It was a pleasure last fall for me to spend a 12-hr. shift with Erwin Deelsnyder, a driver at the BOC Carbon Dioxide Plant in Pekin, IL. This is a glimpse into the background and personal values that help make him one of the top professional truck drivers in America.
A 2005 NPTC Driver Hall of Fame winner, Deelsnyder is a 30-yr. veteran driver with BOC. In a career spanning five decades, Deelsnyder has logged over 4-million accident-free miles of professional driving. BOC was so proud of Deelsnyder that they placed signs on the side of his company truck and at the plant entrance announcing his Hall of Fame status.
His official shift is 4:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., but Deelsnyder arrives early and leaves late every day. In addition to his full-time driving job, Deelsnyder has been a volunteer fireman, a member of BOC's Accident Review Committee, and a tank inspector. In 1998 Deelsnyder was selected Driver of the Year at BOC.
A stickler for the rules, he's known as “Dudley Do-Right” among his co-workers. But some things are done from the heart. How else to explain why, after working 13 hours, Deelsnyder spent two hours of his own time waxing and polishing his company truck so it would be “just right” for our visit? What makes a man like that tick?
Part of the answer lies in the culture of places like Fulton and Pekin, IL, where Deelsnyder grew up and spent most of his working life. Abuzz with industrious people, Pekin could be called the home of the Midwest work ethic.
Its most famous native — and embodiment of this virtue — was the late Everett Dirksen, former Senate Minority Leader. The son of German immigrants, Dirksen, like Deelsnyder, was raised in the Dutch Reformed Church, which prescribed a stern discipline to life. In his memoirs, Dirksen described it as “earnest determination, hard work, uncompromising principles” and the sense that “there is a certain ruggedness about life, and a certain ruggedness in living that life…life meant work, for only in work could one be happy and really content.”
Deelsnyder learned those lessons early on. The oldest of six children, his life in the tiny Mississippi River village of Fulton, IL, centered around work, school and church. Rules were straightforward: no card playing, dancing, swearing, drinking, smoking or watching movies.
His father opened a little trucking business in the early 1940's, and at age 16 Deelsnyder went to work for him as a driver. Compensation for a week of 15-hr. days was $10, plus a car and gas. When not driving or repairing trucks for his Dad, Deelsnyder pumped gas at a local filling station.
A few years later he met Sandy, his future wife. Married for 47 years, they have two children and one grandchild.
When his Dad retired due to poor health and sold the trucking business to Van Dyke Trucking, Deelsnyder worked as a driver for the new owner. After 14 years he became restless over the low wages ($90/week) and went to work for a company later acquired by BOC.
Now approaching retirement, Deelsnyder looks back on his career with no regrets. At the end of our day together I asked whether he had ever considered some other line of work or moving into management. Deelsnyder smiled, shook his head slowly and said: “I was just doing what I was destined to do.”
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.