By Suzanne Stempinski
By the time you read this, Woody and Paula Chambers will no longer be behind the wheel of OOIDA’s flagship truck, the “Spirit of the American Trucker.” They’ll always be active OOIDA members – Woody currently serves as the organization’s general vice president – but the schedule they keep will be primarily of their own making.
They’re trading in 18 wheels for four – still running diesel, but under the hood of a three-quarter ton pickup, instead. And they’re going to hook up to a camper trailer so that they can go back and explore many of the sites and side roads they swept past as they covered the country while they were bringing OOIDA to drivers and owner-operators in truck stops and parking lots, at truck shows and special events nationwide.
They met in the seventh grade – at the age of 12. They dated throughout high school and then went their separate ways – Woody went into the Army, and Paula went on to college. Four years later, they went on another “first” date and married shortly thereafter. In August of 2005, they’ll celebrate 39 years of marriage.
Woody first got behind the wheel of a truck when he was in the Army – driving a truck that grossed out at about 200,000 pounds hauling military equipment. He spent a year stationed stateside before shipping over to Germany, serving there during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He also watched the Berlin Wall go up. Ironically, 20 years later, Chambers returned to Germany to visit his daughter and her husband (who was stationed there) and ended up being present when the Berlin Wall came down.
Fresh out of the Army in 1964, Woody went looking for a good union job in trucking. He bought a Chevy single-axle tractor (no sleeper) with a 6V53 Detroit under the hood and went to work for Mayflower, pulling a 37-foot trailer and hauling household goods. In 1965, he moved up to an International 4000 cabover and stretched out to a 40-foot trailer. That tractor cost all of $14,000 – about the same as a new house did then.
Chambers remained in the padded van business working for several different outfits until 1978. He then went over to the Teamsters, where he had what he calls a “super job,” until two years later, when deregulation came along, and they all got fired.
So he went back into the padded van/high-value freight business, back with Mayflower, buying a truck in partnership with another guy – a 1981 K100 Aerodyne. It would be the last new truck he ever bought. In his 12-year stint there, he eventually had five trucks running at one time.
In 1993, he downsized – getting rid of three trucks – and decided to move the other two to a steel-hauling outfit, where he hauled “long, wide and heavy.”
When Paula graduated college, she got her teaching certificate and taught elementary school for two years. In five and a half years, Woody and Paula had four children – two girls, two boys. Once the children were in school, Paula filled in as a substitute teacher and then spent nine years as a private tutor. Her assignments coincided with the children’s school schedules.
Eventually, she went into corporate training as a contractor, spending 12 years in that field.
“It’s much easier to teach kids than it is to train adults,” Paula explains with a laugh.
While Woody was gone, Paula took care of things on the home front. With four active children and a household to run, she had to be self-sufficient because Woody was gone for up to three months at a time. If something broke around the house and Paula couldn’t repair it herself, she waited for Woody to come home. He was mechanically inclined and was usually able to fix whatever it was. They both enjoyed the demands and rewards of a career in trucking, and Woody gives Paula full credit for having raised a great bunch of kids.
With four children so close together in age, Paula explained the “deal” she made with each of them to help ensure they were able to pursue a college education.
“I told each of them that if they went to a local junior college and worked and earned money to help pay for it, that we would match whatever they earned. All four have some kind of college degree – at least an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree or more.”
They’re proud as punch of their kids and how they’re doing today. Three of the four live in Illinois, and one is out in Colorado. And they have five grandchildren to enjoy. It gives them plenty of inspiration as they plan future trips around the country.
Active members of OOIDA for more than 20 years, Woody credits his brother Jeff with getting him to join.
“They were the only people trying to do something to help drivers and owner-operators,” Woody said. “And the effort continues without end. Every effort has been for the benefit of the members – it’s their organization, and I’m proud to serve.”
A board member since 1992, Woody describes himself as a “proactive rabble rouser.”
“Everybody involved here, from the president to the newest member of the board, has been as big an outlaw as you can imagine. But times have changed, and we’ve found better ways to do things,” he said.
In 2001, Woody and Paula contracted their services to OOIDA and started putting together a show truck. They sold off the rest of their equipment and began working for OOIDA full time. The transition from leading fairly independent lives to one of constant togetherness was a pretty smooth one.
Paula had taken trips with Woody when he ran over the road, and once the kids were out of the nest, her corporate consulting was also slowing down. She had gone along on steel-hauling trips, being the “gofer” and making sure Woody had the chains, binders and straps he needed to secure his load. Every time she got near the truck, she ended up dirty – but not discouraged.
“It was like playing house in the truck – we were on an adventure! I’m pretty good at adjusting,” Paula said. “And besides, Woody invited me to come along, so that meant he really wanted it, too.”
Together, they spent about nine months out of the year visiting the corners of the country, talking about OOIDA, recruiting new members and visiting with old and new friends. Woody’s involvement on behalf of OOIDA’s members extends to organizations such as CVSA, which establishes criteria for inspections, fine structures and regulations.
He’s also active in AAMVA – the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators. That’s the group that makes the CDL laws. AAMVA deals with hazardous materials requirements, language barriers and how to gain entry into the business, including the possibility of graduated licenses.
And he’s an integral part of the OOIDA Foundation, which focuses on a multitude of responsibilities, including the OOIDA scholarships and health and safety projects. Paula is the secretary of the Scholarship Committee and reporter to the board of directors.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. The people they met while traveling were a constant source of interest. Both Woody and Paula agree that the opportunities they had while in The Spirit to meet so many good, hard-working people was terrific. They’ll carry those memories and friendships with them as their life changes course.
But now, their journeys lead home to Kentucky – just down the road from Possum Trot, to a house they built in the early 1990s and where they took up residence just two years ago. The list of projects they’d like to do is long, but they also plan on taking time to golf, fish and enjoy the view from their front porch.
Suzanne Stempinski may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.