The best of the best

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This is hard work. It‘s a serious job and you really have to be alert out here on the road.” -George Ertel, 41-year veteran driver for Batesville Casket Company


This week I got the privilege to meet four new inductees into the National Private Truck Council‘s Driver Hall of Fame: George Ertel, James “Jimmy” Perkins, Tommy Stoddard, and Kenneth Wright.


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(Left to right: Perkins, Stoddard, Ertel, and Wright.)


In the words of Gary Petty, NPTC‘s president and CEO, these four represent “the best of the best” from the truck driver community - guys that have racked up millions of safe miles without a single chargeable accident, that do it the right way every day and night, year in and year out.


Ertel, for instance, racked up 4.8 million safe driving miles over a 41-year career with Batesville Casket Company in Batesville, IN - a carrier his father work for, and one his son has joined as well.


The luck of Irish has smiled on Perkins over the 4 million miles he‘s accumulated during 36 years of driving, most recently with Trimac Transportation Inc. in Braddock, PA.


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(Perkins receiving his "Driver Hall of Fame" plaque.)


Tommy Stoddard, a contract driver with Vanguard Services, totaled 3.75 million miles over his 34-year career, lately spent with Bridgestone/-Firestone North American Tire‘s fleet in Memphis TN.


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(Stoddard gets his "Driver Hall of Fame" award.)


Finally, there‘s Kenneth Wright, a 36-year veteran driver with 4.3 million safe miles under his belt, most recently tallying them up for NCI Building Systems out of Houston, TX.


Dan Baker, a trucking consultant and noted motivational speaker with this industry, noted during his speech at the luncheon inducting these four into NPTC‘s Driver Hall of Fame that they represent the rock-steady truckers of the old school, that drive trucks because they love to drive trucks.


“This is a passion-based business - they get that inner something behind the wheel that makes their blood run,” Baker said. “That‘s the kind of passion that needs to be passed on in this industry - we need to infect other people with it.”


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(Perkins is the first driver from Trimac to be inducted.)


Unfortunately, I only got to talk to Ertel myself about his truck-driving career and about some of the reasons he thinks he‘s been so good at it. For these are the types of drivers a reporter like me wants to talk with the - the “iron cowboys” representing the top class of driver, the ones who live and breathe high performance every single day.


“The equipment sure is a lot better these days and so are the roads - but the roads are also far more congested than they used to be,” Ertel told me. “That‘s what makes this job so hard today - watching all the other drivers on the road.”


As noted before, Ertel is but one link in a generational chain of drivers - a tradition handed down to him from his father and passed on to his son. Working for Batesville Casket Company also offers a range of benefits not found at the typical trucking carrier. For starters, he runs dedicated routes from factory to warehouse, out at most two to three days on the road. Batesville also remains a family-owned company, one that honors and respects the value of its driver corps.


For example, Ertel told me that when he reached the two million safe mile mark, he got a new truck with a $10,000 credit for the options of his choice. At the three million mile mark, he got a new Freightliner FL Class 8 with a $15,000 credit for his choice of options. At 4 million miles, he could‘ve gotten a new truck, but since he loved his current rig, he asked - and received - a bigger upgrade package, which included new paint, chrome, exhaust stacks, and seats for his ride. “My feeling is, if the truck works for you, stick with it,” he said.


The secret to this industry is really no secret at all, Ertel noted: work for a good company, one that treats you with respect. That and really watching yourself when you are out running fully loaded down the highway. “There‘s not as much courtesy anymore from the motoring public for us - means you must really keep your eyes open,” he explained. “Aside from that, though, it‘s a great lifestyle. It‘s what my dad did, what I do, and now my son does. I wouldn‘t want to do anything else.”

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Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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