Correspondence leads to love

| January 01, 2007

Trucker Bill Robles and teacher Chris Morris connected through letters, postcards and phone calls before they met in person and fell in love.

It was the end of another school year, and fifth-grade teacher Chris Morris was preparing her boisterous classroom for the long-awaited visit from its own Trucker Buddy, Bill Robles.

Robles, who had been corresponding with the fifth grade class for two years, had sent four or five post cards each week describing mountains, valleys and sunsets in all 50 states. The kids waited eagerly for the notes, clamoring to be the first one to see the back side scribbled with snowy peaks and valleys. In his first correspondence with the class, Robles wrote 26 individual letters to the students.

“When he wrote,” Morris says, “he could explain the geography of an area. Everyone had to read the postcards – it was addicting.”

Trucker Buddy, a program that pairs truck drivers with classrooms for a unique pen pal experience, gave Robles the option of choosing a classroom in either Las Vegas or Kentucky. On a whim, Bill decided to choose the Pendleton County, Kentucky, fifth grade classroom to experience a region of the country he didn’t know much about. He was living in Bullhead, Ariz., at the time, and Las Vegas seemed too close to home.

Morris signed up for the program after a fellow teacher coaxed her into it.

“Why not?” she said.

Robles’ correspondence with her classroom began in 2002, and he often called the classroom and talked to the kids through speakerphone.

“His voice was such a calm, nice voice,” Morris says. “I became attached to his voice.”

The fifth graders eagerly responded to Robles’ letters, describing their lives, what they liked to do and things that were going on at school. Some of the kids poured out their hearts in their letters to Robles about things that bothered them.

“Some students were dealing with a lot of personal issues,” he says. “I had a very personal link to them as students because, as a parent, I knew what they were going through.”

Robles sometimes called Morris to talk about the kids and the things they had included in their letters.

“She could see that I had a genuine concern,” he says.

During those two years, Morris drove for three companies: Marten Transport in Mondovi, Wis., Ladner Trucking in Fullerton, Calif., and McHaul Trucking in Pueblo, Colo.

At the end of the 2004 school year, Robles planned a trip to Morris’ classroom to finally meet his pen-pal students and their teacher. When he stepped out of his truck at the school, he could finally attach a face with the voice on the phone – and it left him breathless.

“I was humbled in her presence,” Robles says. “She was everything I had envisioned.”

There was no hotel close to Southern Elementary, so Morris offered him her couch for the night.

“I knew I was a gentleman, and she knew that I was,” Robles says. “It gave us a chance to talk over dinner, and we talked for hours.”

When Robles hit the road again, the trucker and the teacher stayed friends over the phone and in letters. The pair fell in love and several months later got married in Morris’ living room on Dec. 29, 2004. The couple now lives in Lennoxburg, Ky., where Robles is a substitute teacher at Southern Elementary and a local high school and Morris, now Robles, still teaches the fifth grade.

Although they didn’t have plans to meet anyone the day they signed up for the Trucker Buddy program, the couple praises the non-profit organization for bringing them together.

“I can’t say enough about Trucker Buddy,” Bill Robles says. “It is such a positive way to channel energy built up on the road and get involved.”

When asked whether he thinks Trucker Buddy is a good way to find love, Robles laughs.

“Every once in a while people will meet,” he says. “And through the oddest of circumstances, shoot – there it is.”

For more information on Trucker Buddy, check out the website at www.truckerbuddy.com.
–Rachel Telehany


Dog Tales
A friendly pup guides children on a trucking adventure in retired driver’s book

Zerida Pepp loves Schnauzers – four specific Schnauzers, in fact, who donated their lovable personalities to create McTavish, the star of her children’s book series, The McTavish Trips.

Pepp, 56, who drove a truck for 25 years until 2004, has been writing and developing children’s books in her spare time since 1985. Pepp has written 15 books about McTavish, the curious Schnauzer who teaches children about tractor-trailers, the trucking industry and life on the road.

Her four dogs, Pepper, Angel, Moses and Missy, were the inspiration for the series that took 20 years to write, illustrate and publish. Pepp self-published Tractors – Cabs and Sleepers, the second book in the series, through AuthorHouse, and now the full-color book is available for $19.60 at this site.

“I love truck drivers and the industry,” Pepp says, “and I want to do whatever I can to promote it and give it a better image.”

In this book, McTavish explains different types of trucks, and describes truckstops, gauges in front of the steering wheel and truck drivers relaxing in the cab after they get off work.

Pepp designed the front cover of the book, but her daughter Katherine Anders Robertson created most of the color images of truck cabs, deliveries, loads, and lots and lots of trucks. The book offers readers an extra surprise: actual color photos of “McTavish” himself.

“I thought it would be a neat idea to include pictures of the main character,” Pepp says.

Pepp also added real photos of her grandchildren to help young readers connect with the book.
Pepp, who now works at an OSB board plant in Avinger, Texas, wrote the McTavish Trips not only for the children of truck drivers, but also as an ode to the industry.

“We just can’t do without truck drivers,” Pepp says. “Sometimes they miss birthdays and graduations, and their families always wonder why. But they are serving the public, that’s why.”
–Rachel Telehany


Roadside Rescue
Trucker’s quick actions save the life of a car accident victim

A normal day on the job turned into an opportunity to save a life for 25-year veteran driver Barry Byram of Jonesboro, Ark.

On the afternoon of July 24 last year, American Central Transport driver Byram was driving westbound on I-40 near Brownsville, Tenn., when he saw a Volkswagen Beetle in the eastbound lane drive toward the median and flip onto its roof.

He later found out the driver “had fallen asleep behind the wheel of car, which caused her to cross the median,” Byram says.

His truck was one of the first vehicles on the scene. He carefully parked his truck on the median and ran toward the car.

“When I arrived at the car, the driver was still buckled into her seat and the back windshield was broken out,” he says. “I crawled through the windshield to check her pulse, which was quite weak.”

Byram worried that if he didn’t keep her awake, she would die.

Using his 15 years of medical training as a member of the U.S. Special Forces and a helicopter attack unit, Byram took off his shirt and used it as a tourniquet to stop her bleeding.

As Byram was talking to the driver, police and other emergency personnel arrived on the scene. Byram reported her condition to the officers, who quickly ordered a helicopter to take her to the nearest hospital. He gave them her identification information and medications, which he had found in the car. She was then sent to a hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

Tennessee State Trooper Bob Miller arrived shortly after Byram secured the injured driver and approached Byram to get his name. After supplying the basic information, Byram told the trooper that this was just part of his job. He then headed for his truck and was back on the road.

“I was always raised to respect people and help them out,” Byram says. “I’ve told my children that they should strive to do something for someone every day, even if it is just opening a door.”

Miller later contacted the offices of ACT to share the story, so the company would reward Byram for his heroic efforts.

“Truck drivers tend to get a bad rap out on the roadway these days,” says Tom Kretsinger Jr., president/chief operating officer of ACT. “At ACT, we recognize and celebrate the diverse background that our drivers bring to our team. Byram is a great example of this diversity.”

“We should all be so fortunate to have a driver like Byram and others that have more skills than driving a truck; these are special people who can take charge of good and bad situations,” says Robert Dinning, evening planner at American Central Transport.

The Truckload Carriers Association named Byram a Highway Angel for saving the life of the driver. He received a Highway Angel lapel pin, certificate and patch for his efforts, and ACT also received a certificate for acknowledging a Highway Angel in their midst.

To nominate a driver online, go to this site.


First Prize to First Novel
Mark Twain Essay Contest winner publishes book about a fictional trucker

For owner-operator Howard Glass, winning first prize in the Truckers News Mark Twain Essay Contest two years ago was a dream come true. Winning gave him the confidence – and the $1,000 prize money – to work on publishing his first novel about a troubled trucker facing big traumas.

The novel, To Catch a Cradle, tells the story of company driver Ross Martin, who has a good job, a storybook marriage, a beautiful son and another child on the way. But even as he lives the perfect life, he is haunted by a tragedy from the past. He blames himself for a high school friend’s drowning death, and every moment that should be joyful is tempered with guilt.

Just as Ross is learning to make peace with his past, a second tragedy strikes and sends him into a downward spiral of self-blame and depression. With his marriage and family torn apart, he contemplates drastic measures to make amends. But as he experiences the ultimate crisis of faith, a sinister turn of events forces Ross to choose whether to finally forgive himself or give in to the darkness of guilt.

“I was inspired to write the book because I personally knew two truckers who committed suicide,” says Glass, a trucker for 21 years and resident of Grove City, Pa. “Neither one of them was a close friend, but I knew enough about them and what their lives were like to feel their pain. One in particular, I used to stop and pick up his kids and take them to Sunday school. We said to him one time, ‘When are you going to come to church?’ And he said, ‘When they put 8 days in a week. I just don’t have time.”

The novel began as a short story and expanded from that.

“I know there’s a lot of truckers, including myself, that have family problems from being in the business,” Glass says. “I wanted to capture the stress that a driver deals with.”

Glass and his wife Julie own Express Image Transport, Inc., which hauls sawdust on a dedicated run to a plant. He has a 26-year-old daughter and 27-year-old son, who is also a truck driver.

When he’s not driving his 2000 International, Glass writes stories and is working on another novel. He’s had five stories published in Truckers News and several articles published in religious magazines, and he was a columnist for three months for a newspaper.

“I didn’t get into [writing] until I was in my ’40s,” he says. “I just discovered I had a little talent for it, and I started enjoying it.”

To Catch a Cradle is available for sale at Value Book Sellers in his hometown and online at Amazon.com and www.howardglass.net.
–Kristin L. Walters

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