Home: Union City
Family: Wife, Ruthie; five children; five grandchildren
Rig: 1987 Ford LTL 9000
Income: Over $60,000
Freight: Bark, grain and farm products
Accident-free: 4 million miles
If you’re ever in Pennsylvania and meet a man wearing a black vest festooned with beaded Indian designs, you might be in the company of Tom Sell, who is always dressed in what he calls “authentic Western style.”
But when he began working 49 years ago, Sell was not moving cattle on the Kansas plains; he was moving timber in the forests of Pennsylvania.
“My dad had a sawmill, so I started hauling lumber for my dad when I was about 14 or 15,” Sell says. “I don’t remember anything hard about it. I am a born truck driver, I guess.” He went into business for himself in 1977.
Four million safe miles later, Sell hauls bark, mulch and sod independently as Sell Trucking, and treasures the relationships he has formed along the way.
“I met my wife, Ruthie, while I was on the road,” Sell says. “When you do something like this for this long, you meet a lot of people.”
When he met Ruthie, Sell recalls she was fun to talk to and that she was good with people. Ruthie remembers his respectable, honest manner. The two proved so compatible that they both abandoned vows to never marry again.
Sell says dancing to a country band in his Kentucky bowtie with his new wife at their reception 17 years ago is his favorite memory.
“He treated me like a queen,” Ruthie says. “He’s an excellent worker and father and he’s always taken care of us in all aspects. He’s a great worker and is dedicated to his customers.” One of Sell’s long-time customers, Jesse Stewart Co. in Pittsburgh, has been with him for 31 years.
Sell’s customer Cameron Wright, of Conneautville Farmer’s Exchange, a retail farm and feed supply store, has been on Sell’s route for 24 years.
“He’s been at it forever,” Wright says. “He’s an all-around nice guy to work with. Honesty, timeliness, concern for the customer are all reasons he’s been so good for so long. He’s extremely reliable and conscientious.”
Wright says that Sell comes through in clutch situations, making sure that ice storms don’t prevent the store from receiving loads or seeing to it that schedule changes do not inconvenience anyone.
“He buys my employees doughnuts once in a while,” Wright says. If there are delays, he “offers to pay the un-loaders’ and loaders’ overtime. He can tell you my scheduling requirements as well as I can.”
Sell manages his truck and his driving closely to ensure that he not only makes his deliveries on time, but also so that he can be safe.
“It’s my worst fear when someone pulls out in front of me and cuts me off,” Sell says. “It’s scary because I’d hate to run somebody over.”
Ruthie knows, too, that good concentration is important to Sell.
“I would never haggle him on the phone for being late,” she says. “If he hurries, he could get in a wreck. I don’t pressure him that way and that relaxes him, too, and lets him focus on doing what he’s got to do.”
Sell does most of the small repairs and maintenance for his maroon 1987 Ford LTL 9000 – inside and out. Having a shining, purring truck is the only source of pride that exceeds the log cabin he built himself.
“I have one motto,” Sell says. “If you don’t wash your truck Sunday, you can’t truck Monday.”
Ruthie says her husband’s truck is always clean. “That was part of my impression of him,” she says. “He’s so proud of a clean truck going down the road.”The freedom of being out on the road and doing his own thing is what keeps Sell behind the wheel, though he expects that to change next year. In the fall of 2005, Sell’s golden anniversary as a trucker, he is going to start gradually turning the business over to his son, J.C.
“When I retire, I could be perfectly happy in a tent in the mountains,” he says. ” I guess you could call me a mountain man.”
Should he make that change to a rustic life, Sell will need to meet one condition to enjoy the company of his wife: “He’ll have to make me a Port-A-Potty.”
STRANGEST PLACE ON THE ROAD: A road right before you cross the George Washington Bridge into New York City. I’ve never crossed it and I don’t plan to. I hate cities. I like it out in the woods.
FAVORITE MUSIC: Alabama. They’re No. 1, as far as I’m concerned.
FAVORITE FOOD: Chocolate ice cream.
LEAST FAVORITE FOOD: Pizza. It smells weird.
DREAM JOB: Racecar driver.
FAVORITE MOVIE: Every Which Way But Loose.
GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Building a log home.