Trucker of the Month: A Centered Life

Lanier Norville | December 01, 2009
TOM-first
"I polish my truck myself," Bower says of his 2003 Western Star Low Max, noting that a clean truck doesn't need a lot of chrome accessories to look fierce cruising down the road.

Leonard Bower fondly recalls bouncing up and down in the passenger seat of his dad’s 1969 Diamond Reo cabover. He’s known the route from Pennsylvania to Texas since he was 12. “We rode there and back six times in one summer,” the Harrisburg, Pa., native says. “My love for traveling developed out of those rides.”

By age 24, he bought his first truck, a 1977 Kenworth A, and was eager to see the rest of the country. “Back in those days I couldn’t stay out long enough, Bower says. “I was very adventurous. I had to see what was around the next curve.”

That love of travel included going around curves on Harley-Davidson Dressers for many years. He owned four new ones between 1987 and 1992, even honeymooning on his Hog in 1992 with his bride, Jill Bower, out West.

“For five years, every year, we’d go out West for three weeks and get on the back roads,” Bowers said of he and his wife’s motorcycle trips. Eventually Jill bought her own Harley. “People thought we were crazy. Oh, yeah, we loved it.”

Now that he and Jill have three children – and have sold their Hogs – Bower values his time at home. When he took a long-haul lease with Mercer Transportation last year, it took a toll, he says.

“The longest I was away was two months – April and May – with only three days at home,” he says. As his most lucrative freight routes began dropping, Bower re-evaluated priorities. This September, he took a job hauling regional loads of steel coil and plates for Rushville, Ind.-based Fraley and Schilling, at a time when few companies were hiring.

His longtime friend and owner-operator colleague Sam Young says he understands why. “His overall knowledge of trucking is what’s gotten him this far.”

Though Bower enjoys his home time, he also appreciated last year’s long hauls. “You get a level of knowledge that you can’t really get out of a textbook,” Bower says. “You get to experience different accents, different foods, how the locals have laid out their back roads.”

The allure of the open road wasn’t the only reason Bower wanted to become an owner-operator at a young age. “The other enjoyable aspect, especially from a young guy’s perspective, was handling a large piece of equipment,” Bower says. “There’s a sense of satisfaction there.”

The 52-year-old, sporting a tucked-in green twill shirt, says that a large part of maintenance means keeping a truck sparkling: “If it’s clean and shiny, in my book, it’s a nice looking truck.”

He now drives a gleaming 2003 Western Star Low Max, powered by a 475-hp Caterpillar and an 18-speed Eaton Fuller, hauling flatbed freight between Delaware and Illinois. It’s the seventh Western Star he’s owned.

When he was leased to Pyle Transport from 1995 to 2005, he represented the company at truck shows along the East Coast to help recruit owner-operators. “Pyle transport recognized his ability to work with people,” Larry Hess, sales manager at Midway Trucks, says of Bower, who has done business with Hess since 1988 when he sold Bower his first Western Star.