’s lookin’ at you, kid’
OOIDA board member John Taylor and his wife, Martha from Cross Junction, VA, have been together nearly as long as they can remember. John, putting it very simply, says that they’ve loved each other for more than half a century.
It started when John was 16 and Martha just 15. In the small town of Winchester, WV, Martha worked in the snack bar. She was walking to work one day and was spotted by John. He turned to his friend and said, “That’s the girl I’m going to marry.”
Martha thought he was handsome – and a very big eater. In fact, he’d come into the diner and eat two dinners. John made friends with Martha’s sister – and encouraged her to put in a good word or two for him.
Jan. 30, the Taylors celebrated 50 years of marriage. And throughout the course of their relationship, John’s been a trucker. With 55 years of safe driving, John’s never been involved in a wreck. He started trucking at the age of 13 – driving a pulp wood truck from Virginia to Luke, MD, during the summer. He had to attend school until age 16 – that was state law. By 16 he had switched to hauling apples into Pittsburgh. By the time the two youngsters married – he was 20, she was 19 – Martha had a pretty good idea what life with a truck driver was going to be like.
Neither one came from a trucking family. The closest they came was that Martha had an uncle who drove a truck. But they had friends who were truck drivers – and a good base of older people to lean on for advice and support. They grew up trucking together. And along the way had three children – a son who is also a truck driver and two daughters.
Martha took a few trips with John early on to get a better understanding of what trucking was like. She stayed at home with the children and kept things going on the home front while John ran over the road.
When their youngest daughter was a junior in high school, Martha went to work at a bank, planning on staying only until her daughter graduated. Ten years later, she finally got out of the bank, only to open her own bookkeeping and tax service business. She specialized in truckers and arranged for plates and permits as well as keeping their books. She retired from that business in 1996, turning it over to her sister to continue.
John’s professional path wasn’t that unusual; he owned a truck for a while, and then drove for someone. He tried running short-haul, hauling limestone from Virginia to Pennsylvania so that he could spend more time at home with his family, but it made him miserable in spite of the good money he made.
Finally, Martha told him to go back out on the road so that his time at home would be happier for all of them. He became an owner-operator again in 1966 when he bought a B61 Mack. He’s been an owner-operator ever since.
When John was gone, he didn’t call home every day – remember what life was like before cell phones? But he stayed in touch enough so that Martha always knew where he was going, when he expected to get there, and where he would be headed next. He stayed out two to three weeks at a time. The equipment back then was certainly different than it is today. Trucks John drove as a young man are now antiques. There were few sleeper cabs, no air conditioning, no air ride suspensions or seats.
“It’s almost as different as the change from horse and buggy,” John explained.
His career with OOIDA has been long and varied as well. John was one of the original members when the organization was brand new. And he’s been more than active – he’s been a member of OOIDA’s Board of Directors since 1992.
But, as with any team, it took a lot of hard work and it wasn’t always easy.
“You both have a lot of lonely time when you’re not together,” Martha explained. “To compensate, I got engrossed in the children’s lives – and he did, too, when he was home. In fact, John probably spent more time with the kids than a dad who was home behind the newspaper every night. Because when he is home, he’s really focused on spending time with his family.”
And in that whole spirit of team before self, John is quick to give most of the credit for their success to Martha.
“In any long-term marriage, most of the credit goes to the wife. It’s comparable to being in the military – you’re gone for long periods of time and trusting that things are being taken care of at home. The key to success is having the right partner.”
What makes it all work for them?
“To go this long, in addition to a lot of love, you need a lot of commitment, faith and trust – all those good values,” Martha said. “Some people today are not willing to put all that out. But that’s what keeps you going. John’s a truck driver. That’s what he is – a truck driver – and a good one.”
At 70, John has no plans to get off the road.
“As long as I have decent health and I’m able to, I want to keep driving,” he said.
Now driving a 1993 Kenworth W900L with nearly 1.3 million miles on it, and pulling a 2001 Utility trailer, John hauls mostly dairy and apple products out to California and brings produce back – the Taylors are still together and still trucking.
‘Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.’
OK, maybe it wasn’t a “gin joint” – it was a truck wash – and the “she” is actually a “he,” but chance meetings happen even for truckers on the road just like the one where OOIDA member Ingrid Bell met her then would-be husband, OOIDA member Keith.
In January 2002, Ingrid pulled into the Little Sisters Truck Wash in Eloy, AZ, to get a bath for her truck and a shower for herself. As she walked down the hall, she just happened to notice a guy. They both knew there was definitely something there. But the moment passed and after admiring each other’s trucks, each went on down the road to deliver their loads.
March of that year found Ingrid, who was leased to Mercer Transportation, in Louisville, KY. She was only going to pick up her settlement check, but ended up on a shuttle headed for the Mid-America Trucking Show.
As she strolled through the show truck area, she noticed the truck driven by the guy she’d seen at the truck wash. He had his back to her and was talking with another driver, but she recognized him nonetheless. It may sound scripted from the best of Bogie movies, but he seemed to turn on cue and their eyes met. They talked for a second, then Ingrid moved on to spend the day helping out in Mercer’s booth.
Keith spent time with his truck and walked around the show filled with thousands of exhibitors, drivers, their families and the general public. As he walked through one wing, he saw her again, bouncing on an air-ride seat.
They finally started talking. Some 13 hours later, after having shared a pizza, they knew they’d stay in touch – it was just friendship but with a special spark.
By December 2002, Ingrid sold her truck and went to work driving for the same company as Keith. They ran different trucks but spent as much time together as they could. They had a strong connection but they wanted to take their time. Ingrid had been divorced for many years – she has two daughters aged 16 and 18 – and Keith was separated and going through divorce – his son is now 10.
As they compared notes on places they had been and loads they had hauled, they discovered that many times, they had come within a few minutes or feet of meeting up. But time, circumstance and freight dictated otherwise until that day in that gin joint – OK, you know it really was a truck stop.
They left the carrier they were driving for in June 2003 and bought a 2003 Peterbilt 379, a 2003 Wabash van and got their own trucking authority. They married on Aug. 1, 2003.
In spite of the challenges of making things work, they’ve found themselves cheerfully pursuing their goals together, even though overcoming her own independence was a little tough for Ingrid.
“I’d been doing things my own way for so long, but it’s amazing how easy it is to get along with Keith,” she said. “We’re both willing to compromise. Communication, patience and a big combination of friendship and love are what make it work. If you don’t like him, you won’t love him. Be in love with each other. Be best friends. And know you’re never going to be abandoned or alone. It’s just plain wonderful.”
“I’m blessed and privileged to share everything I see and do with Ingrid. It’s a blessing to have my best friend, soul mate and business partner all wrapped up in one package,” Keith said. “There are thousands of people out there just like us who do this job every day. We’re so lucky to be able to do it together. I’ll cook or clean the house or do laundry if that’s what I need to do that day. I even bake cakes for her – and she’ll do the same for me. I guess we just put each other first.”
Together, they try to uphold the best possible image of truck drivers. Ingrid recently participated in the Truck Driver Gender Challenge, not only winning the driving award, but also helping to raise more than $11,000 to support the Special Olympics.
The Bells are active members of Trucker Buddy, and have just added a second class to share their lives with.
‘Things are never so bad they can’t be made worse.’
Well, that’s not the way OOIDA members Tom and MaryAnn Quick were going to handle things. After being together seven years, Tom and MaryAnn were in trouble. Living in Cocoa, FL, they simply lived too hard and too fast. They lived for the moment, but they were not happy. Tom was not a nice person; in fact he describes himself as having been downright mean.
One day, Tom hit a crisis point and needed help. He asked MaryAnn to call his friend Bob Drummond. With lips turning blue and heaviness in his chest, Tom told Drummond he was afraid and wanted his help to get right.
Drummond offered to walk Tom through a prayer. Afterward, Tom said, “the heaviness released and I got my breath back.”
During a trip to the doctor, Tom was told to slow things down – no big surprise. He decided to go to church. From the minute he walked in the door, he said, he thought he was in the right place. Pastor Clyde Webb gave the sermon that day, and during the course of that sermon Tom had an absolutely transforming experience.
From that day forward, his life was on a completely different course. He went to church regularly and started living his life with a totally different attitude. MaryAnn was skeptical, but a couple of weeks later, she started going to church with Tom and found there was something there for her, too.
In short order, they were married, sold everything and moved to Tennessee, while driving a company truck. “We went from a life of disaster to one of great blessings in about a year,” Tom said.
About a year after their move, they bought their own truck again; in fact they took over the payments on a truck that belonged to a friend. They paid it off and traded it in for the truck they have today – a white, red and blue 2000 Kenworth W900L. They haul LTL freight from Greer, SC, to Reno, NV, or Los Angeles and bring dry freight back east. They normally stay out for two weeks, and then spend a week at home.
MaryAnn can’t help but grin when she talks about their life together – eight years after turning their lives around.
“I’ve got to love Tom – he keeps me laughing. We take care of each other – each picks up where the other falls short. It makes a good balance,” she said.
Tom sprinkles his conversations with encouraging stories of his life today. When he talks about his life with MaryAnn, he says, “The Bible says that when a man finds a wife, that’s his good thing – and MaryAnn is my good thing. We’re aging well together. We’ve grown in comfort together. When your goal is to take care of each other and never lose romance and honesty, both are served well.”
They have three children. One son is serving in the Army in Iraq, the other son and their daughter still live in Florida.
Tom offers words to live by: “Let go of pettiness, let go of faults, understand when someone’s having a bad morning or day. Be loving and kind. Somebody’s got to give.”
Suzanne Stempinski may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.