Could George Ertel be one of the best commercial truck drivers in the United States? His record of performance speaks for itself and makes a strong case for this claim. For more than 40 years, he has been employed as a driver with one organization, Batesville Casket Co., located in Batesville, IN.
Batesville is the largest manufacturer and distributor of caskets in North America, providing regular delivery service to more than 22,000 different funeral homes through local and regional customer service centers. The private fleet of Batesville is an important component of customer and shareholder value, and a key reason for the company's leadership role in the market.
During his four decades of driving exclusively for Batesville, Ertel has logged 4.9 million mi. of driving without a moving violation or reportable accident. This record earned George induction into the NPTC Driver Hall of Fame in 2008. In the history of the NPTC Driver Hall of Fame program, spanning more than 20 years, only one other driver selected has built a comparable record (just at 5 million mi.) before retiring. George is still driving 1,000 mi. a week and will likely exceed the 5 million mi. mark before he retires.
Three generations of Ertels have driven trucks for Batesville. George Ertel joined Batesville in 1967 after service in the U.S. Navy and a tour in Vietnam. He was the company's 12th hire as a driver. His father Noel worked for the company as a driver for more than 20 years, beginning in 1952, and his son John now works as a company driver as well. After two weeks on the job spotting trailers, George began driving truckloads to funeral homes and has worked in his truck ever since.
“From our customer's perspective, the Batesville driver is the defining measure of quality customer service,” says Keith McWilliams, CTP, director of transportation and fleet services. “He's the face and personality of the company itself. Unloading and delivering the product in perfect condition is a vital part of the driver's job, but building a relationship with the local funeral home based on trust and dependability ranks as the overriding priority. We have many great drivers, but George is the ‘granddaddy’ of them all in terms of longevity, safety and service track record.”
George takes special pride in caring for his equipment. His company truck is a 1993 model which the company allowed him to spec with some of his preferred features. After over 15 years of service with George as the sole and exclusive driver, and with one engine overhaul at 1.2 million mi., the truck now has logged over 1.7 million mi. The reason for the truck's longevity is the driver. “I treat the truck like my own,” says Ertel.
As a professional driver, he has seen things get better — and worse. “Roads and equipment are much better,” he says, “but traffic is worse. CDL and drug screening has cleaned up the industry, but recruiting new drivers is tougher, although Batesville easily fills its driver needs with people recommended by their own drivers.”
Summing up his successful career, George reflects, “For me, driving is what I enjoy doing, plus I've been fortunate to work for a great company and the best in its industry. Their reward, recognition and appreciation of drivers are just outstanding. Drivers have always enjoyed a great relationship with company management.
“Batesville Casket makes a driver feel special. You can't help but want to do your best.”
Gary Petty is president and CEO of the National Private Truck Council. The council's web site is www.nptc.org.
His column appears monthly in FLEET OWNER.