Doing his duty

| December 12, 2008

Darrell James met and chatted with fellow and prospective Mercer Transportation drivers at the recent Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky.

West Virginia owner-operator Darrell James, leased to Mercer Transportation, has been trucking for nearly four decades. Now 65, James has seen the industry change from almost every angle: as a logger, a general freight driver, an oversize/heavy hauler, a company driver and a business owner. The biggest change, he says, is in the size of the industry and the pace of business.

“You used to have so many customers around the country, and you’d make the rounds, and you knew you could count on it,” James says.

Now, “At Mercer, if they call and offer you a load, you’ve got eight minutes to make up your mind, or that load passes you by. You used to have a half a day or a whole day to talk about loads.”

Striking a balance between speed and special demands is no easy task, but James excels at it in his current niche, removable-gooseneck heavy hauling.

“In general freight, you have a lot more liberty to run like you want to throughout the day, whereas with the permitted loads you have to watch the curfew,” he says. “You have to be conscious all the time of your weight, height and size.”

Adds Dale Corum, a Mercer manager: “Oversize takes someone who’s more cautious, aware of their surroundings and attentive to detail.”

Drivers passing James, for example, often become more interested in his spectacular cargo than in watching the road, which poses a threat to everyone. “I hauled a lot of gun turrets for the ships,” James says. “You get people who want to film that as you drive down the road. I’ve had to have police escort me to keep people safe.”

James nets $75,000 to $80,000 a year hauling military and government freight. High-security loads pay well but require an intensive background clearance. “They check your record for felonies or anything against you,” James says.

“You have to have a lot of experience under your belt to do what he does,” says Dana Bibb, manager of Mercer’s over-dimensional section, who describes James as unfailingly upbeat. “Once he gave his safety-award jacket away to a woman at a truck stop who didn’t have a coat. He uses his experiences to help other people.”

James bought his first truck in 1974 and started out in the family logging business in Ozone, Ark. A few years later, James owned the trucking side, his father the logging side.

Family has always been important to James, who has eight children. He enjoys taking time off to fish and hunt with his extended family. “I love to get out in the wild, not so much to get the game, but to enjoy it and spend time with my kids,” he says.

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