Now a small-fleet owner, single father Porter Robinson has balanced his children’s needs with his passion for the open road.
Like many drivers, Porter Robinson followed his father into trucking. He remembers sitting on his father’s lap at age 6, holding the steering wheel of a tractor-trailer. Robinson became a driver straight out of high school, already having earned part-time experience driving big rigs for a poultry farm that supplied Banquet Foods.
Now 48, Robinson has been driving tractor-trailers off and on for more than 30 years. Whenever he drove part time and worked alternate jobs – driving a school bus, running his own country nightclub – it was mainly to raise his two children after his marriage dissolved.
“When I got custody of the children, the judge said, ‘Anyone who reads this divorce decree will think I’m crazy giving custody of two minor children to a truck driver,'” Robinson says.
Yet with help from his mother, Juanita Creason, the Brookfield, Mo., resident made it work. Robinson worked nights, woke the children for school and slept days. When his daughter, Christina, was old enough, she helped take care of her little brother, Michael, and her father.
Robinson drove for Sharkey Transport as a company driver and then an owner-operator before hauling locally for FedEx. He did that seven years, then in 2001 incorporated M&C Unlimited.
Leased to FedEx Ground, the small-fleet owner-operator netted $130,000 on a $1.4 million gross in 2006. Robinson has bought 20 trucks in his career, trading frequently. His fleet is all Peterbilt – three 379s, one 378 and one 377, each with a 475-hp engine and 13-speed transmission.
“With team operation, I like to trade trucks every 750,000 miles, when the warranty is gone and breakdowns start,” Robinson says. “You can make a payment on a new truck or pay a maintenance guy to repair it.”
Robinson is strict on maintenance schedules, requiring trucks to enter the fleet garage every week or two. Trucks get oil, full lube and chassis service every 15,000 miles. All his drivers work in teams, and some of them also work in his shop. His mother, now 78, works as a payroll clerk every Friday.
Although Robinson’s daily duties include janitor, payroll clerk, fleet manager, maintenance supervisor and mechanic, he still gets behind the wheel, adding to his 3 million accident-free miles by filling in for drivers on vacations and holidays. “The only difference between them and me is that I am three-quarters of a million dollars in debt,” he says. Being a small fleet owner, Robinson says it is difficult to compete with bigger fleets and fill his teams with experienced drivers he can trust.
On his rare days off, Robinson likes to hunt deer with rifle and bow on his 200 acres in Missouri. But downtime is hard to find. “He’s on his operation 24/7 doing whatever he has to when the fleet’s out on the road,” says Dean Gideon, senior manager at FedEx’s Brookfield, Mo., terminal. “It has always been a juggling act for him and the kids.”
Christina, now 23, well remembers her dad’s struggles, the years her parents were apart. “He wasn’t always there, but he always called us, and made sure we had everything we needed,” she says.
Michael and Christina took turns going on the road with their dad during their summers and school holidays. “We saw lots of accidents, and would sometimes be the first to come up on a wreck,” Christina says. “Seeing injured people was part of the reason I wanted to do medicine.” She started medical school this fall at Missouri’s Kirksfield College of Osteopathic Medicine. Michael is working odd jobs for his father, according to Christina.
She says it was hard not having a mother’s support when she left for college, but her dad helped make up for it in various thoughtful ways: by sending her roses on Valentine’s Day, for example, and sending her money with Post-it notes attached.
“He’s the perfect kind of grandpa,” Christina says. “When he sees a baby, he is the kind of guy to buy them an ice cream cone. He helps old ladies across the street.”
His children’s success is his greatest reward, Robinson says, and raising them “was motivation to work hard and get where I am right now.”
1959: Born in Santa Maria, Calif.
1976: Hauled turkeys on the weekend with his father.
1977: Graduated from high school in Bucklin, Mo and drove for Sharkey Transport as a company driver.
1979: Purchased used 1979 cherry red Peterbilt 379 and drove for Sharky as an owner-operator. Married Rhonda Robertson.
1986-1988: Drove for Cargo Transport of Sioux City, Iowa, and won a Safety award for years 1986-1988.
1989-1994: Continued with Sharkey hauling general commodities, such as meat, from Iowa to West Coast.
1994: Started with FedEx Ground.
1983: Daughter Christina born.
1985: Son Michael born.
1996: Drove a local FedEx route at night while driving a school bus during the day.
1997: Bought two delivery vans and leased to FedEx.
2003: Represented FedEx at Missouri Truck Driving Championships for first time.
2006: Placed first in Missouri Truck Driving Championships and 24th at the national competition in New Orleans.
ROBINSON offers his home as a safe house for abused children in need of care. He has taken care of children from abusive families twice in the past year.
A HONKY-TONK BAR Robinson bought in Missouri gave him something else to do while driving part time during 1981-83. “Three years is plenty of time to own a bar,” he says. “There were great, good-looking girls, but the money is not there for the amount of work you have to do.”
DO YOU KNOW an exemplary owner-operator with 15 years of trucking experience and an excellent safety record? Write to Steven Mackay, Overdrive, P.O. Box 3187, Tuscaloosa, AL 35403, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org. Honorees are considered for Trucker of the Year.