By Sandi Soendker, managing editor
Land Line trucker/columnist Bob “Cowpoke” Martin often said, “We are only here once and I ain’t a guy to waste one minute of it.”
When Bob was asked for 300 words, he wrote 600. If his blog copy was needed by Friday, he turned it in the Monday before, because by Friday he would have another one ready. With earthy sarcasm, his opinionated and plain talk columns shot verbal zingers at trucking, government, shippers, receivers and dispatchers, and poked fun at himself. Bob could easily turn off his gift for mockery and, in the same genuine style, share heartfelt memories about his Trucker Buddy class, special convoys and Make-a-Wish projects.
Bob’s readers knew that he liked Peterbilts. He was a self-proclaimed “ovalhead.” One of the highlights of his career was being featured in Peterbilt’s magazine, First Class. He also liked the Indy 500, baseball and bluegrass music. He was a life member of OOIDA and a super fan of the Dispatch Me Home website.
Bob died early Tuesday morning, Oct. 11, 2011, at his home in Lafayette, IN. At age 68, he had trucked for 45 years. After retiring in 2008 for health reasons, he spent more than two years telling trucking stories in his popular online blog, as well as the award-winning column “Journeys” and “Spitballin’ with Cowpoke” in Land Line Magazine.
Bob was diagnosed in 2003 with a liver disease called hemochromatosis that developed into cancer. Although he fought off the cancer, he needed a new liver. He earned a slot on the liver transplant list early this year. At the end of summer, he got a call from the doctor but it was not the one he had waited for. He and his wife Geri were told the cancer was back and the transplant was no longer an option. Bob said for once in his life, there was “no plan B.” He began work right away on the column that would be his farewell piece, a goodbye in his own unforgettable style. Today’s Land Line blog features “End of the Trail.”
Bob’s trucking career began in 1963 when he got a job as a ride-along helper with a truck driver headed to Mexico with a load. During the trip, the driver asked Bob if he wanted to drive the truck. It was a request that proved to be an improbable springboard to an extraordinary career and one that took him 4 million miles back and forth across the U.S.
He drove first as a company driver and for the last 25 years, an owner-operator. He drove 13 years for a small private carrier in Lafayette, IN, and as an owner-operator boasted longtime leases with both Montgomery Tank Lines and Trailer Transit.
He was frequently accompanied by Geri, hauling everything from bricks and hogs to equipment for the Dallas Cowboys and staging for the Rolling Stones. He said once that he had a Forrest Gump-type life in that the “twists and turns” all somehow connected “like a thread.”
He showed photos of his truck with the twin towers in the background. It was taken in New York City in the summer of 2001.
He was proud that when he was in the Navy, he was “in the right place at just the right time” to catch a glimpse of President Kennedy in person, as he boarded Air Force One. Kennedy was a personal hero of Bob’s and he was convinced it was fate that that took him – on his first day on the job as a truck driver – to Dallas. At noon on Nov. 22, 1963, he was driving south on Stemmons Freeway. He heard sirens and met a speeding limo and motorcade going the other way. He later learned they were headed for the Parklane Memorial Hospital with the mortally wounded young president.
The Martins began showing and competing with their 1995 red Peterbilt 379, aka “Cowpoke” in 1995. Another highlight of his trucking career was that truck being featured in the 1997 Shell SuperRigs calendar.
Another memory that Bob considered to be in the top three was the celebrated Share America Convoy, in which trucks convoyed from Waupun, WI, to Reno, NV, in 1997. In March, he was chosen as Dave Sweetman’s Pick of the Litter Award at the 2011 Paul K. Young Memorial Truck Beauty Contest at the Mid-America Trucking Show. Bob acknowledged it was, to him, his “lifetime achievement award.”
Bob was a member of the American Legion Post 11 and the American Truck Historical Society. He was a former member of the National Association of Show Trucks and Peterbilt’s Council of Class. He also belonged to the Truck Writers of North America. Bob attended church at the VA Chapel in the Indiana Veterans Home, West Lafayette.
He is survived by his wife of 37 years, Geri; two brothers, Luke Martin (wife Kelly) of Beech Grove, TN, and the Rev. Andrew Martin (wife Sandy) of Anderson, IN; two sisters, Cheryl Veldheizen (husband David) of Battleground, IN, and Donna Morris, of Hampton, VA; one step-son, Kenneth (Jeff) Royer, of Lafayette; two step-granddaughters, Jill and Jenna Royer.
He was preceded in death by one brother, Wayne Martin, and one sister, Priscilla Reppert.
Editor’s note: While a private service is planned for this week followed by burial at Concord Cemetery, a memorial service will be held at 3:30 p.m. on Oct. 23 at the VA Chapel at the Indiana Veterans Home, West Lafayette. Military honors will follow. Arrangements are being handled by Fisher-Loy Funeral Chapel.