Harvey and Sue Williams have been team drivers for more than 40 years.
Harvey Williams loves tractor-trailers so much that one nearly derailed his formal education just as it was starting. “I’d get up in the middle of the night and go out to the truck and fall asleep in the seat of the truck,” the Rochelle, Texas, owner-operator says. “My dad would find me in the morning, and he’d go into the house and tell Mom he was going to take me around in the truck. I ended up missing too many days of school, and I had to repeat the first grade.”
Sleeping in the cab ceased, but Williams never lost his love for trucks. Williams’ father taught him how to drive a rig before the teen was old enough for a driver’s license.
During high school, Williams hauled cattle around Texas, working for the same company as his father. At 16, Williams made his first big trip, hauling sheep to California. “You couldn’t touch me with a 10-foot pole, I felt like such a big trucker,” he says.
Still, Williams says he was glad to find a guiding hand on that trip when he stopped at a café in Van Horn, Texas, and sat next to an “old-timer” who was headed in the same direction. The older man told Williams to follow him.
“He got me through all the scales,” Williams says. “And if I had any trouble, I’d flash my lights, and he’d help me.” Williams says he felt the older man’s help was God’s way of protecting him.
The man dispensed rules of the road – never tailgate, flash your lights when in trouble – that Williams practices and preaches to this day. “I’m an inspiration to a lot of young men, and I’ve taken many out on the road,” says Williams, 67, who has more than 7.5 million safe miles.
Among Williams’ own followers are his oldest son Ricky, who drives a truck and lives in Alabama, and a nephew, Carl Goetz, who also trucks. Williams says he and his son often cross paths on the road.
Williams became an owner-operator in 1998, leasing to Prime. He has team-driven with his wife, Sue, since 1965, hauling general freight throughout the United States. The two earn nearly $135,000 per year – even for team drivers, a healthy net income – and have logged 1 million miles in the past seven years.
Williams leases his truck through Prime, and he says the biggest challenge is to find the lease that makes him the most money. He leases a new truck every three years. He and Sue have driven more than 300,000 miles in the past 18 months.
He’s diligent about oil changes and other preventive maintenance. “To keep down costs, you’ve got to keep up the truck,” he says. “I try to get as many miles as I can out of my tires. I run between 60 and 65, and I’m on a dedicated run so I know how many miles I’ve got to go, and I set my schedule at my own pace so I don’t blow money out the exhaust pipe.”
In addition to driving at moderate speeds, Williams says he reduces fuel costs by keeping up air pressure and minimizing his idling. “It’s hard for an old-timer like me because we didn’t used to have to conserve fuel,” he says.
Robert Lowe, owner and president of Prime, has known the Williamses for decades. “We couldn’t ask for safer, finer, more dedicated drivers,” Lowe says. Harvey “has the old-school driver attitude of being helpful to other truckers and drivers. He’s one of the rare breed of people that would do anything in the world for a total stranger.”
Kathy Smith, a McCorkle Truck Lines terminal manager who worked with Williams before he became an owner-operator, says he always was reliable. Part of his job at McCorkle was to train other drivers and new employees.
“He is the last of the breed of old-timers, and he knows how to do his job,” Smith says. “He didn’t have wrecks, and he didn’t screw up. If a friend needed something, he would get it done.”
Williams is old enough to recall receiving a ticket while hauling cattle in New Mexico during the early 1960s, a time when certain now-familiar trucking regulations were being established. The patrolman “was asking me for my log book, and I had no idea what he was talking about,” Williams says. His embarrassment did not end there: “He asked me for my health card, and I didn’t know you had to have a health card. He said, ‘Come with me,’ and I thought I was going to jail.”
Instead, the officer took Williams to a hospital and waited while he obtained his health card, then returned him to his truck. Williams says the officer ticketed him only for not having his log book – then showed him how to fill it out.
Technology, too, has changed dramatically since those days, making trucks much safer and more comfortable, he says. Sue adds: “The younger truck drivers cannot imagine the trucks we used to ride in.”
Williams plans to retire in about five years. His plans may include traveling around Europe, as he already has seen much of America on the job.
A PHOTOGRAPHY BUFF, Williams says trucking provides him countless photo opportunities across the country. “Many people don’t get to see the beauty that God makes,” he says.
AT THE BEGINNING of this year, Williams went on a mission trip to Mexico. “We donate money to help build churches and take food down to the orphans there,” he says.
1940: Born in Pecos, Texas.
1957: Graduated high school in Fort Stockton, Texas.
1965: Team drove with Sue King for owner-operator Vera Lowe, who leased to Midwestern Express.
1968: Married Sue King.
1969-1975: Hauled gravel for AGY Trucking.
1980: Started hauling for Collier Truck Line.
1987-1998: Hauled for Chemical Express, receiving multiple safety awards.
1995: Started hauling for Max Mahan Trucking.
1998: Leased with Prime Inc. as an owner-operator, driving a leased 1999 Freightliner Classic.
2004: Won first place at Prime rodeo.
2006: State of Missouri’s December Trucker of the Month.
–Kristie Busam and Steven Mackay