Alabama Slim

Family: Wife, Linda, married 28 years; stepdaughters, Kim, 34, Christina, 30, JoAnna, 28; daughter, Jeanie, 26
Rig: 2002 Peterbilt 379
Career: 44 years
Safety: No chargeable accidents
Leased to: Danny Herman Trucking
Freight: Heavy equipment

Granford Norton’s classmates gave him his lifelong nickname: “Slim.” It was a good fit for the gawky teen, who was 6-foot-3 in seventh grade.

Norton is still tall, but he’s much more sure of himself – and of his owner-operator trucking business, based in Fort Payne, Ala. In his mid-50s, Norton began building a small fleet that now numbers six trucks. Now age 60, when many drivers are looking to slow down, Norton plans to expand. “After the first of the year I plan to buy some more trucks and have about 10 of them,” Norton says.

Norton leases four trucks through Panther II. Two more of Norton’s trucks, including the one he drives, are leased to Danny Herman Trucking of Mountain City, Tenn., where his friend Donald “Hoppy” Hopson is vice president of the western region. They’ve known one another since 1978, when they team-hauled cattle from Lakeland, Fla., to California and shared what Hopson calls “a junky motel room” in Deming, N.M., for $75 a week.

Hopson says he learned a lot from Norton on those drives, even though Hopson had been driving since he was 18. It was Norton, Hopson says, who showed him “the important things about driving a truck correctly, shifting a lot, respecting the truck.”

The pair are still best friends. Norton says Hopson got him two jobs, first with Mesilla Valley Transportation of Las Cruces, N.M., and then with Danny Herman Trucking. Hopson disagrees. “No one has to get Slim a job,” he says. “He’s been doing this for 40-plus years. No accidents, never complains, never turns down a load.”

Those virtues got Norton on the road to building his own small fleet five years ago, when he bought a Kenworth T200 from Mesilla Valley Transportation, then bought a Kenworth T300 straight truck for his wife. Soon he hired a team to drive the second truck and bought another. After several other purchases, trade-ins and hires, Norton now clocks in with six trucks – four with Panther II Transportation and two with Danny Herman. “I like Danny Herman because they are down-home people,” Norton says. “It is a family-run company.”

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Norton says simple hard work prepared him to become a small-fleet owner. “I believe in working,” Norton says. Rather than coming off the road every five or six days, he says, “I work five to six weeks when I go out.”

Norton is proud to have accomplished so much in five years and proud of his drivers, too. “I have five of the greatest teams in the world. I don’t think you could find finer teams. I let them run my trucks as if they owned my trucks.”

Norton expects people to be honest and hard working, just as he is, Hopson says. “His honesty is his best quality,” Hopson says. “If he tells you something, that’s either how it was, is, or will be.”

Norton and his wife, Linda, have looked out for one another for 28 years. He paid her way to truck-driving school and, later, to nursing school. “The keys to a good marriage are being faithful, being honest,” Norton says.

FIRST TRUCK: 1970 Peterbilt 359.

HOW I GOT STARTED: Since I was a kid, I’ve had a chauffeur’s license, and at 16 I was driving a cement mixer for Scotland Concrete. Then I moved out to west Texas to work in oil fields and got to driving seismograph equipment around. They called it doodle-bugging.

FAVORITE LOAD: Livestock. I was born and raised around livestock.

LEAST FAVORITE LOAD: Produce. It’s not a hard commodity to haul, it is just they use your truck for storage.

MOST UNUSUAL LOAD: I hauled an F-18 aircraft. I loaded in San Diego at a naval base, took it to Aberdeen, Md. They took the wings off but left the tail section on. I was stopped by two highway patrolmen just wanting to know what that thing was. I’ve hauled a lot of unusual stuff. I picked up a 22-foot-wide paddle-wheel dinner boat in Fox Lake, Ill. It took nine days to go 300 miles. I was paid $8,200.

UNUSUAL PLACES I HAVE HAULED: I took a turbo booster from Ohio to west of Red Deer, Alberta, in the winter. The last 15 miles I had to be pulled up a mountain with a bulldozer.

FAVORITE STATES TO DRIVE IN: Montana and Texas. Their farm-to-market roads are as good as interstates.

WORST STATE TO DRIVE IN: Ohio. The state troopers are worse – there is one every 3 or 4 miles – and the low speed limits.

FAVORITE MUSIC: 1960s rock ‘n’ roll, Motown, stuff like the Beach Boys, the Rolling Stones, the Beatles, Elvis, the Manhattans, Aretha Franklin.

FAVORITE MOVIE: Giant, with Rock Hudson, James Dean and Elizabeth Taylor.

FAVORITE TV SHOW: American Justice.

FAVORITE FOODS: Fried potatoes, pork chops, pinto beans and cornbread.

LEAST FAVORITE FOOD: Pork and beans.

BEST MEMORY: When my little one was born, in Fairfield, Calif., I was bull hauling, and when I came home – didn’t matter what time it was – I would lay her on my chest and let her sleep.

GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: What I am right now – a small-fleet owner.

MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT: I recently saw a young driver trying unsuccessfully to swing his truck around a corner. I told him, “Son, I’ve been trucking for years; I can do it.” The young driver thanked me, but I couldn’t manage it, either. The young driver laughed and said, “You don’t know everything.”

IF I HADN’T BEEN A TRUCKER, I WOULD BE: Working in the oil fields. I like moving heavy equipment.

BEST THING ABOUT BEING A TRUCKER: You get to see the country. It’s some of the prettiest stuff you’ve ever seen in your life. It’ll take your breath away.

DREAM JOB: To be a rancher. I’d like to own a bunch of land with lots of cattle and horses.

MOTTO: Learn from the mistakes you make, because you make a lot of them.

HOPES: That my kids grow up to succeed in life.

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]. Honorees are considered for Trucker of the Year.