FAMILY: Sons, Jeffery, 36, John David, 24
RIG: 2001 Sterling Silver Star 9500
CAREER: 44 years trucking, 25 years as owner-operator
FREIGHT: General commodities
ACCIDENT-FREE: 44 years
LEASED TO: Heartland Express
Trucking is in Neil Brant’s blood. The 66-year-old from Kansas City, Mo., started hauling more than 40 years ago after seeing his four brothers do the same.
after seeing his four brothers do the same.
“My dad lived on a farm,” Brant says. “My oldest brother, he got involved in trucking. I guess everyone else just followed.” Two of those brothers are now retired, but Brant still sees the other two on the road. And his oldest son, Jeffery, hauls milk for a farm on a daily run.
Brant himself was a company driver for 19 years before buying a 1957 B61 Mack and setting up shop as an owner-operator in 1981. He’s seen many changes since then.
“Years ago, you would make a lot more money, and the cost of fuel was lower,” Brant says. “Forty-four years ago it was a joy to be a trucker. It’s not like it used to be. Too many cowboys. Too many guys that want to drive 80 miles per hour, and they think they can’t make a living if they drive less than that.”
Brant keeps his speed under 63 mph to save fuel and to stay safe as he hauls for Heartland Express. “I’ve never been one to speed. And when the weather gets bad in the wintertime, I just stop. There is nothing more important than my life or someone else’s.”
His advice for other drivers: “Don’t get in a big hurry. That’s when you make all your mistakes.”
Brant’s dedication to safety even affects the way he stays in touch with friends and family. He will not talk on his cell phone while driving, choosing instead to pull to the side of the road before answering the phone.
Remaining extra cautious while driving is just one of the things Brant does to improve the industry’s image. He also keeps himself and his truck clean, saying he’s trying to improve the public’s perception of the industry.
Brant dresses in slacks and collared shirts while working. “I try to be neat all the time,” Brant says. “I don’t look like a bum.”
“He is a pillar in our company,” says Tracy Holdorf, who works in the drivers’ communications division at Heartland. “Not only is he an owner-operator, he’s a compassionate driver. He runs legal. He would help anyone on the side of the road, at any given time, for anything.”
Joe Murphy, Brant’s dispatcher, praises the veteran’s spotless driving record and attitude. “He’s laid back but does whatever you need him to do,” Murphy says. “He is a leader. He’s through our terminal once or twice a week. He is always looking to help a new guy out, helping them through the procedures, how Heartland does things.”
Scott Peters, Brant’s regional supervisor at Heartland, says Brant stands out from many drivers.
“The truckers today are totally different than those 10, 20 or 25 years ago,” Peters says. “A lot of drivers want to be home every weekend. Neil is from the old school and stays out there. He’ll take his three days off every now and then to go home and catch up on his laundry and mail, but he’s out there all the time.”
The long trips don’t sour Brant’s attitude, Peters says. “I’ve never had issues with him. There’s always a smile on his face.”
Brant is a traditionalist in other ways. He has no television in his cab and doesn’t use a computer in his business.
“I’m old-fashioned,” Brant says. “I use pencil and paper.”
Brant tries not to lay over too often, but when he does, he whiles away the hours at truck stops, watching television and talking to other drivers.
Brant uses his long history on the road to help younger drivers see what is most important in their careers and in their lives, Holdorf says. “He’ll be around the driver’s lounge, hearing the talk that other drivers throw out, and he puts it into perspective,” Holdorf says. “He prioritizes it for them. He can get them to thinking that their job is not so bad after all.”
Brant says he’ll probably retire in about two years, and he hopes to fill his twilight years hunting deer and fishing. Peters says he’ll hate to see Brant go.
“He’s someone you’re used to seeing every week or so at the terminal,” he says. “Not to see him working anymore – that would be definitely be a change.”
FAVORITE LOAD: Maytag appliances. They’re light. I don’t have to touch it.
LEAST FAVORITE LOAD: Food.
MOST UNUSUAL LOAD: Steel and gasoline.
UNUSUAL PLACES I HAVE HAULED: A few prisons. I didn’t get into where the prisoners were, just warehouses on the prison grounds.
FAVORITE STATE TO DRIVE IN: Iowa.
WORST STATE TO DRIVE IN: Wyoming.
WORST THING ABOUT TRUCKING: The traffic and people who are so self-centered.
BEST THING ABOUT TRUCKING: I don’t like being cooped up in an office all day. I like being out on the open road.
BEST VACATION: Fishing vacation in New Hampshire.
FAVORITE MUSIC: Country. I have XM radio and listen to Bill Mack and Trucking Bozo a good bit.
BEST MEMORY: When I was a kid, going to see aunts and uncles.
FAVORITE MOVIE: The Lethal Weapon films.
FAVORITE TV SHOW: NAS-CAR races.
FAVORITE FOOD: Spaghetti.
LEAST FAVORITE FOOD: Spinach.
PET PEEVE: People that don’t let other drivers merge when they are coming onto the Interstate.
GREATEST ACCOMPLISHMENT: Five million safe-driving miles.
IF I HADN’T BEEN A TRUCKER: I’d probably be a farmer.
HOPES: I hope for my kids’ sake that we can get off of this foreign oil and not depend so much on other countries.
MOTTO: Try to be honest and fair to everyone.