Oregon trucker George Dieu has driven more than 4.5 million miles in 45 years.
When George Dieu was a child, he didn’t settle for playing with toy trucks. He rode in the real thing, spending every summer in the passenger seat of his father’s 1948 KB8 International.
Unlike his three brothers, who showed little interest in trucking, the youngster decided early that he wanted to follow in his father’s footprints. In 1958, at the age of 18, he began hauling logs.
“When I told (my dad) I was going to drive a truck, he was all smiles,” Dieu says. On his first haul, his father tagged along.
Dieu, 63, of Coquille, Ore., has been living his dream for more than 45 years. Dieu, who has never even considered another career, has driven more than 4.5 million miles as a company driver without a single accident or cargo claim. For his remarkable safety record and dedication to the industry, the Truckload Carriers Association and Truckers News recently named him the 2002 Company Equipment Driver of the Year. He was honored in March at TCA’s annual convention at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Orlando, Fla.
Dieu’s awards include seventh place in last year’s Company Equipment Driver of the Year contest. When his co-workers at Team Transport Inc., where he has worked for the past eight years, suggested he enter that contest, he thought he didn’t have a chance to win. “They asked me about it, and I’d never won anything in my life,” he says.
After the top-10 finish, Dieu decided to give it one more try. Team Transport business unit manager Les Fisher gave him the exciting news in late January. “I’ve been walking three feet off the ground ever since,” Dieu says. “I’m really thrilled about this award.”
“I think the smile was permanently marked on his face,” says his wife Patsy, 61. “It still is.”
Dieu’s ability to anticipate problems is what sets him apart from the crowd, says Team Transport CEO Keith Sherman. “He’s got the experience to know when you’re going to run into trouble,” Sherman says. “Anybody who’s had 4 million safe driving miles is a good person to look up to.”
Dieu’s No. 1 asset is his attitude, according to Mearle Royse, former CEO of Team Transport. “He’s very thoughtful of others,” Royse says. “He just wants to do right. You can ride with George for five minutes and tell how he’s achieved his success. He’s a real professional in everything he does.”
Dieu left local log hauling in 1966 for over-the-road driving. He transported paper products, lumber and chemicals for Georgia Pacific Corp. for 29 years until the company got out of the trucking business in 1995. Royse – then operations manager of GP’s trucking division – bought some of GP’s equipment and founded Team Transport. He recruited Dieu to drive for him.
Dieu’s granddaughter Dariane Clements lends a hand cleaning his truck’s wheels.
Today Dieu pulls double tank trailers filled with hazardous liquid chemicals like carbolic acid and formaldehyde, used to make resin. He travels for about two weeks at a time in California, Arizona, Oregon and sometimes Idaho in the company’s blue 1999 International Eagle. His truck number is R26, a designation he requested because his father’s truck was No. 26.
His delivery points are often on city streets, where spilled chemicals could affect a lot of people. “A flatbed, you just unload it, but chemicals, you can’t spill it,” Dieu says. “Going around corners, your load will shift. You have to be careful or you’ll roll.”
When loading and unloading dangerous chemicals, he wears safety gear like rubber boots, chemical rain gear and rubber gloves.
Dieu credits the truck maintenance team at Equipment Mobile Service for helping keep him safe on the road. “They find things I don’t even find sometimes,” Dieu says. “They’re exceptional.”
Team Transport is also dedicated to safety, says Dieu. “If a truck isn’t safe, they don’t want you to leave the yard,” he says. The company’s mission statement begins with the words “safely serving our customers.”
Dieu’s wife Patsy says she doesn’t worry about him because he never takes chances. “When he comes in at night, if there’s something wrong, he wants it fixed,” she says. “He does demand the good tires and equipment. He knows he’s going from point A to point B, and he wants to make sure he gets there. I know if it wasn’t up to par, he would say, ‘I won’t drive it.'”
Dieu says he learned everything he knows about trucking from his father, including how to care for his truck. “My dad always kept his truck clean, and he always appreciated his truck,” he says. “So I appreciate my truck.”
Even though his father sparked his interest in trucking, Dieu says his wife of almost 43 years is the one who keeps him going. “She has been a good supporter,” Dieu says. “We’ve got five kids, and she more or less raised them.”
He met Patsy when they were children and knew right away she was the one for him. “Believe it or not, I was walking across the O’Henry Street Bridge in Coquille,” Dieu says. “She was in a cherry tree throwing cherries at me and singing that song, ‘Georgie Porgie.’ I said, ‘I’m going to marry you one day!'”
He was about 12 years old then, and they started going together soon after. They married on May 28, 1960, and have lived in the same house for 43 years.
Dieu keeps photographs of his 12 grandchildren around him in his truck, and he plans to take them on a trip to Disneyland soon. He and his wife are members of the Coquille High School Bleacher Club, supporting the football program at the school where their five children went and now their grandchildren attend.
When he gets home from a run, the first thing he does is call his children and grandchildren. “When they’re not home, he loves leaving messages on the answering machine for the grandkids,” Patsy says.
Dieu tried bringing his wife along on his runs a few times. She enjoyed it, but Dieu had trouble keeping her awake. “I’ve got the sleeper, and she falls asleep on me all the time,” he says.
Dieu’s grandson Clayton Dieu loves to ride in his grandfather’s International Eagle.
He takes his grandchildren for rides in the big rig sometimes, particularly his 11-year-old grandson, Dyllan, and 4-year-old grandson, Clayton.
“Clayton wants to be in that truck constantly,” Patsy says. “He could go for hours in that truck if he had to.”
Dieu would like the family tradition of truck driving to continue, but he doesn’t know if any of the grandchildren’s interest in trucks will hold.
His daughter Kathi is the only one of his five children who enjoys trucks. “She should be my trucker, but she’s not,” Dieu says. She is a variety manager for Safeway. Dieu’s two sons are log cutters, one of his daughters works at a school and his third daughter works in real estate.
Dieu says if he had his life choices to make again, he would have stuck to hauling logs, so he could have been home more with his family. “My biggest problem is when I get home for a couple days, and then I don’t want to leave,” he says.
Sometimes it has been difficult being the wife of a long-haul trucker, Patsy says. “You go to plan on something, and the company would call and say, ‘This load needs to be hauled.'”
Once, Dieu had to cancel plans because he had to haul a load. His wife got angry. In fact she was furious. She started trimming the hedge in the backyard and got a little overzealous. “I took my frustration out on it,” Patsy Dieu says. “It was better than tearing the house down, I guess.” When a stunned Dieu came home, all he could say was, “What in the Sam Hill did you do to the hedge?”
But trucking also has its perks. One year around Christmas, Dieu called and asked his wife if she had found a Christmas tree yet. She had, but he told her to throw it out. He came home with a Christmas tree from Pennsylvania. “It was beautiful,” Patsy says. Then Dieu got a call from the company and had to leave. He was gone for Christmas, but the family left the tree up and the presents underneath until he arrived after New Year’s Day. “We didn’t want to have Christmas without him,” his wife says.
Patsy and the children have adapted to being a trucker’s family. “They’ve never known anything else,” she says. “They grew up with their dad on the road, and that’s just the way it’s been.” When Dieu would come home, the family would all join in washing and polishing his truck.
His five children all graduated high school and have good jobs, and Patsy credits her husband’s good influence. “They have a very good work ethic, and I think that comes from their father,” she says. “He’s been so reliable.”
Patsy also praises her husband’s employers for making the trucking life easier when he’s on the road. “He’s worked for some great people,” she says. This is particularly true of the dispatchers. When Patsy needs to get in touch with her husband for something important, she knows the dispatchers will let him know as quickly as possible. Dispatchers helped Dieu be present for the births of almost all of his 12 grandchildren, including a set of twins.
In spite of a few tough times – like missing some of his children’s sporting events and trying to make it over the mountains when it’s snowing – Dieu is happy in his career. “I just enjoy trucking,” he says, “so whatever happens, happens.”
His favorite thing about trucking is seeing the country. With GP, he went through 45 states. “You’re not doing the same thing every day,” Dieu says. “Time goes by quickly.”
Dieu says he had intended to retire when he turns 65. But with only two years to go and a goal of 5 million career miles, he isn’t sure he will give up trucking so soon. “I’m still having fun,” he says. “I still enjoy my work.”
George Dieu has shown willingness on more than one occasion to help those in a crisis.
On a run in California, a minivan in front of him stopped and picked up a young woman and her little girl, who were hitchhiking. Dieu drove behind them, and when the van stopped at a light, the woman flew out the back doors and rolled onto the pavement.
“Thankfully, I managed to stop before coming near her,” Dieu says. “They had just rocked the road, and she was all torn up.” He and another trucker stopped to help the woman. She said the men in the van had tried to rape her and she had jumped out to escape.
Dieu had taken down the van’s license plate number, so police were able to track it down quickly and rescue the woman’s daughter.
On another occasion, Dieu rescued a mother and daughter whose car was stuck in snow on a road few people traveled. “They were sitting in the car crying,” he says. “I felt really sorry for them.” Dieu got them out safely with some tire chains just before the road closed. “They offered to pay me, but I said, ‘No, just go on home,'” he says.
Company Driver Top 5
1. George Dieu, Coquille, Ore., Team Transport
2. Thomas D. Miller, Marlington, W.V., Burns Motor Freight
3. Robert G. King, Burkburnett, Texas, Contract Freighters
4. Sharon and Larry Moore, Rupert, Idaho, Marten Transportation
5. Brian W. Saunders, Kitchener, Ontario, Canada, Challenger Motor Freight
Prizes and Sponsors
Grand Prize Winner
Fourth and Fifth Places