Runs in the family
TRUCKERS: Bill Elkins, 67, and Rodney Elkins, 42, of West Terre Haute, Ind.
TRUCK:2000 Volvo 770
LEASED TO: GDS Express out of Akron, Ohio
ACCIDENT-FREE: Bill: 45 years, Rodney: 23 years
MOTTO: Bill: Stay healthy and see what comes along. Rodney: Tighten up the bootstraps and get going.
In a way, the team-driving days of Bill and Rodney Elkins of West Terre Haute, Ind., date to 1973, when Bill taught his 14-year-old son how to back a truck.
Rodney was already a seasoned traveler, frequently joining his dad on flour deliveries. “We would stop in truck stops and eat cheeseburgers and French fries and play on the pinball machines,” Rodney says.
By 1973, Bill had been on the road 17 years. “I started driving when there weren’t so many trucks on the road,” Bill says. “There were only two-lane roads, and trucks were single-axle.” Bill’s grandfather Herschel Rector taught him how to drive. Since the age of 14, Bill had been riding with his grandfather on weekends, hauling railroad ties.
About 1956, Bill started out as a company driver hauling bread, and after a few years he became an owner-operator in 1960. His first few trucks were single-axle, gas-powered rigs, a Diamond T and an International. He grew his company to about 16 trucks and handled dispatching and getting his own contracts. He sold the company in 1989. “Deregulation made having your own authority worth nothing and flooded the market with trucks,” he says. He drove team with his son Rodney for the next seven years.
Rodney didn’t stay in trucking from the age of 14, but he found his way back to the road. “I like being out and about, not stuck in a building,” Rodney says.
Bill has seen changes for the good, including better equipment and better roads, but also for the bad. “The people controlling the freight rates aren’t the people handling the freight,” Bill says. “Drivers aren’t making the money they should.”
Now, Bill runs part time with Rodney, who runs full time, back and forth to California.
“Trucking’s been good to me,” Bill says. “Maybe in a year or so, I’ll retire, but every time I say that my family just looks at me and smiles because they know I won’t.”
FAVORITE MOVIE: Bill: All the Lethal Weapon movies.
Rodney: Star Wars. I saw it in the movie theater when it first came out.
FAVORITE TV SHOW: Bill: I don’t watch much television.
Rodney: The King of Queens.
FAVORITE FOOD: Bill: Potatoes and steak, any beef.
Rodney: Boiled seafood.
LEAST FAVORITE FOOD: Bill: Fish or shrimp.
Rodney: Anything fried.
GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Bill: Starting with nothing and building it up to a certain level.
Rodney: When I was working for an airline, I went from ramp loader to fuel supervisor. I got to fly all over the country, and I got to sit in the cockpit with the pilots.
IF I HADN’T BEEN A TRUCKER, I WOULD BE: Bill: I had wanted to be a law student.
Rodney: I would be working construction and building homes.
THE FUTURE: Bill: I’ll drive another few years, and then I’ll piddle around the garage and cut grass.
Rodney: I would like to see a truck driver get more money than what they’re getting now.
FAVORITE LOAD: Bill: Tank loads, liquid and dry.
Rodney: Anything that’s easily palletized, maybe microwave popcorn. You get two free cases.
MOST UNUSUAL LOAD: Bill: A load of pigs. I was helping a guy out. Some of them had been trampled, and he had to get on his hands and knees and get them out.
Rodney: A load to San Diego of colored sand for aquariums. There were boxes of these little bags with different colors of sand in them.
HARDEST THING TO LEARN WHEN I BEGAN DRIVING: Bill: I wish I had found a good company earlier and stayed with it instead of moving around.
Rodney: Knowing your way around the major cities and learning the routes. If you make a wrong turn, it’s really hard to get turned back around.
BEST THING ABOUT BEING A TRUCKER: Bill: I like working for myself. And the people and friends you meet on the road. You don’t have the same daily routine. Each day is different.
Rodney: Seeing the different states. I’ve seen every one but two, Alaska and Hawaii, and I’ve seen both sides of Canada.
WORST THING ABOUT BEING A TRUCKER: Bill: The taxes are so crazy, and you get double-taxed.
Rodney: Being away from home.
FAVORITE MUSIC: Bill: Country – the old type, like George Jones and Willie Nelson, but I also like George Strait.
Rodney: 1960s and ’70s rock ‘n’ roll. I was in a band for eight years.
BEST TRUCKING MEMORY: Bill: When I took my wife with me on the road for five weeks. She changed her mind about being over-the-road.
Rodney: When I used to go with my dad to deliver flour. I was about 9 or 10.
GREATEST CHALLENGE FACING OWNER-OPERATORS: Bill: Can’t control fuel prices or freight rates.
Rodney: Dealing with the high price of fuel.
WHAT MAKES A SUCCESSFUL OWNER-OPERATOR: Bill: You have to remember that you depend on your customers. You may think you’re independent, but you always have to make someone happy.
Rodney: Watching your money and paying attention to where you can get fuel at a reasonable price.
HOW TRUCKERS CAN IMPROVE THE INDUSTRY’S IMAGE:Bill: Don’t cheat on your logs. It’s not worth risking somebody’s life for freight.
Rodney: Pull over when you’re getting sleepy. Get the load there safely.