Owner-Operator of the Month

Overdrive Staff | February 01, 2012

Mechanical Mind

Donnie Parsons gives the same attention to his business and customers that he does to keeping his antique restoration in tip-top shape for the road.

By James Jaillet

Dreama Parsons first saw the 1971 Peterbilt 359 parked in a field not far from her Knoxville, Tenn., home in the mid-1990s. She and her husband, Donnie, a seasoned owner-operator, had stopped to look at the old rig a few times, too, but when it showed up in her driveway, she fretted.

Dreama Parsons first saw the 1971 Peterbilt 359 parked in a field not far from her Knoxville, Tenn., home in the mid-1990s. She and her husband, Donnie, a seasoned owner-operator, had stopped to look at the old rig a few times, too, but when it showed up in her driveway, she fretted.

“I thought ‘Oh, no,’ on this project,” she says of her worry that Donnie wouldn’t be able to do what he wanted with it – turn it into a full-time working rig for his nationwide flatbed operation with Mason and Dixon Lines.

But when he finished the two-year project in 1998 (while still running his 1982 Peterbilt 359 he bought brand new), the antique beauty turned into a testament of his mechanical abilities.

“He could visualize it,” Dreama says. “I couldn’t. But he’s always done things like that. He’s just got a talent for it.”

Donnie’s since made a hobby out of tinkering with the old truck, many times out of necessity more than anything else. He has run the truck as he intended for nearly 15 years.

“I work on it when I get home and keep everything working and up to date,” he says. “I’ve rebuilt the motor twice and just fool with it all the time to keep it up.”

In 1982, he bought his first truck, the one he owned and used until buying his ’71 359, after cutting his teeth hauling coal for a mining company for five years in Kentucky near where he grew up.

Parsons leased to Mason and Dixon Lines 25 years ago. He hauls steel coils and aluminum, and most of his runs are to California and back, he says. He and Dreama team up on accounting, and he has an accountant help him once a year.

Parsons picked up his mechanical prowess in the Army, where he worked as a helicopter mechanic stationed in Fort Benning, Ga., in the late 1960s. Doing nearly all maintenance and repair work himself has contributed in large part to his business’s success, he says.

He grossed roughly $110,000 in 2010 and says he takes home leftovers, about $30,000 a year, after all business expenses. He also topped the 2 million safe-mile mark last year.

“I do my own work,” he says. “I don’t take it to the shop, and I think that’s where my success has been. That and just trying to work well with people and making shippers and receivers happy.”