Piano Man

Family: Wife, Elizabeth; son, Gregory, 34
Rig: 2000 Peterbilt 379
Career: 32 years; 26 years as an owner-operator
Safety: Chargeable accident-free for seven years
Leased to: Quality Carriers
Freight: Liquid chemicals
Net income: $72,000

Michael White never had piano lessons. Instead, he listened to old Kingsmen Quartet albums while on the road and practiced on a keyboard while at truck stops.

White started learning to play when he was 35. Now, at 50, he plays in a Southern gospel group, The Messengers, out of Greenville, Texas. “I wouldn’t say I’m good,” he says. “I’m above average.”

White says his dream job is to play for a top Southern gospel band, but for now his hands spend more time on the steering wheel than on the keyboard. For the past six years he has hauled liquid chemicals on a week-long dedicated route from Texas City, Texas, to Carteret, N.J., for Quality Carriers.

Billy Dupre, Quality Carriers’ dedicated freight dispatcher, has known White since 1989. “He goes above and beyond what a normal driver does,” Dupre says. “He likes the run he is on. He is just a guy that makes it work.”

White says he could have ended up like many of his high school friends, working at the Ennis Tag and Label Plant in his hometown of Wolfe City, Texas. “I’m glad I went with trucking,” says White, whose father was a trucker. “It gives a wider view of things when you are out running around every day.”

White began hauling when he was in high school in 1972, driving weekends. In 1978 he bought his first truck, a 1973 International 4000 cabover. It was also around this time that he met his future wife. Elizabeth, then a Wolfe City waitress, recalls how White would come in for a meal with his work crew after a day of hauling hay.

“One night he asked me if I wanted to go haul hay with him,” Elizabeth says. “He meant it! I thought he wasn’t being serious. I drove the truck for him that night.” Two months later Elizabeth and Michael were married. “And that was 32 years ago, last Sept. 2,” Elizabeth says.

The couple says the job strains their marriage, but they are dedicated to each other and talk every day over the phone. White says his wife tolerates the difficulties of his profession because she knows that while her husband travels alone physically he is always with her spiritually.

“In my younger years I strayed and didn’t read the Bible as much as I should have, but now I try to go to church every chance I get,” White says. He keeps a Bible in his truck and also has a program on his laptop that allows him to find particular Bible passages. “I pray a lot,” he says. “It is very comforting, out there all by yourself. If you are in a pickle or lonely, it fills a void.”

White also fills those lonely hours with programming from XM and Sirius satellite radio. Ironically, though, the part-time musician pays for the radio services largely for sports and talk radio. “I like ESPN, Fox Sports Radio and Dave Ramsey,” he says. “The [Dallas] Cowboys are why I got Sirius.” White also listens to a lot of National Public Radio and considers himself more knowledgeable about politics than most people.

He says he is concentrating on saving money so he and his wife can retire comfortably in 15 years – and he knows where that will be. “I’ve lived in Wolfe City my whole life,” he says. “I don’t think there’s a better place on earth.”

MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT: Hitting a carload of older people while swerving to miss a dog. No one was injured.

PET PEEVE: “Litterers of any sort. I can’t stand people throwing trash out.”

GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Learning the piano.

FAVORITE FOOD: Fried chicken.

LEAST FAVORITE FOOD: “Cilantro, that stuff they put in Mexican food.”

FAVORITE MOVIE: “Honeysuckle Rose, an old Willie Nelson flick.”

FAVORITE SHOW: “Most Extreme Elimination Challenge, on Spike TV.”

BEST MEMORY: “The day my grandson was born, Michael Isaiah White, Sept. 22, 1989. His family will kill me if I get that wrong.”

DREAM VACATION: Southern Utah.

WORST THING ABOUT TRUCKING: Isolation.

BEST THING ABOUT TRUCKING: Money and the independence.

FAVORITE STATE TO DRIVE IN: Alabama.

WORST STATE TO DRIVE IN: Louisiana, because of the heavy traffic flow and the rough roads.

MOST UNUSUAL LOAD: Aluminum alkyls. “If they are exposed to air, they will spontaneously combust.”

MOTTO: “No matter what happens, when you have something that makes you mad, never let them steal your joy because they always want to defeat you.”

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