‘Too adventurous’

Trucker: Florencio Hernandez, 51, of Houston

Family: Wife Rita, four children

Truck: 1995 Mack CH427

Leased to: Palletized Trucking of Houston

Income: $40,000 to $60,000

Awards: 14 Years of Safe Driving, President’s Award

Freight: Specialized and oversize

Motto: All I can do is all I can do. If it’s out of my control, I look to a higher power.

Florencio Hernandez never thought he would turn out to be a truck driver. But spending 31 years on the road has not changed his mind about the job. Hernandez loves his work, especially now.

Having traveled from El Salvador to Pikes Peak to Prudhoe Bay, 500 miles north of Fairbanks, Alaska, this owner-operator has settled into running regionally in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Arkansas. Rather than spending weeks away from the house, Hernandez is generally home every week.

Rita, his wife of three years, likes being able to plan family get-togethers and to spend regular quality time together. Her husband, Rita says, is a man with strong family values. “Florencio has taught all four of his children to drive,” she says.

“I never thought about being a truck driver,” Hernandez says. “I spent four years in the Marines and time in Force Recon in Vietnam. When I came home, I started looking for a way to make a living. I found a job hauling gravel and learned to drive in the gravel pits. We pulled 25, maybe 30 loads of gravel a day out of the pits.”

Often, he pulled 100,000-pound loads, a difficult way to learn the trade, and learned to shift two-stick triplexes in the bargain. From there he found work with a construction outfit building U.S. 59 between Victoria and El Campo, Texas. “That was the first time I drove a truck on a paved road,” Hernandez says.

Since 1978, Hernandez has pulled a variety of trailers for Palletized Trucking of Houston. He bought his first truck in 1980 and has been an owner-operator ever since. His 1995 Mack CH427, bought in 1999, has 620,000 miles on its 427 Mack engine.

Despite its name, Palletized is a diversified carrier that often asks its premier owner-operators to pull specialized and oversize freight. Hernandez often pulls a rollback single drop that will accommodate such loads. Such freight and the prospect of going to exotic locations are sometimes more important than the revenue, though he nets about $50,000 a year. “Sometimes,” he says, “I am too adventurous for my own good.”

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Rex King, owner of Palletized Trucking, says “Flo” will accept loads to places others don’t want to go. He has taken seismic buggies to Montana mountaintops and medical supplies to El Salvador. Besides taking on unusual and difficult jobs, “He always does more for the customer than what he’s been asked,” King says.

His trip to El Salvador came after the devastating earthquake in February. In a 6,000-mile round trip organized by Palletized Trucking and the Christian Alliance, five truckloads of medical supplies made their way down the Gulf Coast of Mexico to Belize, then west to the Pacific. The final stretch of road proved impassable to tractor-trailers. Headed south, the aid convoy was detained three days at the Mexican border. “The problem was that the customs officers expect bribes,” Hernandez says. “It took the Matamoros television and other media to convince them to let us into the country. Why is it easy for drugs to get across the border and hard for humanitarian aid?”
Adventures like this are right up Hernandez’s alley, but he runs his truck like a business. At this year’s Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, the Hernandezes attended the Partners in Business seminar sponsored by Overdrive and Volvo. “Lately, I have been trying to integrate Rita into the business,” he says.

Wish list: Freightliner Classic with a 600 Cat.

Favorite meal: Steak dinner.

Accomplishment: Has trucked as far north as Prudhoe Bay and as far south as El Salvador.

Advice to new owner-operators: Young drivers expect too much too soon. If they don’t start making a big salary right away, they’re ready to quit. Young drivers need to learn patience and stick with a job.

Greatest challenge facing owner-operators: The rising cost of truck maintenance and falling rates.

Secret to success: Being professional and courteous to customers and giving more than they expect.

How truckers can improve the industry’s image: Be as cautious as possible around four-wheelers. Always remember that you answer to God, whether you believe it or not.

Worst trucking moment: A steering tire blowout in Texas that cost him his truck.