Driving the generations

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Over many years and millions of miles, they did what they did without thought of ever getting on a stage like this. They are rarely appreciated for what they do in America, yet they represent the very best of our industry and our country.” –Gary Petty, president and CEO, National Private Truck Council, on the four 2010 inductees into the groups’ “Driver Hall of Fame”

It’s quite something to meet truck drivers honored for accumulating millions of safe miles over decades of hard work that are literally wondering what the fuss is all about.

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The four gentlemen inducted in the National Private Truck Council’s “Driver Hall of Fame” this year are typically of this ever-more-rare breed – quiet, unassuming fellows that work hard day after day, year after year, delivering everything from food and medicine to carpets, livestock to liquefied argon gas; stuff without which the U.S. and its 320 million-plus citizens couldn’t function.

Take Isaac Simmons, a four-decade trucking veteran that’s been with CVS Transportation out of Knoxville, TN, for 35 years. He racked up 4.1 million safe miles with only one incident in his entire career – a non-chargeable accident when his load shifted back in 1970 (when a guy named Nixon was in the White House).

He also got the only speeding ticket of his life that year while driving his personal vehicle and vowed not to get another one – another of the many promises he’s made good on.

And remember, this is a guy still putting in some heavy miles – 625 a day, 3,100 a week – as a shuttle driver for CVS through South Carolina and Alabama; the kind of miles that expose one to all kinds of hazards. Yet he’s stayed safe, all the while delivering prescription medicines and cosmetics on time.

Isaac’s work ethic reflects how he approaches his job: “It’s all about doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do,” a lesson he learned from his mother and father and one he continues to follow to this day.

[Dan Baker, who served as the "master of ceremonies" for NPTC's "Driver Hall of Fame" induction, pointed out that how fleets manage veteran drivers is going to change as the next generation moves into the truck cab.]

Then there’s Richard Kutz, a driver for Kraft Foods out of Allentown, PA. While at Kraft for 37 out of his 43 years on the road, he’s never missed a day of work – and accumulated 4.7 million safe driving miles in the process, delivering all sorts of perishable foods in reefer trailers.

Like many truckers, Kutz got a start in the craft of driving while serving in U.S. Army in Thailand, and today he serves as a mentor for the next generation of drivers coming up through the ranks at Kraft.

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Next is Jerry Beasley, a 34 year driving veteran that’s been hauling carpet and wood flooring for Shaw Industries out of Dalton, GA, since 1979. Fit and trim with 4.5 million safe miles under his belt, Beasley is a big believer in the benefits of physical fitness and healthy living.

“When on the road, waiting to be loaded or unloaded, I take a 1.2 mile walk,” he explained. “I also eat lots of vegetables and stay away from greasy foods.” That and his safety mindset keep him alert and accident free at the wheel as he still clocks in 2,400 miles a week.

[Just as another side: Dan Baker loves to tell funny "down-home" stories as part of driver-focused presentations. Here are a couple he told at the induction ceremony below for your enjoyment.]

Finally, there’s David Solomon, a 28-year driver that’s been with Matheson Tri-Gas out of Bandera, TX, since 1987. He’s done a little of everything over his career – hauling livestock and mobile homes, driving tow trucks and delivering equipment to the oil patch.

At Matheson, he drives tankers full of nitrogen, oxygen, and liquefied gases – not the easiest of trades. Yet all the while, despite the many different applications he’s worked in, Solomon accumulated 3.3 million safe miles.

Long time industry veteran Dan Baker, who served as the “master of ceremonies” for NPTC’s driver hall of fame inductions, noted that Solomon epitomized how many drivers react when they learned of their inclusion among “the best of the best” in the industry, past and present.

“He told me, ‘I don’t know why I’ve been selected; there’s a lot of guys in my fleet as good if not better than I am,’” Baker told the audience; a feeling he said most drivers express when they win such awards.

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NPTC also awarded driver Denis Litalien out of Biddeford, ME, its humanitarian award for a lifetime of charity work. He founded the Maine professional Drivers Association more than 20 years ago to promote safety and courtesy on the highway, while raising money for the American Lung Association and St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital, serving as the chairman of the Maine Trucking for Kids group, even volunteering as an official at Biddeford high school football games.

“These are drivers that represent the best that people can be,” Baker said. “They show that you don’t have to be afraid to believe in something that is bigger than yourself; that it is OK to be humble, to look up to others, and to let their work speak for itself.”

It is quite something indeed to see such solid work and charity service rewarded. Now, if only their accomplishments were more widely appreciated -- much less noticed -- outside the ranks of the trucking industry …

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