Big Dog

| December 12, 2008

TCA’s winning contractor is considered a model owner-operator at O&S Trucking.

Should you call Jerry Johnson, don’t be surprised if someone says you reached the wrong number.

Then again, don’t believe everything you hear.

“If he gets a call on his cell phone, he likes to hand it to somebody else, and they tell them they got the wrong number,” says Darrell Hand, a company driver at O&S Trucking, where Johnson is leased as an owner-operator. “They get them going pretty good before they tell them who they are.”

That sense of humor is one of the well-known traits of Johnson, who last month was named the Truckload Carriers Association 2004 Independent Contractor of the Year. The contest is sponsored by TCA, International Truck and Engine Corp. and Overdrive. Johnson wins a new International 9900ix and other prizes.

Pranks aside, Johnson says honesty has guided him to success in his 19-year career as an owner-operator. “If you go in some place and you’ve got an irate customer, be honest and nice with him, and it makes the atmosphere better,” he says.

“Integrity is doing the right thing when nobody watches,” says O&S Safety Director Mike Tettamble. “Every day he’s doing the right thing and making decisions, and nobody’s looking over his shoulder.”

Others at O&S are looking at Johnson, though – and for good cause. Johnson, 59, not only represents the company at meetings, but counsels other drivers through times of crisis, says President Jim O’Neal. During driver orientation, Johnson speaks to new drivers and offers his ongoing advice. “When a driver hears the name Jerry Johnson, I want them to say, ‘That’s the big dog,’” Tettamble says.

“When meeting new drivers, I try to provide honest guidance and advice, and I like to think my words may have contributed to other success stories on the road,” Johnson says.

Johnson’s performance backs up his reputation. During his more than 40-year career, he has driven more than 4 million miles with a 100 percent on-time rate, no cargo claims, no moving violations and no chargeable accidents.

Those four decades behind the wheel began when he was 18. “I started hauling cattle with a friend of mine’s daddy’s truck,” says Johnson, who soon became a company driver. He spent his first two years as an owner-operator leased to Zenith Television, then joined O&S 17 years ago. He delivers general dry van freight to 48 states with a 1994 Volvo 660.

Trucking isn’t Johnson’s only business affiliation. He has an arrangment with his wife, Patty, who runs a hay and cattle operation on their 237-acre spread in West Plains, Mo. “She doesn’t drive my truck, and I don’t feed her cattle,” he says.

Buying a home and working a farm have been made financially possible by trucking, he says. Trucking has also helped the Johnsons put their two sons through school and help the sons start a used car business.

“I give all the credit to God for my success,” Johnson says.

God seemed to leave him with at least one flaw, though. “Don’t ever ask him how far something is,” jokes O&S owner-operator Dale Price, who has known Johnson since 1987.

Johnson doesn’t miss a beat: “That’s what Qualcomm is for.”


REAPING THE REWARDS
In addition to an International tractor, Johnson will receive:

  • An ISX engine from Cummins Engine Co.

  • An Eaton transmission of his choice, donated by Roadranger, the marketing arm of Eaton and Dana Corp.
  • Ten G300 Series radial tries from Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co.
  • Premium cloth seats from National Seating Co.
  • An Aero Bell TriPod Mirror Head and Bracket Kit from Velvac.
  • A $2,000 U.S. savings bond, personalized jacket and plaque from Overdrive.
  • A $1,500 Rewards Card from Love’s Travel Stops.
  • $1,000 in Frequent Fueler certificates from Flying J.
  • A $1,000 U.S. savings bond from Great Dane Trailers.
  • $1,000 from Mack Trucks.
  • A $1,000 retirement account from Marsh USA.
  • $1,000 in gift certificates from Pilot Corp.
  • $500 from ArvinMeritor.
  • $500 from TravelCenters of America.
  • A bookkeeping and tax return plan from The Alliance.
  • A one-year subscription to Gold Book of Transportation Brokers Online, plus 12 credit reports from CompuNet Credit Services.
  • A DA 34100 Purest Air Dryer from Haldex Commercial Vehicle Systems.
  • A Dieselmatic NVT kit with cylinder from KBI/Kold Ban International.
  • A set of steering tires from Michelin North America.
  • Forty TripPak Overnight envelopes from Truckload Management.
  • The XM Roady2 XM Pro, plus a year’s subscription to XM Satellite Radio from XM, Pana-Pacific and Delphi.

TOP OWNER-OPERATORS
The four other finalists in the Independent Contractor of the Year contest are:

  • Second, Dennis Siler of Okeechobee, Fla., leased to Dart Transportation.

  • Third, Jimmy McSwain of Lakeland, Fla., leased to Sunco Carriers.
  • Fourth, team drivers Debra and Robert Jurashen of Bedford, Ind., leased to Landstar Ranger.
  • Fifth, Robert McCray of Chatham, Ill., leased to Warren Transport.

The runners-up receive prizes from some of the same companies that provide awards for the winner.

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