The Comeback Kid
As the 2003 Trucker of the Year Chuck McQuerry will receive:
According to an old truckers’ tale, it’s bad luck to take a picture of a truck, says Chuck McQuerry. “But, I don’t believe it,” McQuerry says, in spite of the fact that his 2000 Freightliner Classic XL caught fire shortly after the photo shoot when he was featured as Overdrive’s July Trucker of the Month.
The electrical fire that put his Freightliner out of commission just south of Albuquerque, N.M., last summer was a small set-back compared to the financial difficulties the 43-year-old, Ringgold, Ga., resident faced just two years earlier. “I was in sort of a shambles,” he recalls. “I hadn’t been running good, and my revenue was falling off. I was beginning to turn upside down.”
Seven months behind on his truck payments, McQuerry decided to return to U.S. Xpress, a carrier where he’d had success as a company driver. “When I started to think, ‘I’m sinking fast,’ I thought, ‘at least go back to where you were happy.’ No sooner had I signed than they went right to work to help resolve my problems,” he says.
McQuerry began working closely with Larry Dennis, U.S. Xpress director of contractor services, but he admits he was skeptical at first. “I had tried everything. I had been working very hard. What answers did this guy have that I didn’t?”
But success made a believer out of McQuerry. The U.S. Xpress Contractor Relations department showed him ways to get his operating costs down, got him running more miles hauling expedited and just-in-time freight to increase his revenue, and helped him set up a business account in which he puts aside a percentage of his revenue for maintenance and emergencies. The department also put McQuerry on an accelerated truck payment schedule so he could repay missed payments while keeping up with his current obligations. “Larry told me: ‘Don’t worry. Keep rolling,’” McQuerry recalls. “‘Let us take care of the problems. You take care of the freight.’”
The combination of hard work and smart business decisions paid off. Not only did McQuerry turn his business around, he’s expanding. This spring, he will add a 2002 Kenworth W900. The custom-built truck features a doeskin leather, diamond-tuck interior, 550-hp Caterpillar engine and an 18-speed Eaton Fuller transmission. He plans to drive the Kenworth and to put a team in the Freightliner.
“Chuck is the consummate professional driver, and he’s learning to become the consummate professional businessman,” Dennis says. “He was at death’s doorstep as far as his business is concerned, and now he’s getting ready to realize his life’s dream of owning a small fleet.”
Another dream was realized on Thanksgiving Day when McQuerry received a call from Overdrive telling him he’d been named 2003 Trucker of the Year. “I never dreamed in all my career that I’d be sitting in this position,” he says.
“He said it over and over, ‘Is this for real?’” his wife, Theresa, recalls. “He’s been up and down this year with his truck burning and everything. It was great to see him so happy for a change.”
McQuerry has come a long way since his trucking career began. His first influence was his dad, who drove truck and bus. McQuerry taught truck driving to his brother, Tony, 32, who now drives for Jevic.
In 1985 McQuerry was working as a parts inspector for Pratt & Whitney when he caught the trucking bug while on a fishing trip with his mother in northern Georgia. “I saw a truck go by and told Mom, ‘That looks like fun,’” he recalls. One week later, the then 24-year-old McQuerry enrolled at the Alliance Tractor Trailer Training Academy in McDonough, Ga. Two months later he took his first driving job pulling tankers.