HOME: King, N.C.
FAMILY: Wife Bonnie, a son, a daughter and five grandchildren
RIG: 2002 Peterbilt 379
CAREER: 50 years
ACCIDENT-FREE: 50 years
“I have the freedom to see the world while making good money,” says independent Ted Chapman. “And then I can go home and think about all the friends I’ve made. I never have met a stranger.”
Strangers are few and far between for good reason. Chapman, a 68-year-old self-made millionaire, has run a dedicated route coast to coast for A&P for 35 years. The men who drive for him, Roger Gordon and Curtis Shelton, have worked for Chapman 30 years and 20 years, respectively. And in a true test of longevity, Bonnie Chapman has been waving good-bye and welcoming her husband home with a pot of beans for 47 years.
In addition to marrying Bonnie, a lot has happened since Chapman started driving in 1954: He’s bought 17 trucks, run 6 million accident-free miles, built a home and become a father and a grandfather.
“I feel sad and lonely when he leaves, but I work and keep busy till he gets back,” Bonnie says. “It is like a second honeymoon every time he comes home.” Her only complaint: “I do have to call him several times for dinner when he’s out in the shop.”
“I’ve got a one-of-a-kind woman,” Chapman says. “I met her the night she gave a speech as the valedictorian at my cousin’s graduation. The longer I knew her, the more I wanted her to have my children. I knew almost immediately that I wanted to marry that girl.”
Chapman is equally fervent about keeping his equipment in mint condition. Every day on the road starts with dusting and polishing. Chapman has high standards when it comes to keeping all three of his trucks clean. White towels cover the floors of all Chapman’s truck cabs, and he asks his drivers to keep it that way.
“I have this one black 1985 Peterbilt, and shoes have never touched the floor mats of that truck,” says Chapman.
Gordon, who drives a red 1996 Peterbilt, says he doesn’t think Chapman’s insistence about cleanliness is unfounded.
“It really pays off in the long run,” says Gordon. “He’s given me good equipment to drive and that means a lot.” After 30 years of driving for Chapman, Gordon says there isn’t much – “other than kill somebody” – he would not do if Chapman asked.
Chapman’s first truck was a 1951 Chevrolet dump missing the driver’s side door, which he bought with $600 he borrowed. Now he can be seen cruising in his bright blue 2002 Peterbilt 379, powered by a 550-hp Caterpillar.
Though he declines to discuss his net income from his three-truck fleet, Chapman says hard work, dedication and honesty have helped him move ahead since that first truck.
“The only profession where you start at the top is well digging,” Chapman says. “The best feeling in the world is to start out on the bottom and to climb to the top and be able to look down at where you started.”
Chapman says one particular practice has helped a lot – buying everything without credit, even the couple’s $275,000 sprawling ranch-style home in King, N.C.
“I went to Bonnie the night before I got married and I told her we wouldn’t buy anything we couldn’t afford,” Chapman says. “Why buy something if it isn’t yours for five, 10 or 20 years?”
Bonnie says she was comfortable with that policy because she knew Chapman was destined for success. “Ted has this willing desire to do everything well,” she says.
Not to mention a strong desire to see his peers do things well, too.
“I don’t have a pet peeve, I have a major peeve,” Chapman says. “I can’t stand disrespectful drivers. Trucking is my profession and it hurts me to see people being unsafe and disrespectful.”
He believes that his responsible, respectful attitude on the road has made him safer. When he was a contract driver, Chapman received several safe-driving awards. As a successful owner-operator with a strong safety record who buys only Peterbilts, he was nominated to be a member of the Peterbilt Council of Class, an advisory board comprised of Peterbilt owners.
Though he’s reached retirement age, Chapman expects to get a lot more out of trucking before he quits driving. “I hope my health will be good enough to be 90 and still running the same route,” he says.
Before he gives up driving for good, Chapman wants his wife to have a chance to see as much of the country as he’s seen. “I would love to just call in and say, ‘Give me a route to Seattle,’ pick that up, take Bonnie to Washington and stay there for a few days. Then I’d call in again and pick another city and another.”
Even if he does not fulfill those plans, Chapman says he would have no regrets.
“I am so proud of my son and daughter, and I love my wife and my grandkids,” he says. “If I lose everything I’ve got before I get home, I’ll still die the richest man.”
FAVORITE MUSIC: I didn’t know there was more than one kind. I love country, especially Merle Haggard.
BEST MEMORY: The day I picked up my first Peterbilt conventional, on Oct. 15, 1980.
FAVORITE MOVIE: The Good the Bad and the Ugly.
FAVORITE TV SHOW: The news.
FAVORITE FOOD: Beans and potatoes.
LEAST FAVORITE FOOD: I like anything that’s cooked right.
MOTTO: Whatever you do, do it well. There’s a front seat for you in any job you do.
KEYS TO GOOD MARRIAGE: Respect and trust.
FAVORITE LOAD: Produce.
LEAST FAVORITE LOAD: Fresh chicken. It drips in the trailer.