Journeys
Reflecting on a 55-year career
Phillip McMillin
OOIDA Senior Member, Grain Valley, Mo.

By Mark Schremmer, staff writer

Phillip McMillin witnessed a lot of changes during his 55 years in the trucking industry.

He can remember purchasing a dump truck for $4,000 and fueling up for $0.18 a gallon.

While the price increases for a truck and fuel have been staggering, the biggest change McMillin has witnessed over the years may be the development of the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.

A native of the Kansas City area who has lived in Grain Valley, Mo. since 1971, McMillin owned a front-row seat to the early days of OOIDA.

"I can remember when the site of OOIDA was still a truck stop, a restaurant and a motel," said McMillin, an OOIDA senior member.

He can picture OOIDA President Jim Johnston rallying a crowd at the gas station.

"I came down for one of his first talks," McMillin said. "Truckers were complaining about the prices of fuel and what they were going to do to try and get it down. Jim had the guts to get up there and tell it like it was. I think Jim has done a lot for truckers."

Fast-forward more than 40 years, and OOIDA continues to fight for the rights of all truckers, including its more than 156,000 members. Johnston, who became OOIDA's third president in 1975, was recently re-elected for a ninth term.

"OOIDA certainly has grown," McMillin said. Having been around since nearly the beginning, he remembers thinking 15,000 was a big number.

McMillin retired Dec. 31, 2014, from a career as a dump truck driver for Vance Brothers that spanned more than five decades.

What's ironic is that a young McMillin never had any plans to enter the industry.

"When I was a young man, I wanted to be a body man and work on cars," he recalled. "I bought a red dump truck for a class project my senior year in high school. With the help of some professional body men, we got it back to where it was drivable."

Little did McMillin know that the dump truck would jump-start his entire professional career.

"I was at a service station in Raytown, Mo., and Mr. Vance came in," McMillin said. "He asked what I was going to do over the summer. I said that I was going to do some work and then go to college. He asked what I was going to do with that truck. I said, 'I don't know. I guess I'll sell it.' He said, 'Come down and work for me.' That's what I did ever since."

For 55 years, McMillin hauled rock and sand and then hauled asphalt to the customers.

"I liked my job, and I liked my people," he said. "That's why I stayed 55 years."

McMillin's only significant absence was when he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1964. He was based in Fort Lewis, Wash., for two years.

McMillin estimates that he drove about 3.5 million miles during his career.

"Most of my miles were local, but I did it every day," he said.

Upon retirement, McMillin sold his trucks to his son Greg McMillin, who is also an OOIDA member.

Now, the 73-year-old McMillin spends his time with his wife, Donna, playing with his four dogs, attending car races and reflecting on a positive career in the trucking industry.

"Vance Brothers gave me a jacket for 55 years of service," McMillin said. "But I don't wear it too often, because I want to keep it clean. I'm proud of that jacket." LL