Nose to the Grindstone

FAMILY: Children Linda, Michael and Becky
RIG: 2005 Freightliner Classic
CAREER: 27 years
FREIGHT: Aluminum, steel, lumber
ACCIDENT FREE: 27 years
INCOME: $60,000-plus
LEASED TO: Prime Inc.

Many people who have been to prison are ashamed of their time there, even to the point of denying it. Not Archie McCourt.

McCourt’s time in prison was brief – and on the open side of the bars. In 1993 he hauled a load of red lumber to a furniture shop inside the military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.

“I’ve never been so checked out in my life,” McCourt says. “It took me four hours to get in and hours to get out again. The prisoners off-loaded me. The guards stayed with me. I never got out of the truck. I was supposed to turn my headlights on if anything was wrong. I was scared.”

Working through fear, through any obstacle, is par for the course for McCourt, 52, of Steubenville, Ohio. In this day of computer-logged routes and various fuel-saving strategies, McCourt is a successful owner-operator largely because he loves to put in the miles.

“I just work hard to make money,” McCourt says.

“He rarely goes home,” says Kelly Woodard, a Prime fleet manager who has known McCourt for eight years. “He stays out on the road and keeps the wheels turning.”

McCourt agrees. “I work almost seven days a week. I’m not married, so I don’t have to stay at the house. I can always stop at the house going or coming if I want.”

But McCourt is valuable not just because he runs so hard, Woodard says. “He’s a very professional driver who makes taking care of the customers his No. 1 priority,” she says.

“I’ll do whatever it takes to satisfy the customers. I like being around people,” McCourt says.

One of McCourt’s satisfied clients is Novelis, an aluminum company in Oswego, N.Y. Sheila Baker, a Novelis administrator, says McCourt is always willing to go out of his way to accommodate a customer.

“He’s a very dedicated, ambitious and trustworthy driver,” Baker says. “He tells me he doesn’t want to be idle. He just wants to keep moving.”

McCourt says the time away from his girlfriend of nine years, Rita Stewart, actually is one of the keys to their relationship. If he were around all the time, McCourt says, she “would get tired of me.”

McCourt tries to think of his road time as a vacation – something he says he’s never officially had, other than a few side trips to Las Vegas to lose money gambling. His day job, after all, allows him to travel widely. “You drive a truck, you see everything you want through the windshield,” McCourt says.

McCourt’s father drove for the now defunct Valley Lumber in Phoenix. When Archie McCourt was only 12, a train hit his father’s rig and killed him.

Going into the same business in which his father died never bothered him, McCourt says. “I take after my dad. I’ve always enjoyed being around trucks.”

McCourt went into trucking in 1978, after a three-year hitch in the U.S. Navy. He hauled as a company driver – including a six-year stint with Pony Express, out of Ohio – until 1992, when he began hauling flatbed for Prime in a leased 1992 Kenworth T600. “Everybody always told me that to make money you needed to work for yourself,” McCourt says. “I leased it [the truck] from Prime, bought it out, got divorced and lost it again.”

McCourt even has talked his two brothers into joining him in the industry. All three McCourt boys – Archie; Lester McCourt, 42; and Jeff McCourt, 45 – now haul for Prime. “One calls me all the time for directions,” McCourt says. “I don’t get lost very much.”

FAVORITE LOAD: Right now, hauling this aluminum out of Oswego, N.Y., to Fairmont, W.Va.

LEAST FAVORITE LOAD: Reefer. There’s too much work involved.

MOST UNUSUAL LOAD: John Deere farm equipment.

FAVORITE STATE TO DRIVE IN: Ohio, because I live there.

WORST STATE TO DRIVE IN: California. They’ve got more rules than you can shake a stick at.

WORST THING ABOUT BEING A TRUCKER: Being gone all the time. I didn’t see my kids grow up.

BEST THING ABOUT BEING A TRUCKER: You’re your own boss, more or less. You don’t punch a time clock. I couldn’t handle that.

HOW I MET MY GIRLFRIEND: She was my dispatcher with Brant Trucking.

FAVORITE MUSIC: I don’t listen to the radio, but if I do, it’s country. My CB is on most of the time.

BEST MEMORY: All the places I’ve been.

FAVORITE MOVIE: Star Trek.

FAVORITE FOOD: Steak.

LEAST FAVORITE FOOD: Chinese.

IF I HADNT’T BEEN A TRUCKER, I WOULD BE: Probably a bum. I haven’t ever thought about it because I like what I do so much.

DREAM JOB: I’m doing it.

HOPES: To stay healthy and keep working.

MOTTO: I treat people the way I want them to treat me.

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