Trucker of the Year 2011

Todd Dills | February 01, 2011

Always Thinking Ahead

When the housing market collapsed, Dan Heister learned how quickly flatbed could go sour — and what it would take to keep his head above water.


Flatbedding was good to Dan Heister in 2007 and 2008. Then problems in the credit and housing markets knocked the wheels off virtually all flatbed segments. A lot of Heister’s lanes disappeared. Rates plunged.

Heister’s International 9900ix is powered by a 435-hp Detroit Series 60 engine and has close to 900,000 miles.

Many of his fellow owner-operators at Boyd Bros. Transportation and other flatbed carriers had their leases severed or went out of business. Heister, though, was determined to stay in flatbedding and do what it would take to make ends meet for his family until the market turned.

It wouldn’t be easy.

“When life is going to be much tougher on the road, he thinks ahead,” says Heister’s fleet manager, Jim Davis. “He makes sure he has the funds to keep running.”

Tawn Heister, Dan’s wife of 26 years, attributes his success to setting high standards: “If you’re going to do something, you do it to the best of your ability. Dan knows what he has to do, and he does it.”

Foresight and a strong work ethic are just two qualities that set the 45-year-old owner-operator apart as Overdrive’s 2011 Trucker of the Year. He developed other skills throughout a career that included special training in the military.

Outside interests. The Heister family hopes to move to bigger property around Erin to accommodate the antique car collection that Dan and his son Jake work on. They’d also like more space for Tawn’s quarter horse and a dog-grooming business Tawn would like to open.

Heister met Tawn near Davenport, Iowa, while in high school. When he was 18, the couple married and he joined the Army, stationed at Fort Campbell, Ky.

After a year and a half stateside, they lived three years in Germany. “I was an aircraft mechanic there,” says Heister, but “I spent most of my time in the motor pool. When I was in Europe I had a tractor and three trailers,” which he utilized to transport equipment in need of repair.

Heister says that experience prepared him well for handling truck maintenance needs as an owner-operator. For example, when an exhaust bracket on his International recently cracked, “I fixed that over a weekend,” he says. “I had some metal I could put around it.”

His time at home, though, is more often spent with family, whether working on three classic Ford autos with his 13-year-old son, Jake, or enjoying time with Tawn. “When I bought my truck I decided I wasn’t going to spend my weekend working on it so I could go and work all week, too,” Heister says. “Time at home’s too precious.”

When the first Iraq war began, Heister was deployed to do maintenance and also drove trucks there. After Iraq, he spent a year in Korea before ending his Army service and staying in the Fort Campbell area. He turned to trucking.

“I had driven trucks since I was on the farm [growing up in Iowa], as well as in the Army,” he says. “And since I’d never held a 9-to-5 job, trucking just seemed to make sense.”