Trucker of the Year 2010: Cowboy spirit

Todd Dills | February 01, 2010

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A former cowhand, U.S. Marine, policeman and firefighter, Prime’s Mike “Mustang” Crawford tames the open road, coaches new drivers and helps his wife care for critters on their Missouri ranch.

 

Long Lane, Mo., resident Mike Crawford’s gifts as a storyteller and conversationalist have served him well since 1994, when he took the wheel of the new Freightliner FLD he still owns. He set off with his wife, Phyllis, bobtailing in pursuit of the truck’s first load in Columbia, Mo. When Phyllis asked how fast they were going, he wasn’t sure.

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Mike Crawford’s leather hat was given to him by friend John Boswell in 1987 when Crawford was a cowboy on the Phantom Canyon Ranch near Livermore, Colo. “I wear it everywhere I go,” he says.

“I’d never been in a truck for anybody that would go faster than 65,” says Crawford, or “Mustang,” as he’s more commonly known. His new rig was so “comfortable and smooth riding” he and Phyllis were surprised to discover he was going 70 mph.

Next thing he knew, a Missouri state patrolman had pulled him over. After a long conversation, ranging from cattle prices to Crawford’s lease-purchase of the FLD with Prime Inc., followed by a brief warning, he was on his way.

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Visit OverdriveOnline.com for a video interview with Mike Crawford, conducted at Prime Inc.’s state-of-the-art driver facility in Springfield, Mo.

Crawford, who remains leased to Springfield, Mo.-based Prime, is eager to talk with anyone who’ll listen. But since that day, he’s learned to pay close attention to the speedometer and has logged 2.5 million safe miles behind its wheel.

He’s one of four senior Prime owner-operators on a call list given to new hires and newly leased owner-operators seeking advice from veterans, a list Crawford was instrumental in implementing. Add to this Driver of the Month awards from Prime and others (one from the Missouri Trucking Association), and Crawford’s unflagging honesty, commitment to hard work and acute sense for the needs of his business and it’s not hard to see why he is Overdrive’s 2010 Trucker of the Year.

In the mid-’90s, “the first time I met him, I realized he was a true character,” says Prime Safety Director Don Lacy, who became better acquainted with Crawford when the two were regular guests on the Sirius Loading Dock morning show during 2006-’07. (It’s now the Open Road Café on Sirius XM Channel 147.)

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“She’s not as vicious as she looks,” says Mike Crawford of Bonnie (left), here playing with Gracie, both “guard dogs” on his 97-acre farm in Long Lane, Mo.

Host Mark Willis recalls Crawford being “a superb storyteller and one of the safest drivers out there on the road. He always had a kind word to say about people, no matter what the topic we might have been discussing. We looked forward to his call, usually early in the morning, because it got the day off to a good start.”

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Mike Crawford (left) with his father and brother at Christmas in Ava., Mo.

But Lacy believes Crawford’s contribution to the show was not style, but substance – the information owner-operators need to run their businesses. “He was always adamant on the show about running on time, taking care of your equipment, approaching the customer the right way,” Lacy says.

 

“One of the things I love most in this world,” Crawford says, “is making people laugh.” For customers, Crawford’s made an art of disarming a new face with humor, and winning hearts with hard work and dependability. His philosophy: “The customer is No. 1,” he says, “whether the shipper or the receiver. Prime, then, is No. 2. My family is No. 3, and I’m No. 4. If you don’t have the customer paying, you don’t have the trucking industry.”

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Mike Crawford in portrait next to a picture of a grandmother in the family.

And this industry, Crawford notes, has made it possible for him to achieve impressive net income in recent years – about $100,000 in 2007 and ’08, just shy of that in ’09 – hauling flatbed freight with a concentration in glass, steel coils and pipe. He attributes his success not just to his personal acumen, but to his involvement with a company that values its owner-operators as partners. “All the way up to Robert Low, Prime’s owner, there is no one person any more important than any other,” he says.