Convoy for the kids

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Your father was captain of a starship for 12 minutes. He saved 800 lives – including yours. I dare you to do better.” –Captain Christopher Pike, from the J.J. Abrams’ film “Star Trek

The line of dialog above comes from a scene in the upcoming movie “Star Trek” (directed by the great J.J. Abrams, the creator of the television miniseries “Lost”) when a young not-yet-a-starship-captain James Kirk is reprimanded following a bar brawl. It’s a powerful moment, challenging young Kirk to seek greatness through service to his society.

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If anyone is up to a challenge like that in trucking, it’s Charlie Claburn (at right), who’s been the driving force behind a large-scale effort by truckers from all corners in this industry to raise money for the Prospect Child & Family Center in upstate New York.

Charlie’s no stranger to this space, as he helped organize a trucker demonstration on Capitol Hill in September last year to protest the swift spike in diesel prices that were rapidly bankrupting owner-operators like himself. Though diesel prices eventually plummeted sharply from their record highs last year, the worldwide economic collapse that followed helped torpedo the freight market in the U.S., forcing Charlie to give up his truck and go back to being a company driver.

Yet none of that dampened his spirit, nor turned him deaf to pleas for assistance. Such a plea came from the Prospect Child & Family Center – a licensed diagnostic and treatment firm, plus fully accredited educational facility, that offers a variety of services for at-risk and developmentally disabled individuals.

“I have a nephew that attends that school, and I toured it with my good friend Billy Sutton (below, left),” he told me by phone, waiting on a load in Alabama. “They needed financial help, and I said to Billy, ‘If we don’t try and help them who will?’ Damn sure it won’t be the politicians.”

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So they put their heads together and came up with a classic trucker solution – hosting a convoy plus show and shine competition at Lake George, NY, on June 27 to raise much needed funds for the center. For $20, a trucker gets to join the convoy, while $30 gets them into both the convoy and show truck competition.

Charlie and others put in some long months banging on doors, calling fellow truckers and businesses, trying to raise as much money as they can for the Prospect Center. And the response has been great, to say the least. Bryan Martin – the owner of 4 States Trucks in Joplin MO and head of the now-famous “Chrome Shop Mafia” – donated all kinds of stuff for a raffle Charlie is putting together, along with a turbocharger and installation certificate from Turbo 3000 D.

The town is rallying behind the effort, too, putting on a fireworks show that evening. And three bands from Nashville, TN, are going to play some seriously good country music to keep the crowds entertained.

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So far, it’s working – some 300 truckers have signed on for the convoy, though Charlie is still gunning to beat 450, which would put this effort in the “Guinness Book of World Records” as the largest truck convoy ever.

It’s not been easy to pull this together, Charlie stressed to me. “Organizing a protest like we did last year is easy, but trying to put together a benefit rally – especially in these tough times – is really hard,” he said. “The companies that you think would jump on this right away don’t … but the ones you least expect to join in this kind of effort end up being the first ones in line.”

Hannaford Supermarkets, for example, is donating orange juice, coffee and bagels for all the participating drivers. And small carriers like Sunshine Bulk Commodities are turning dozens of trucks and drivers loose to participate in this charity event.

But Charlie isn’t resting on his laurels – not with a month to go. If he can get even a few more trucks into this event, he knows that extra money will be put to good use by the Prospect Center. “Anyone who knows me, knows that when I commit to something, I commit all the way,” he told me. “My goal is to do as much as I can for the Prospect center. It’s not about me – it’s about what I can do for them.”

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