Model Truckers


HOME: Wytheville, Va.
RIG: 2001 Kenworth W900 with a 550-hp Detroit
ACCIDENT-FREE: 5 million combined miles
NET INCOME: About $60,000
MOTTO: Just put it in God’s hands

Many bankers have family pictures on their desks. Few display pictures of their friends’ truck.

But Tom Bralley, friend and banker to Claude and Patty Earhart of Wytheville, Va., has precisely such a picture on his desk: a shot of the husband and wife team’s truck, as well as their business card.

“They should be the model truckers, because they work hard at their job on the road and in handling finances,” he says. In his 30 years as a banker, “They’re the best I’ve seen.”

The Earharts began running as a company team in 1981 hauling livestock, then from 1983 to 1993 they hauled furniture and produce to the West Coast and back to North Carolina. They became owner-operators in 1993 when they joined MAB Trucking. In 1997, they started pulling a chemical tanker for Central Transport and continued until this May.

Now they once again haul cattle in the East and Midwest as independents through their company, Earhart Trucking. During 22 years of driving as a team, the two have logged about 5 million accident-free miles.

The duo says they show dedication to their profession by being punctual and keeping their equipment mechanically sound and attractive. Their 2001 Kenworth W900 won two awards in 2001: first place in the first-time show category at the Wildwood, Fla., truck show and first place in the most outstanding detail category at the Lucas Oil Grand Nationals in Bristol, Tenn.

Patty, 44, and Claude, 49, strive for professionalism in their personal appearance to set a good example.

“We believe in always dressing and looking as clean and neat as possible,” she says. “We don’t use some of this foul language that seems to be of today’s times.”

They also try to practice a respectful attitude in how they relate to one another. “We get along great,” Patty says. “We’ve only had one argument in the truck, and then we laughed about it.”

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The ability to handle the pressures of team driving in such ways, Patty says, is key to a good marriage.

“We just let things slide,” she says. “We discuss, not argue.”

Bralley attests to Patty’s account of their marriage, saying the Earharts are one of the most compatible couples he knows.

“This is the only couple I’ve had in trucking that actually sat down and figured out where they wanted to go and how to get there,” Bralley says.

“Anywhere they’re going financially, they get there on time or ahead of time,” he says. He says the couple sets a good example for other truckers, as well as others who run a business.

The Earharts say controlling their operating costs, especially fuel, is their biggest challenge. They avoid idling when it’s cool, and in the winter they use an electric blanket.

The couple says driving is second nature to them. Claude’s father drove a truck, and would let him drive with him. Patty’s father drove a coal truck when she was young and fascinated her with trucking stories and visits into the trucks of his driver friends.

That early exposure paid off when Patty was babysitting for Claude’s cousin. “He came in, I found out he was a trucker, and that’s how it began,” she says of their relationship. They were married in 1981.

Patty, who likes driving at night, says the best thing about being a trucker is not being tied to a typical 8-to-5 schedule. “I enjoy the freedom,” she says. “I don’t want to clock in and out on a job, but I can deliver on time.”

Patty says their greatest accomplishment is being able to own their own truck and being financially stable.

“We own our own home, another piece of property with a cabin, and a camper,” she says. “It’s good being able to do those things.”

The couple says one of their best memories involves Patty’s sister. “When my sister found out she was having twins, she gave me a card with the ultrasound on it. She says she would share her children with us.” The three teenagers – Lori and Robby, 15, and Brittany, 14 – often stay with the Earharts. “They have their own bedrooms at our house, and I couldn’t love them any more if they were our own,” Patty says.

Another fond memory – for Claude – is of hunting in Colorado about 12 years ago. Claude, who’s been hunting for about 40 years, would like to move to Colorado, but Patty prefers living close to the rest of her family.

They do agree on one destination: Alaska, where they would like to take their dream vacation to enjoy the wilderness and get away from populated areas. Before they get too old, they say, they hope to get in lots of travel to interesting places – in a non-commercial vehicle.

“I’m not going to drive a truck when I’m 70,” Patty says.


FAVORITE MUSIC: Southern gospel.

FAVORITE MOVIE: Claude: Lonesome Dove. Patty: Gone With The Wind. My office is decorated with Gone With The Wind collectibles.

FAVORITE TV SHOW: “The Andy Griffith Show.”

FAVORITE FOODS: Claude: Biscuits and gravy. Patty: Chicken, especially my recipe of chicken and dumplings.

PET PEEVE: Rudeness on the road and in person.

WORST THING ABOUT TRUCKING: Dealing with traffic and the lack of courtesy between drivers.

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], or click here to download a PDF – you must have Adobe Acrobat reader. Honorees are considered for Trucker of the Year.