Building on a Proud Legacy
While trucking can be an isolating lifestyle, Steve Bixler is no wallflower in any social setting. He is just as comfortable in front of a group of people as he is behind the wheel of his 1989 Freightliner cabover.
Growing up in the foothills of Pennsylvania’s Appalachian Mountains, he honed his speaking skills as a youngster active in Future Farmers of America. While he has served as a motivational speaker over the years, his favorite topic may be his own extended family of truckers. This includes his late grandfather, Allen Mace; mother, Alverta (Bixler) Peters; brothers, Don Bixler and George Bixler; two uncles; several cousins; and many of his in-laws.
And even though he is the de facto family spokesperson, Steve is humble about his own achievements and quick to give credit where he feels it is due. “My father-in-law, Robert Updegrave Sr., drove a truck for more than 50 years,” Bixler says. “He taught me a lot about being an owner-operator. He taught me a lot about being a truck driver.”
With more than 60 drivers and roots in trucking that go back more than a century, the Bixler-Updegrave family is Truckers News’ 2011 Great American Trucking Family. The family will be presented with the award prior to the Mobil Delvac-sponsored Jamey Johnson concert on Friday, Aug. 26, at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas.
“My father-in-law was very family-oriented,” Steve says. “Even when he was an owner-operator and was on the road from Sunday to Saturday, he would come home and spend all his time with his wife and kids. He did everything for his family.”
Robert Updegrave Sr. died in 2009 at age 76 from heart problems, but his influence is still evident whenever the family gets together as it did this past Memorial Day weekend at a small park in Valley View, Pa. Inside a barn-turned-pavilion in the park, there is a persistent rumble of voices steeped in influences of the Pennsylvania Dutch dialect, and the family patriarch’s nickname, “Check,” is heard often.
“It may sound kind of weird, but there are even times where I find myself asking him what I should do,” says his 42-year-old son, Scott Updegrave. “When anyone had questions about trucking or just about anything, they turned to my dad.”
This reverence appears to have been earned not for any one aspect of Check’s character, but the sum of the life he lived.
“We didn’t have a whole lot of money, but we had a whole lot of fun,” says youngest son Chris Updegrave, 39, who drove a truck for years and now works as a mechanic for Halliburton. “My dad was very hard working, but he’s hard to describe. You really had to meet him and experience being around him. He was a great influence.”
It is quickly evident the link between the Bixler and Updegrave families runs deeper than the singular connection of Steve and his wife Doris (Updegrave) Bixler. “I actually met Steve because he hung out with my brother Rodger,” Doris says. “They were best friends in high school.”
And it seems natural that Rodger Updegrave, 53, who is an owner-operator, would cut his teeth riding and driving with not only his dad and brothers, but also with the Bixlers’ trucking family. “I used to go along with Don,” Rodger says.