Travelin’ man

TRUCKER: Tod Hale, 55, of Central Point, Ore.

LEASED TO: Interstate Distributor Co. in Tacoma, Wash.

EQUIPMENT: 1997 Peterbilt 379 and 1995 Alloy 53-foot dry van trailer

HONORS: 20 Years Safe Driving, Independent Contractor of the Year for Interstate Distributor Co.

FAMILY: Wife, Carol; three daughters, Marne, Angela and Stacey; four granddaughters and one grandson

MOTTO: You’re only as old as you feel

Tod Hale, 55, has seen places most people only dream about. Born into a military family, he grew up in England and Germany, went to high school in Panama and moved to fort after fort across the United States. He joined the Navy in 1965 and extended his list of adventures to include Hawaii, Vietnam, Guam, Midway, Australia and New Zealand. He got out of the Navy in 1969 to study police science at George Mason College of the University of Virginia, now George Mason University.

During school, he drove locally for Jacobs Transfer in Virginia, hauling government freight. Hale liked driving a truck, so he quit school to drive full time.

In 1973, Hale’s friend Robert “Tiny” Jennings traded his dump truck for a cabover Kenworth to haul produce over the road. At the time, Hale drove a 1973 International cabover around Washington, D.C., and knew nothing about over-the-road driving, but he decided to buy a truck, too.

“I didn’t know there were Petes and Freightliners,” Hale says. “I went in there like I was buying a loaf of bread.” The salesman asked Hale whether he wanted to go for a test drive, but neither Hale nor the salesman knew how to drive the truck. “Between the two of us, we managed to get it out of the parking lot and around the block,” Hale says.

One down payment later, Hale was in the over-the-road produce business. He headed to Palmetto, Fla., from Alexandria, Va., for his first pickup. “I drove for a little while, then I stopped somewhere for the night. I just took my time,” Hale says. “It took me two and a half days to go 1,000 miles. It didn’t take me long to figure out that I couldn’t do that in this business. I showed up ready to load, but the guy had expected me the day before.”

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When the man told Hale his first load was going to Chattanooga, Tenn., Hale was disappointed because he thought he would just be going back home. “He said to me, ‘Son, you can’t be going home every trip.’ I thought I was going to lose my family forever,” Hale says. “I thought I had made the biggest mistake of my life.”

Hale worked for George Hayden Truck Brokers for a little more than two years until 1975, when he moved to Oregon and drove for W.J. Digby out of Denver. In 1977, he signed on with Interstate Distributor in Tacoma, Wash. He’s been driving with them ever since. “I’ve pretty much grown up with this company,” Hale says. “It’s the biggest family I’ve been associated with. I couldn’t have asked for anything better.”

Terry McLean, part owner of Interstate Distributor Co., has known Hale for 24 years. “Guys like him make our company successful,” says McLean, who attributes Hale’s success to his attitude. “His word is his bond, and he does what he says he is going to do.”

Hale attributes his success to trusting his employer and having a supportive wife. She even learned to drive. “She goes with me part time,” he says.

Hale says the hardest part of trucking is being away from his family in Central Point, Ore., but the homecomings are always great. “Carol meets me in the driveway every time.”

Although it’s hard for Hale to leave home, “The best part of trucking is traveling,” he says. “Every trip is an adventure. There’s a whole lot out there to see.”

He may have already seen a lot, but he still has a few states to go: Vermont, Maine and Alaska. “We’re driving to my Navy reunion in Boston next year. Maybe we’ll just drive on up to Vermont and Maine so we can say we’ve been there.”

CHANGE THE INDUSTRY NEEDS: Regulatory rates, so our pay comes up to what it costs to live.

ADVICE: Don’t get discouraged if things don’t go your way. You have to give it a chance and put into it what you want to get out of it. Listen. Keep your eyes and your ears open and learn from younger people.

SECRET TO SUCCESS: Just sticking it out and not getting discouraged by a bad day or week. There’s so much more good in this business than bad, but you have to take the bad with the good. Also trusting in my employer and having a wife that supports me.

SECRET TO HAPPY MARRIAGE: Being faithful and having a wife that’s like me. Helping one another and being friends. We have faith in one another and faith in God.

PET PEEVE: People with poor driving habits. It puts everybody at risk.

FAVORITE FOOD: Prime rib, medium rare, end cut. A good pizza and a good burger.

LEAST FAVORITE FOOD: Brussels sprouts.

FAVORITE MOVIE: All war movies. Top Gun.

FAVORITE MUSIC: Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Tony Bennett, Billie Holiday, the stuff my parents listened to.

BIGGEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Succeeding in this business and keeping my family together at the same time.

HOBBIES: Fishing and crabbing. We just bought a 24-foot ocean boat at the end of last season, but we only got to take it out a few times.

FAVORITE AUTHOR: W.E.B. Griffin. He’s an excellent military historian.

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].