Profile: R.C. Barnes
Turn in the Road
Owner-operator R.C. Barnes parlays six decades of industry experience into new musical forays
RC. Barnes might have more experience behind the wheel of a trucking business than any other hauler on the highway today. “I’ve heard there’s two guys out here who are as old as I am,” says the 77-year-old Youngstown, Ohio, resident, “but nobody who’s been out here as long as I have.”
Having begun a putative trucking driving career at the tender age of 14, when he hitchhiked his way from custodial great-grandparents in Waynesboro, Penn., to find his mother in Holt, Ala., Barnes ultimately has more than six decades of driving under his belt.
Yet he’s no stranger to big life changes. And for the past three years, he’s been taking his lifelong love of music — he’s played bass in bands and has been writing songs since the 1960s — to Nashville, recording an album and, most recently, producing a five-song demo in preparation for a new album in 2011. If all goes well, he’ll put a driver in his Class 8 conventional and hop in his Silver Eagle coach (Garth Brooks’ first tour bus, he says) this year.
When Truckers News sister magazine Overdrive profiled small fleet Circle B Transport in April 1989, then-owner/part-operator Barnes was at the zenith of his trucking career in many respects. In less than a decade, he’d taken the $4,000 he had after selling most everything he had and moving to Oregon from Idaho in 1980 and turned it into more than million in yearly revenue. Barnes even had his own private Piper Arrow single-engine plane at one point, which he flew memorably to a stop on the Legends tour of Conway Twitty and George Jones to meet Barnes’ own musical hero, Merle Haggard, also on the tour. “I used to do Merle’s music all over the country,” Barnes says. “When he wrote a song it felt like it came right out of my head.”
Life at the top was good, but it wasn’t meant to last. One of his sons and his wife, half-owner of the Circle B business, had become involved in the drug trade. Ultimately, responsible for the books, she left him deep in debt to the feds for back taxes and landed herself in jail. (The son was killed in 1992.) Barnes was forced to declare bankruptcy, then regrouping with an old business associate in Cleveland with G&W Hauling & Rigging, to whom he’s leased today with a 1998 Kenworth T2000 pulling flat and step deck freight.
Stability has yielded other benefits — chiefly the chance to pursue music with his own spin on things. Years ago a friend told him, “‘R.C., you sound just like Merle Haggard.’ I said thanks,” as he tells it.
“And he said, ‘No, I’m not complimenting you. We already have a Merle Haggard — we need an R.C. Barnes.’”
He has focused on honing his own sound since then, and about three years ago, his boss and longtime friend at G&W, company owner G.W. Starkey, who knew of Barnes’ songwriting and playing abilities, invited Barnes to his home to help teach Starkey’s teenage son a few tricks on the guitar. It turned out “he was only 16 and he knew a whole lot more than me,” Barnes says, but on the strength of several of Barnes’ original songs, Starkey urged him on to Nashville. “We got on the computer and found people (in Nashville) to contact” about the potential of recording, Barnes says.
Ultimately, he found Ron McClaren at The Studio at DCC in nearby Lawrenceburg, Tenn., and recorded his “It’s Not the End of the Road … Yet” record. The friendships and associations developed in the process put him in touch with bluegrass acts recorded by McClaren, like the Huntley Sisters. The sisters’ mother happened to be a good friend of bluegrass legend Rhonda Vincent and, eventually, Barnes shared a bill with her and the Huntleys at the historic Crockett Theater, among other shows there. “From there, it just blossomed, like a storybook,” Barnes says.
Other associations led to collaborations with singer Amanda McReynolds, granddaughter of Opry legend Jesse McReynolds, and Texas songwriter Jason Allen, among others. (Hear a version of Barnes’ “Home Sweet Honky Tonk” recorded by Allen via rcbarnesmusic.com; click “Music & Shows.”)
All in all, for Barnes, things are proceeding well. At press time, Barnes was planning to return to Nashville last month to finish tracks for a new album. Keep an eye out for them via his website. The tracks will fill out the “On a New Road” EP with more Barnes originals, and he’s hoping to spur a collaborative effort with tunes by Vincent, the Huntley Sisters and others.
Profile: Scott Bowman
Hotshots star in TV series
Dream Time Transportation one of the owner-operator businesses featured in the new ‘Shipping Wars’ show
A good reason to start a business is because you’re mad,” says Scott Bawcom of his 4-year-old hotshot trucking business, Dream Time Transportation. It was started after Nashville-based Bawcom got upset over the several weeks it took a hotshot hauler to deliver a 1940s Ford coupe street-rod he bought for his father. Bawcom decided he could do customer service better himself.
Using diesel 1-ton pickups, former marine Bawcom has achieved such success that his and his wife Suzanne’s business was one of five selected by producers with the A&E cable network to participate in the new “Shipping Wars” reality-TV series, which premiered Jan. 10 with back-to-back episodes at 9 and 9:30 p.m. ET and PT and is running Tuesdays weekly. It follows the network’s success with “Parking Wars” — about Philadelphia towing companies — and “Storage Wars,” about the storage auction business.
Powered by a crewcab 2011 Ford F450 outfitted with a heavy-duty fifth wheel to pull a 53-foot Broward open-deck lowboy trailer, as well as a flatbed Ford F350, Dream Time has moved about 400 loads since the business’ launch in early 2008. More than half the loads have been secured via the competitive online bidding marketplace uShip.com. Bawcom trumpets his uShip customer feedback ratings, where he’s received just two negative responses on 200-plus loads booked there.
“It’s a great menu to get a customer base from,” he says. All of his current direct customers came via the site.
His record should serve him well in the show, where competition among the five haulers (one of them, Marc Springer, in a Class 8 Kenworth, and the remainder hotshot haulers) is to secure the highest earnings after expenses by bidding on freight in the uShip system.
“Shipping Wars,” Bawcom says, will be unique among trucking TV shows in its presentation of the realities of running an owner-operator business. “We’re all bidding on the same type of stuff,” Bawcom says, “but everybody has different equipment. Some of the things I won’t be able to move” as easily as others. “It’s very competitive, the consideration of how much we’re going to be able to offer to get the bid.
“I think it will be good for our business … and will shed interesting light on the transport industry on the whole; how difficult it can be for drivers to do what they do,” he says.