‘My Truck is My Life’

Trucker: Grant Sheldon of Henderson, Ky.

Age: 54

Truck: 1998 Kenworth T2000 powered by a 1998 500-hp Detroit Series 60

Honors: Consultant to Detroit Diesel, Kenworth and more than two dozen component

Operation: Hauls Eaton automotive parts under his own authority

He drives a dedicated route of 3,200 miles a week, doing his own mechanical work and all the countless other tasks that come with having his own authority.

As if that weren’t enough, Grant Sheldon has also created a unique niche for himself as a field tester. He has worked for nearly 30 component manufacturers, trying out everything from transmissions to global positioning systems.

At his Henderson, Ky., office, his secretary, Kim, helps run two related but separate businesses, trucking and testing. In the shop are shelves of parts, tires and lubes given to Sheldon for his professional opinion.

“Grant takes excellent care of the equipment he tests for us, and his written reports are excellent,” says longtime friend Dave Parkilla, manager of Detroit Diesel’s Pilot Center. “He is relentless when there is a problem to be solved.”

Sheldon puts it another way: “I am frequently perceived as pesky.”

He says that from his youth, “All I wanted was to be around equipment.” At 20, Sheldon, son of a Standard Oil executive, started working on an oil rig off the California coast. When he was laid off in 1970, he bought a 1954 two-axle R-160 International dump. Within 18 months he was running five gas trucks. But maintenance costs swamped him, and he scaled back in 1974 to become a one-truck owner-operator.

Sheldon believes this was one of his smartest decisions. “It afforded me time to maintain my equipment in top-notch mechanical condition.” For the next three years he hauled gravel at night and sand during the day. He read everything he could about truck maintenance and components and began weekend modification of his 1977 Kenworth W900.

During the late 1970s his Detroit 8V-92 developed a leak. After working with the manufacturer to solve the problem, Sheldon was asked in 1979 to join the company’s owner-operator board of advisers, a position he continues to hold. He kept working through Southern California’s construction boom in the early 1990s. In 1994 he switched to long haul and bought a 27-acre farm in Henderson, Ky., near an Eaton axle plant. He ran for Landstar for two years before getting his own authority and leasing to Eaton’s dedicated fleet. When Eaton dissolved this fleet in 1998, he contracted with Borg-Warner for another dedicated run, a job he still does in his 1998 Kenworth T2000.

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Sheldon’s reverence for equipment is demonstrated by a story told by his longtime friend Roger Hobbie, retired marketing manager for Eaton Roadranger Field Marketing. Sheldon arranged for Kenworth to install a T800 glider kit to replace a new 1977 W900. Sheldon did such an excellent job orchestrating every tiny detail of the switch that he and Kenworth’s techs did the job in what Sheldon calls “an amusing” 51 hours. Kenworth taped the process to use as a promotional video.

“Grant is an extremely well-organized man who thinks through everything before acting,” Hobbie says. “That has a great deal to do with his success.”

Being a self-starter doesn’t hurt, either. His relationships with Kenworth and Detroit Diesel, along with his determination to get his money’s worth out of equipment, led to other product testing deals, including Allied Signal, Con Met, Delco Remy, Hendrickson, Jacobs, Mobil Oil, Bostrom Seats, Rockwell and Texaco.

When he’s home, he works on his 1998 T2000 working truck and 48-foot, air-ride van. The 500-hp Detroit Series 60 and 3.55 rears gave Sheldon 7 miles per gallon last year, 2 of which he attributes to aerodynamics.

From the polished hardwood floors of his office to his weekly drive-tire rotation, Sheldon’s operation shows his total dedication to his business. “My net income is very small because I put everything back into my truck,” he says. “I don’t mean repairs. I mean improvements. I do a lot to the truck beyond using the components I test.” Many years he has lost money on his trucking business because reinvestment and tax strategies. His rental property and his farm have given him a modest income to live on.

The bottom line: “I am living the life I want to live.”

EARLY ACCOMPLISHMENT: Ran a successful trucking company in California for many years.

MOST SIGNIFICANT PROJECT: Field testing one of the first Detroit Diesel 500 engines for 400,000 miles.

FAVORITE VACATION: Frequent speaker at engineering gatherings held by Detroit Diesel’s Pilot Center.

FAVORITE MEAL: Subway subs.

FAVORITE TRUCK STOP: Wal-Mart parking lots.

PET PEEVE: Fat burgers in truck stops.

MOST PROUD OF: Relationship with Detroit Diesel.

ADVICE TO NEW DRIVERS: Remember you’re hauling 40 tons. Don’t pay attention to drivers who make fun of your inexperience. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

MOST REWARDING EXPERIENCE: Being picked by Kenworth to analyze products. Now testing global positioning systems.

HOBBIES: Working on his truck and trailer.

PRETTIEST PLACE TO DRIVE: The Dalles, east of Portland, Ore.

WHAT TRUCKING NEEDS: A regulated rate structure.

MOTTO: My truck is my life.

Do you know an exemplary owner-operator with 15 years of trucking experience and an excellent safety record? Write to Laura Crackel, Overdrive, P.O. Box 3187, Tuscaloosa, AL 35403, or e-mail [email protected].