TRUCKER: Dolyal Phillip Bickham Sr., 52, of Jackson, Miss.
FAMILY: Four children and three grandchildren
LEASED TO: KLLM Transport
FREIGHT: Produce, chemicals and meat
ACCIDENT-FREE: 29 years
HONORS: KLLM 1 Million Mile Award, KLLM Driver of the Month
RIG: 1993 Kenworth T600
Dolyal Bickham Sr. of Jackson, Miss., has what he calls a five-year plan. “Well, I just turned 52, and I don’t want to be one of those guys who drives forever,” Bickham says.
He hopes to retire from trucking early enough to try a different career and find the ideal rural home. Until then, Bickham plans on enjoying the independence of driving a truck and making his own decisions.
One decision is to buy a 1998 Freightliner from a friend in a few months to replace his 1993 Kenworth.
“My goal is not to have a new truck,” he says. “Some of my friends are trying to talk me into buying a brand new, expensive truck, but I make just as much money as they do, and I don’t have to give most of it to the bank. A truck just has to get you where you need to go.”
Bickham’s father owned two trucks and hauled gravel around Louisiana. “I used to wash trucks, fix flats and do other small maintenance,” Bickham says. “And I’d ride with one of his drivers on weekends and sometimes at night because they went only about an hour away from our house.”
But when Bickham got out of the Navy after serving two years during the Vietnam War, he decided that hauling gravel wasn’t exactly what he wanted to do. “I had grown up seeing how much maintenance my dad had to do on those trucks because that type of hauling just tears them up,” he says. “So I started out hauling oil field pipes with a few different companies.”
From there Bickham hauled insulation as a company driver and then drove for KLLM. Later he worked in KLLM safety and personnel for six or seven years. “Knowing both sides of the job does give you an advantage, and I would do it again if the opportunity came up,” he says.
But in the early ’90s, a layoff forced him to make a decision. “They wanted those who had driven before to go back to the driving, but I decided to drive a tanker for another company,” Bickham says. He had been driving a tanker about a year when KLLM started an owner-operator division, and the vice president encouraged him to come back when he decided to buy a truck. So he bought a truck and started hauling bananas from Gulfport, Miss., to Cincinnati and Indianapolis, though he now mainly hauls produce, meat and chemicals in company trailers around the 48 states. For a few weeks in October, he was running bananas because another driver was unable to because of emergency surgery.
“As soon as we knew we needed help delivering those bananas, I thought of Dolyal,” says Charles Felder, director of contract relations for KLLM. “He’s always willing to help out, and it’s that kind of attitude that makes him stand out – that and the way he conducts his business.”
Even though his business is in the forefront of his mind, his retirement plan isn’t far behind. Bickham’s plan includes paying off bills, retiring from trucking, going back to school or creating a part-time business, and buying some land out in the country. “I want to be able to drive down a long dirt road and have it just open up into my land. I want to have a pond, and I don’t want to worry about neighbors or anything,” he says. “I want to enjoy retirement.”
HOW TO IMPROVE THE INDUSTRY’S IMAGE: Be a safe and courteous driver and maintain a good attitude.
SECRETS TO YOUR SUCCESS: Patience, flexibility and a willingness to learn.
GREATEST CHALLENGE FACING OWNER-OPERATORS: Not being paid for on-duty, non-driving time and the cost of insurance, fuel and maintenance.
ADVICE TO OWNER-OPERATORS: Don’t overspend on your truck. Do your budget and have a plan.
UNUSUAL PLACE I’VE HAULED: I was pulling a flatbed, and I went into a gold mine in Nevada. They gave me special clothes and shoes, and they picked all the rocks out of my tires before I drove out of the gate to make sure I didn’t take any with me.
STRANGEST HAPPENING ON THE ROAD: One time when I was pulling flatbed, I was in Chicago putting the tarp on, and the wind was so strong that it picked me up and set me down on the other side of the trailer.
FAVORITE LOAD: Any light load that pays well. I run percentage, so loads of things like film and medical supplies are good for me.
LEAST FAVORITE LOAD: Chemicals that need more than one placard, like cleaning fluids for houses, matches and embalming fluid.
FAVORITE STATES: I like the Carolinas. I think it is so beautiful through there, especially driving through the mountains in the fall.
LEAST FAVORITE STATE: The roads are awful in Arkansas, but they’re getting better. They’ve done more for their roads than Louisiana has.
DREAM VACATION: I’m going to take a cruise one day, maybe to the Bahamas.
FAVORITE MUSIC: Oldies but goodies, blues, jazz and gospel.
HOBBIES: I love fishing, but I also collect trains. I always liked trains, and one day I just started buying them, and now I have more than I can count. I also like to cook Cajun-style food.
FAVORITE MOVIES: Any movie with Steven Seagal, and most action movies.
FAVORITE TELEVISION SHOW: “The District.”
FAVORITE FOOD: Chicken pie, chicken and dumplings.
LEAST FAVORITE FOOD: Any type of greens and cornbread.
PET PEEVE: To see a truck backing up that has two people in it. One should get out and help.
GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Getting all of my kids out of school and out on their own.
If you would like to nominate a Trucker of the Month, e-mail Laura Crackel at [email protected].