Sticking to What Works

HOME: Decatur, Ga.
FAMILY: Wife Willena, daughter Michelle
LEASED TO: Morgan Southern in Conley, Ga.
RIG: 1993 Volvo White
FREIGHT: Intermodal

Mike Harper, 44, of Decatur, Ga., didn’t grow up in a trucking family. Of all people to get him started in trucking, his wife suggested it to him to get him out of the welding business.

“I kept getting laid off when things got slow, and she got tired of it,” says Harper, who has been an owner-operator for 15 years. “She used to work at a truck stop, and she kept hearing good things about trucking. And I didn’t really like welding anyway.”

So Harper got a job working the dock for a company, loading and unloading trucks. He gradually worked up to backing trucks in and out to doing local hauls to finally going on the road for a few days at a time. After five years of being a company driver, he became an owner-operator. Harper leased to Morgan Southern, based in Conley, Ga., near Atlanta, as an intermodal hauler, picking up from local rail yards and hauling to warehouses for companies such as Target and Wal-Mart. He drives within a 250-mile radius of Atlanta, yet still logs about 100,000 miles a year. “And I get to come home every night,” he says.

“He’s dedicated to the company and to the customer,” says Andy Blanchard, director of terminals for Morgan Southern. “He’s always on time and very conscientious, and in the 20 years that I’ve been in this business, he’s the best driver I’ve ever seen.”

Last year, Harper won Morgan Southern’s Trucker of the Year award. “I just try to be really dependable, and I try to be at work every day and do the stuff that is good for the company,” says Harper of his success. “And I plan on being here until I’m 55.”

After he retires: “I want to move back to the country and live in a small house. I want to get out of the rat race,” Harper says. “And one day I’m going to get a boat, but I have to wait until my daughter gets out of college. She’s going to Florida State University, studying to be a pediatrician.”

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FIRST TRUCK: It wasn’t that pretty, but you could see it from a mile away – it was canary yellow and white. It had a lot of miles on it, and one day it just cut off. I only had it for six months. That was all I could get out of it.

FAVORITE PLACE TO HAUL: Anywhere in Florida. The weather is always beautiful.

HARDEST THING TO LEARN: Backing up and how to get lined up straight, especially blind-side backing. I always get out and look to make sure I don’t hit anything. I’ll get out three or four times.

BEST THING ABOUT TRUCKING: The money is really good. And I like meeting a lot of people and seeing different sites.

WORST THING ABOUT TRUCKING: Traffic. Sometimes there is so much traffic. And driving in the fog. You really have to be extra cautious.

DREAM VACATION: I would love to go to Hawaii.

FAVORITE MUSIC: I’m truly old school. I like music from the ’70s – oldies but goodies – stuff like the Jackson 5 and the Temptations.

FAVORITE TELEVISION SHOW: Used to be “Sanford & Son.” And any kind of sports – football, basketball, baseball – college or professional.

FAVORITE MOVIE: My wife and I watch a lot of Westerns. We are big-time John Wayne fans. Anything he plays in, I’m watching it, especially El Dorado.

FAVORITE FOOD: I’m a sweets guy. I go for cakes and cookies. We also like Chinese food. And every weekend we have Mexican.

STRANGEST THING TO HAPPEN ON THE ROAD: Before I started with Morgan Southern, I was taking a load of cigarettes to a warehouse in Chicago. There was another truck driving with me, and we stopped at a stoplight. Before the light turned green, there were guys up in the trailer throwing out big boxes. They had hopped up and cut the lock on the trailer. Our trucks would run through there twice a week, so they knew when we were coming, and they had it timed perfectly.

PET PEEVE: Truckers who speed up in front of you and slow down just to mess with you. They want you out of their way so they can get in a big hurry. So many things can happen when you’re going that fast. It also bothers me to see trucks tailgating cars.

GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Having a clean driving record: 20 years without an accident. That’s about 2 million miles. Being the Trucker of the Year for Morgan Southern.

SECRET TO SUCCESS: On-time deliveries. Going to work every day.

ADVICE: Make sure the truck is in good condition so you can operate safely. When out on the road, you have to look out for other folks. A lot of times people don’t look out for you. Take your time. Don’t mess up someone else’s life trying to get the freight there on time. Freight will get there when it gets there.

Want to nominate someone for Trucker of the Month? E-mail [email protected].

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