FAMILY: Children, Jackie, 38, Gretchun, 33, Tommy, 31, Bridgette, 27, Edmund, 25
RIG: 2001 Freightliner Classic XL Limited Edition with an 84-inch sleeper
CAREER: 30 years
FREIGHT: Anything that goes in a van
SAFETY: 4 million accident-free miles
LEASED TO: Dart Transit
Walt Newcomb of Strasburg, Va., has clocked more than 4 million accident-free miles during his 30 years on the road, the past 15 with Dart Transit. He’s got a National Safety Council award to prove it.
Partly because of that experience, he wishes novice haulers had to receive more training.
“I think now they need to be behind the wheel four to six months instead of four to six weeks,” Newcomb says. “I’ve been driving 30 years, and I learn something new every day.”
Newcomb blames the lack of skills on everything from sloppy driving habits – “These drivers will back into something before they get out of the truck and look” – to lost camaraderie.
Professional drivers used to be more inclined to pull over to help distressed truckers, Newcomb says. He and fellow Dart veteran Bob McAndrew became friends after McAndrew came to Newcomb’s aid when his heater died.
“We had the same kind of truck, and he was freezing to death,” McAndrew says. “I had just fixed mine, and so I fixed (his heater) for him.” A similar situation arose the next time the two saw each other, McAndrew says. “He had no air conditioning. I had just fixed mine, so I said, ‘Let me get in there.'”
The pair have made a habit of calling each other whenever they suffer truck trouble so they can, as McAndrew puts it, “put our heads together and work it out.” Since they have the same kind of truck, they also share parts.
“I carry a lot of spare parts – air governors, air fittings, an air compressor overhaul kit – things that I can fix myself to keep from having a wrecker hooked to it,” Newcomb says. “You don’t just drive a truck down the road. You learn every aspect of what a truck does. You learn how to be a mechanic, an electrician. You know the sound of the motor. Things that you took for granted when you worked for a company.”
More truckers should realize, Newcomb says, that they are not just faceless entities but representatives of their industry, their companies – and themselves.
“Professional presentation means a lot to me,” he says. “There is no respect shown to us as businessmen. I dress respectable. I do not dress sloppy. I wear the same clothes out here as I do going out with my girlfriend.”
Jim Tammes, safety director at Dart’s Eagan, Minn., terminal, has known Newcomb, Dart’s 2005 Contractor of the Year, for 15 years.
“I’ve seen him in the lounge with a tie on,” Tammes says. “Walter is very good with new drivers, and he can be a very good mentor. Walter is an owner-operator, so he is also a businessperson. He mentors other drivers, and talks to them about how to be successful.”
Newcomb has a lot to share, since he employs many smart owner-operator practices. He keeps his truck’s speed low, idles as little as possible, looks for discount fuel and uses fuel additives in cold weather so the fuel lines won’t freeze.
“I wish every driver was like Walter,” Tammes says. “Well, I guess not, because then I wouldn’t have a job.”
FIRST TRUCK: 1985 Kenworth cabover.
HOW I GOT STARTED: Started with the CB radio, and that got me interested. I liked the lifestyle and seeing the country and meeting people.
FAVORITE LOAD: The light, one-stop load.
LEAST FAVORITE LOAD: Multiple stops and anything you have to hand-unload. Food warehouses are the worst.
MOST UNUSUAL LOAD: Golf carts to downtown New York at the Civic Center. I took them to the U.S. Postal Service, off Broadway and Ninth.
UNUSUAL PLACES I HAVE HAULED: Lumber yards. They are hard to maneuver in because my truck is extra long.
FAVORITE AREA TO DRIVE IN: From Minnesota to New England. Good landscape and well-maintained roads.
WORST STATE TO DRIVE IN: Louisiana.
WORST THING ABOUT BEING A TRUCKER: Being gone. If you want to make any money, you’ve got to sacrifice your personal time.
BEST THING ABOUT BEING A TRUCKER: The independence and the ownership.
GIRLFRIEND’S BIGGEST COMPLAINT: She doesn’t complain. She understands I run a business.
BEST VACATION: A three-day cruise to Cozumel, Mexico, in 2003.
FAVORITE MUSIC: I listen to a lot of classical music at night. It is soothing and relaxing.
BEST MEMORY: I love the different parts of the country, meeting the public.
FAVORITE MOVIE: Chuck Norris movies.
FAVORITE TV PROGRAMS: The History Channel and sports.
FAVORITE FOOD: Steak, medium well.
LEAST FAVORITE FOOD: Carrots.
PET PEEVE: Getting no respect, as a trucker and an owner-operator.
GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: My safety record.
MOST EMBARRASSING MOMENT: Getting lost. I had to call four times to find the customer, and it wasn’t anything but a blink of a city.
IF I HADN’T BEEN A TRUCKER: I wanted to run a grocery store.
DREAM JOB: I’m doing it.
HOPES: I’d like to see owner-operators make a little bit more money. Some company drivers make more than we do. We need to get our rates up higher.
MOTTO: Get respect.