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.
Though he makes the most of his time at home, Clouse still has a few regrets.
“You’ve got to want to do this,” he says of trucking, “because you’re going to miss birthdays. You’re going to miss your kids growing up. You’re going to miss wedding anniversaries. Your wife’s going to miss you.”
But Clouse missed milestones so that he could support his family. He and his wife, Marilyn, have three children, eight grandchildren and a great-grandchild on the way. They host the large family for Christmas every year.
“We always have a full house, and I enjoy every minute of it,” Clouse says.
Family time is easier to come by, in part, due to good financial management. He saves his receipts and turns them into his wife. She is the bookkeeper at Mayo Seed, where the two met 35 years ago. She categorizes his earnings and expenses using QuickBooks software.
“We do a lot of comparing,” she says. Each month, she shows Gerald a graph that tracks how his expenses have changed in each category since the previous year. Clouse uses that system to set goals that help keep his overhead low.
Meticulous record-keeping leads to a more efficient business, he says. Last year, he netted $40,000.
“All that’s over my head,” Clouse says, modestly, “But it sure beats punching a clock.”
1970: Son Todd is born
1972: Married Marilyn Jones
1973: Began driving locally for Mayo Seed Co.
1983: Began driving over-the-road for A.J. Metler Rigging and Hauling
1984: Bought first truck
1986: Leased to Dart Transit
1989: First granddaughter, Phoebe, is born
2000: Contractor of the Month at Dart
2008: Placed third as Truckload Carriers Association’s Independent Contractor of the Year
Gerald Clouse at OverdriveOnline.com.
DO YOU KNOW an exemplary owner-operator with 15 years of trucking experience and an excellent safety record? Write to Lucinda Coulter, Overdrive, P.O. Box 3187, Tuscaloosa, AL 35403, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
A HAWAIIAN VACATION was Gerald and Marilyn Clouse’s 25th anniversary gift from their children. Marilyn says it was the most memorable time the couple has ever spent together. Touring Pearl Harbor was the highlight of the trip for the history buffs.
EVERY YEAR, Clouse participates in his granddaughter Phoebe’s elementary school book drive. One year he bought all the books on the teacher’s list and let Phoebe present them to the class. n