Carroll Benn, who is leased to Dart Transit, has driven more than 3 million accident-free miles.
For a man who turned a two-day job into a 35-year career, it shouldn’t be too surprising that Ezra Carroll Benn would rise to the top of his profession.
In March the Truckload Carriers Association and Overdrive named the 63-year-old Center, Mo., resident as the 2003 Independent Contractor of the Year at TCA’s annual convention in Hawaii. Benn, who is leased to Dart Transit Co. of Eagan, Minn., has logged 3.4 million accident-free miles in his 35 years of driving.
“It’s amazing that I could get something like this for just doing my job,” Benn says.
As the winner, he will receive a new 9000i Series tractor donated by International Truck and Engine Corp., the first new truck he has ever owned. The unit will be powered by a 500-hp Signature ISX engine donated by Cummins Engine Co.
“The new truck is thrilling,” Benn says, “but just being chosen for the award is the best.”
As a boy, Benn would go to the Rocket Truck Stop near his home to watch the big rigs. He would also visit a Ford dealership, climb into trucks and pretend he was driving. As a teen, Benn got the chance to drive a two-axle five-speed truck while working on a neighbor’s farm.
At 18, Benn married his wife Shirley and began working in construction and factory labor. But a chance to fill in driving a company truck at a millwork factory changed his life. “I was only supposed to work two days,” Benn says. “I ended up staying there for 15 years.”
In 1983, Benn bought his first truck – a 1977 International Transtar Eagle cabover – and began hauling over the road for Overland Express. “It took me a year to figure things out,” he says. “The first time I did taxes was an experience. I was not used to saving every receipt.”
But just when things were beginning to look up, Benn’s company started having problems. A couple of years later, when he tried to ride out tough times as the company folded, he found himself in serious financial trouble.
“I should have quit earlier, but I didn’t want to lose my escrow money,” Benn says. “I couldn’t get the money that was owed to me, and I was using my personal credit cards to complete runs. I was about ready to give up being an independent contractor when Don Calhoun, a Dart contractor, talked me into going with Dart Transit.”
Benn quickly settled into pulling a dry van on Dart’s national system. “Within three months at Dart, I had paid everything off,” he says.
That financial stability enabled him to focus on taking care of his wife and five children. “To be a good owner-operator, you first must be with a good company,” he says. You’ve got to know how to manage money. But most important is having a wife that supports you. This occupation is hard on a marriage.”
Spousal support sometimes involves jumping in the business and getting your hands dirty. “Carroll and I once overhauled the motor in the truck, and I don’t know anything about engines,” Shirley says. “She was up to her elbows in grease, just like me,” her husband chimes in. “But when we hit the starter, it cranked right up.”
Today, he is on his fifth truck – a 1999 Freightliner Classic – and runs on Dart’s regional system. He has 35 years of driving experience and 3.4 million accident-free miles under his belt. Despite a lot of expenses in recent years, he has averaged more than $27,000 in net income the past five years.
“Trucking has been very good to me and my family,” Benn says. “Shirley and I grew up with nothing – we had to scratch for everything. As an owner-operator, I have provided my family with a good living and I have the freedom to schedule my home time and operate my business as I see fit.”
Benn’s trucking philosophy parallels the Golden Rule. “I treat every customer like I want to be treated,” he says. “If you can do that, and do your job the very best you can, you can be successful.”
Dart President Donald Oren says his company nominated Benn for Independent Contractor of the Year because he is a team player. “Carroll is friendly, personable and willing to help other drivers,” Oren says in his letter of recommendation to TCA. “He has willingly given up good loads so other contractors can get home. He is willing to advise new contractors on becoming financially successful. As a result, he receives a tremendous amount of respect and admiration from his peers.”
“Carroll is a gem,” says Jim Tammes, safety director for Dart. “We have about 2,200 drivers here, and if all were like him, I would be unemployed. I’ve been here 20 years, and out of the thousands of drivers I’ve met, I can’t think of a driver more deserving for this award.”
Receiving a new truck wasn’t the only benefit that came with winning the TCA honor.
A trip to Hawaii to accept the award last month coincided with the Benns’ 45th wedding anniversary. “I couldn’t have asked for a better anniversary gift,” Shirley says.
“I never thought when I bought my first truck that things would go this far,” says her husband. “I know that I’m going to keep trucking as long as my health holds up and I can safely operate the equipment.”
BACK TO HIS ROOTS
The first truck Carroll Benn owned was a 1977 International Transtar Eagle cabover (left) that he bought in 1983. Now, as 2003 Independent Contractor of the Year, he’ll be driving a much newer model from the same company: a 9000i Series tractor donated by International Truck and Engine Corp. The truck includes: