Building success

Curtis Anderson, now managing and driving his small fleet leased to Greatwide Logistics Services, earned roughly $76,000 in 2006.

When small-fleet owner-operator Curtis Anderson visited Dallas in August for the Great American Trucking Show, he was reminded of his previous career.

Anderson helped build the Big D’s Reunion Tower (pictured), one of the skyline’s dominant features, thanks to the dome on top. Working with American Steel and Aluminum, which provided steel for the tower, “was quite a learning experience, but it seems like every job they took was complicated and not an easy job,” he says.

The construction work stemmed from his training in the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to which he was assigned after being drafted in the Vietnam War shortly after graduating from high school.

Upon leaving the war-torn country on Jan. 1, 1967, Anderson’s pilot high-tailed it through several time zones to get the soldiers back home on Dec. 31, 1966. “We crossed the international date line just before midnight,” Anderson says. “He got us back the year we left.”

When Anderson returned to Illinois after serving the rest of his military contract stateside, he got a job with Schmidt Steel, working on the Sears Tower. “When I did that, there was a lot of innovation in the steel construction business,” he says. The computerization of that industry left workers to do little more than guide crane-lifted buttresses or beams into place, Anderson says. He then moved from one skyline to another, with the American Steel and Aluminum job.

A fishing buddy who drove for Best Products, a catalog-showroom chain, introduced him to trucking. Anderson says he took the job because it “paid as much as I was already making, and appealed to me at the time. There was too much daily stress at the old job.”

The gig ended amid Best Products’ bankruptcy in the early 1990s. His generous severance pay gave him plenty of time to find new work as a company driver, but he soon realized he wanted to break out on his own. “The best thing to do was buy my own truck,” he says.

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Anderson now owns seven, all leased to Greatwide Logistics, and has six drivers on the payroll. His fleet – Volvos, Freightliners and a Kenworth – delivers reefer and dry van freight from warehouses to Wal-Mart stores. Anderson drives three or four days a week, usually Thursday through Sunday, and has no immediate plans to expand his fleet. “But if an opportunity presents itself – if I find a bargain – I may add more trucks,” he says.

Paul Mayfield, an owner-operator leased to Greatwide, says Anderson is “good as a small businessman because he puts the time and effort into being successful” and also manages his personal relationships well. “We’ve been fishing and hunting together for 25 years, and you can always count on him to do what he says he is going to do and be where he says he is going to be,” Mayfield says.

Balancing life on the road with fleet management and family time is “pretty tough,” Anderson says. But living 60 miles from Greatwide’s Cleburne, Texas, headquarters allows him to come home two or three times a week.

Scott Warren, a Greatwide terminal manager, says he admires Anderson’s management skills, and Anderson’s drivers have only positive things to say about their boss. “He looks out for the interest of the team,” Warren says.

Indeed, Anderson says the biggest challenge of running a fleet is making sure his drivers get enough freight and pay. Apparently he meets that challenge because his annual turnover rate is low, 30 percent. “I think of myself as a good old boy, and I try to relate to my drivers as a driver instead of an employer.”

Warren says Anderson also isn’t afraid to jump in on his trucks’ maintenance. “He’s always the dirtiest person in the terminal, always working on something, never idle,” Warren says.

Anderson says he thrives on challenge and stress, in Vietnam, in trucking or elsewhere. “I’m at my best in the heat of tackling a problem,” he says.

With only one chargeable accident in 26 years of driving, Anderson says he’s learned how to handle lots of tough situations in the 3.5 million miles he’s driven.

“I’ve always instinctively known what to do,” he says. “There are plenty of situations I have looked back on and thought, ‘That could have been an accident.’ But when you spend your life behind the wheel, you learn through experience. I might panic in one way, but I relax in another, and my mind clears.”

Curtis Anderson
1947: Born in Delhi, La.
1965: Graduated high school in Carpentersville, Ill.; worked as machinist in Elgin, Ill.
1966: Served in Vietnam.
1968: Returned to work at Elgin Machine Works.
1969: Worked in steel fabrication in Schaumburg, Ill.
1971: Daughter, Marie, born.
1977: Moved to Dallas area and worked for American Steel and Aluminum.
1981: Worked for Best Products as a company driver.
1986: Married Janice Huey, after two previous marriages.
1993: Bought a 1987 Peterbilt 359 and leased to Merchants Truckloads LTL.
1997: Bought a 1997 Freightliner Century and leased to MS Carriers.
2000: Bought a 2000 Volvo 770.
2002: Leased to Clarksville Refrigerated, now part of Greatwide Logistics Services.
2003: Bought a 2003 Volvo 670.

Trucker Trivia
A SELF-TAUGHT guitarist, Anderson says his musicianship impressed family members at a recent outing “until I started singing.” His guitar hero is John Fogerty.

ARABIAN HORSES that Anderson raised for five years on his 30-acre ranch sold for $3,000 and higher. When he placed horses in shows, he rubbed elbows with such celebrities as Wayne Newton.
–Kristie Busam and Steven Mackay