Trucker of the Month
Legacy of safety
After six years of crafting rugs, ropes and tents in Tennessee cotton mills, 23-year-old Gerald Clouse was ready for a change. In 1973 he left millwork behind and took a warehouse job with Mayo Seed Co. in Knoxville, Tenn. That spring, his boss needed a second driver to deliver orders for seed and other gardening supplies the company distributes.
“Can you drive a truck?” he asked Clouse.
“A little bit,” Clouse replied, taking a chance. He had never been behind the wheel of a truck before, but he felt right at home in the company’s straight truck.
“That little bit turned into 35 years,” says Clouse, a now 58-year-old owner-operator who has been leased to Dart Transit for 23 of those years and driven nearly 4 million accident-free miles. Clouse says trucking gives him a sense of freedom and responsibility he couldn’t find in a mill.
“When you’re out on the road, you can’t look to no one but yourself to get ahead,” he says. “It’s up to you, and you’re not answering to anybody.”
Clouse made deliveries to Mayo Seed’s clients in Tennessee, Georgia, North Carolina and Virginia for 10 years. In 1983, he switched to over-the-road, driving for friend Horace Lawrence, whose tractor was leased to A.J. Metler Rigging and Hauling in Knoxville. A year later he bought the tractor, a 1976 International Transtar II, from Lawrence and became an owner-operator.
He continued his lease with A.J. Metler until 1986, when he contracted his truck with Dart, where he has been ever since.
“It’s nice to know that someone is that dedicated,” says Clouse’s dispatcher Lynn Christensen. Because turnover rates are high in trucking, Christensen says she is glad that long-term truckers like Clouse are still around.
“He’s a great representative for Dart,” she says. She and the rest of the company were pleased when Clouse placed third in the 2009 Truckload Carriers Association Independent Contractor of the Year contest.
Clouse also has received six safety awards and one contractor of the month award from Dart. Clouse credits a perfect safety record to following the rules and making sure that heavier loads are legal.
“If your record is good, you can always get a job,” he says.
When Dart recognized Clouse for 3 million accident-free miles, the company sent an announcement to a local newspaper, The Maryville Times. Clouse received letters from members of his community thanking him for safe driving. One of the letters was from a classmate Clouse had not seen since grade school.
A professional appearance and attitude have been essential to his success. When one trucker is not dressed properly or his equipment is not clean, “It reflects poorly on all of us,” he says.
Clouse keeps his red 2003 Freightliner Classic spotless and wears clean blue jeans and a button-down shirt every day. He maintains his health by keeping fruits and vegetables in his in-cab refrigerator. That way, he doesn’t have to stop for fast food.