Shooter of eagles

| December 15, 2005

With the ever-present alligator logo from the University of Florida and an alligator head atop his CB, it’s natural to call Thomas Register what everybody calls him – Gator.

Gator Register loves to shoot eagles.

It doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, he’s about as happy as a truck driver can get.

Not every trucker who loves to get out in the fresh air and take shots at birdies wants to spend time in the woods or fields and come home with a fresh-killed dinner. Register’s passion is golf, and his birdies and eagles have come on golf courses in all lower 48 states. So look out Tiger Woods – there’s a Gator on your tail.

Register, 44, who drives the lower 48 in a 2005 Volvo for Super Service, says he can often manage to play at least some golf several times a week while still making long hauls and deliveries. Super Service, a trucking company based in Somerset, Ky., has been in business for 25 years and uses dry vans to haul all over the country but mostly east of the Mississippi. Register’s routes have let him play golf in all lower 48 states.

The trick, he says, is time management. He tries to have most of his downtime during the day, and preferably on a Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday when it costs less to play golf and courses are less crowded, letting him go right out and play, and play quickly.

“I try to make long breaks start early in the morning, in which case I’ll drive through the night and be the first guy at the course,” he says. “Or I’ll get a break coming in the late afternoon, and in summer that means I can play quite a lot before it gets dark. The dispatchers at Super Service work with me, and we find ways to get it done. As long as I am on time, my down time is my own.

“A lot of places I’ve played over and over. They’re places I can call ahead and they know me, and that helps get me on the course in a hurry sometimes. People at the golf clubs remember me. I guess it’s a novelty having a big rig pull in, a driver get out and play golf. And I enjoy playing with young people and kids. I have my own golf balls – I bought dozens of them with my logo on them – and I give them to the kids I meet on the course. I always remember starting out playing as a kid and how good it felt when someone would give me a new ball and encourage me.”

He also stays in touch with some of his playing partners and the staff at courses he’s played. “I keep all my scorecards, and at Christmas I send the people at the clubs a Christmas card. They’re all the same, with a picture of an alligator and a palm tree. I bought a whole lot of them, hundreds of them; they’ll last me for years. But it helps people remember me when I’m coming back through their town and call them from the truck.”

So far, the tractor-trailer hasn’t been much of a problem. You can’t miss Register’s tractor – Gator logos and the head from an 8-foot alligator sitting atop his CB peering out the windshield. “People ask me where I got [the alligator head], and I tell them I shot it in my back yard. They’re excited by it and want a good story. Truth was I bought it off the shelf in a store, but I don’t think they want to hear that.”

He keeps his truck washed and waxed, and he calls ahead to the golf course before he arrives.

“Mostly the people at golf courses treat me like a king,” he says. “The ones I know will usually say ‘C’mon over, Gator, we’ll find a place for you.’ A lot of them will find a place for me to park and mark it out with cones so no ones takes it.”

If there’s no space for the truck at a golf course, sometimes the staff will help squeeze him in somewhere or pick him up from another parking lot.

“I’ve parked in some course workshop areas, in shopping centers or empty lots,” he says. “A club in Pennsylvania had me park at a shut-down shopping center a couple of miles from the course, and they sent one of their guys who cuts the grass down to get me. When I finished playing, he drove me back to the truck.”

Most golf courses have dress codes, and Register always makes sure he has the proper attire, even to the point of overdressing. In addition, he respects the course.

“I don’t make a mess or leave a mess or do anything that would get course management upset with me,” he says. “I want the people who work at the golf course and the people I’ll play with to think well of truckers and trucking.”

Register, whose golf clubs ride between the passenger seat and the dash, says he won’t play “trash courses.” “I won’t play in pastures; I like good courses, I like the challenge.” A highly respected six handicapper, Register plays a tactical game. He keeps his driver in the bag, preferring to use his slightly shorter, but more controllable three wood off the tee.

When he has to take a 34-hour break, golf – often more than one round – is inevitable. If it’s too wet or cold to play golf, Register play his guitar.

“I take my guitar and 300-watt amp with me,” he says. “I’m never bored on the road, I’ll tell you that.”

Raised in the suburbs of Jacksonville, Fla., Register started playing golf when he was a little kid. “My dad played, and when he got a new set of clubs, we’d get to play with the old ones. And there was a small Par Three course near where we lived, and my parents would drop me and my brothers off there and let us play for hours. Through high school I lost some interest, got into skateboarding and surfing, but it came back to me in a big way and it’s never left me. It helped to have a girlfriend who work at a country club and got me a lot of free golf at that time.”

Even though the University of Florida is in Gainseville, 75 miles to the southwest of Jacksonville, Register took to wearing hats with the university’s famous logo – an alligator. He wore it so much people stopped using his real name, Thomas, and started calling him Gator. “It’s on everything except my CDL,” he says. “But it’ll end up there because I’m going to get it legally changed. Might as well, it’s my name; it’s what everybody knows me as.”

After school Register found himself in the landscaping business, and he stayed there until he was into his thirties. “I was getting burned out doing it, and I ran into a buddy who was a driver and he told me, ‘as much as you love playing golf, you should drive a truck and play nationwide and you won’t have to pay for the travel.’ That was enough for me.”

Register started with M.S. Carriers in 2000 and found he loved playing all over the country. “I came to Super Service, and they loved the idea that I played golf everywhere I went. As long as it doesn’t affect my work, and I make sure it doesn’t, I’m always planning where to play next. When I go back to the company corporate office, there are people asking me to show them my scorecards from around the country.”

Winter in the northern states slows Register down, but it doesn’t stop him. “Some courses up there stay open until Christmas. After that it’s southern golf for a few months. But I’ll play in any weather. I hit a drive one time in Wisconsin that went close to 450 yards. [Note: Tiger Woods' drives soar more than 300 yards regularly, but he can't get within 100 yards of that drive] I didn’t realize the course was frozen, and the ball just kept bouncing along the ice.”

These days Register lives in Middleburg on the outskirts of Jacksonville, and he’s a member of a local golf course. “It’s called The Ravines. It’s a tough course. When they say ravines, they mean it.” Register enjoys playing golf with a brother, Randy – better known, he says, as “Rattlesnake” – who lives in Jacksonville.

But golf may lure Register away from Florida. He says he may move to live near another of his brothers near Union, S.C. “Yeah, I’d like to live near him. There are five golf courses right near there, too.”

You can’t miss Register if you see his Super Service Volvo on the road. Right there on the side of the tractor is his motto: “Trucking Across America, One Golf Course at a Time.”

Links Lingo
Par: What you should make on the hole – a three, four or five – if you play it just right or get lucky.

Eagle: Two under par – that would be a three on a par five or a hole-in-one on a par three

Birdie: One under par

Bogey: One over par

Double bogey: Two over par

Other: What we often write down when it’s more than a double bogey, although technically we should say “triple bogey, quadruple bogey, quintuple bogey” and so on and so on.

Three wood: Using a three wood off the tee is sort of like dropping down a gear to get a little more control. The driver is the big club and goes farthest, but it can be hard to handle.

Handicap: Golfers will tell you this can be a lot of things, like a lack of coordination or not enough patience. Simply, it’s a number that indicates about how many over par you should shoot. A six handicapper on a par 72 course (which most are) should shoot about 78-80.

Par Three: Sometimes called a “pitch and putt,” the holes are all short and it should take only three shots – one to get on the green and two putts – to be in the hole.


The Diners
They’re not only as American as apple pie, they’re where you’ll find some of the best apple pie you’ll ever eat. The classic American diner can be found in likely and unlikely places all over the country.

Walking into one is like walking into a Norman Rockwell painting. They’re a part of the past that just refused to die.

“They [diners] are more American than the American trucker,” says Jerry Berta, owner of Rosie’s Diner in Rockford, Mich. “It’s something unique – independent diners support a dying tradition.”

Sitting tall on a swivel stool, sipping a malt and listening to Buddy Holly sounds like a blast from the past, but many old-fashioned diners are modern American icons, serving hungry customers all over the country. What began as an inexpensive, easy-to-build restaurant is now an American classic with books, websites and historians dedicated to preserving the tradition. The stainless steel finish and neon signs, complete with red vinyl booths and a speckled counter top, can only be accompanied by a friendly waitress, scuffling toward your table with a fresh pot of coffee.

A true diner is a prefabricated building constructed in a factory and transported to its location. During the Depression of the 1930s, diners became popular locations for a cheap meal. As time went by more streamlined models were built to mimic new technology.

After World War II, the demand for diners increased, and the “rocket” appearance of diners became popular in the 1950s as we entered the Space Age.

But then diners lost their luster.

A revival in the 1970s introduced national chain diners into food culture.

Some diners are not old at all but brand new attempts to cash in on nostalgia. And some are old but so refurbished they might as well be new. But some are the real thing. Many are unsung, hidden away and known only to locals.

Rosie’s Diner: Rosie’s was built by the Paramount Car Company in 1946 in New Jersey and moved to Rockford, Mich., in 1991. Artist and owner Jerry Berta maintains a website for the diner and his diner-themed artwork. The famous diner has been featured in Bounty commercials and the Food Network, and it’s now connected to an 18-hole mini golf course. The menu features classic burgers, “hot rod” ribs and a medley of delicious desserts. Visit this site for more details.
4500 14 Mile Rd. NE
Rockford, MI 4934
(616) 866-3663

Broadway Diner: Built in 1949, the Broadway Diner in Columbia, Mo., features a unique and low-priced menu. The “stretch” plate is a heaping portion of hash browns, a two-egg omelet, chili, cheese, peppers and onions, with jalape

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