He chose the road

Ronnie Baker has been leased to PGT Trucking since 2001.

Ronnie Baker’s parents divorced when he was 15. He had to choose between living with his mother and completing high school – or moving in with his father and driving a truck. For Baker, it was a no-brainer. His high-school days in Franklin, Ohio, were over when school let out for Christmas 1975.

When his parents separated, Baker’s father sold his small fleet, kept one truck and moved to Kentucky. Baker went with him “and started driving truck for Asher Coal at age 16,” he says. “At least I was driving, and I was happy.”

Baker’s father, grandfather and uncles all were truck drivers. “It was always truck, truck, truck, as I was growing up,” Baker says. “When I got big enough, all I wanted to do was work with trucks.”

He grew up around his father’s 15-truck steel-hauling fleet. Beginning at age 10, he spent hours tinkering, washing and waxing. “I spent every weekend working on trucks from 1970 to ’75,” he says.

However, hauling on- and off-road in Kentucky’s hill country proved difficult. Hauling coal didn’t strike Baker as stable; jobs were too dependent on the weather. A year later Baker was back in Franklin, working at a Montgomery Ward department store.

“I was a truck tire technician, changing truck tires and selling new tires,” Baker says. “I kept all of the tires in service. The work was good all year round.” But the driving itch was too strong, so he returned to Kentucky and drove for Prince Coal in Hazard, where his dad also worked. He once again felt the challenges of driving a coal truck in the rough terrain.

In 1983, he returned to Franklin, where he still lives, to drive a dump truck for Grunau Construction, which was building a Miller Brewing plant. Baker soon was named foreman, with four to eight drivers working under him. “They all called me ‘Truck Boss.'” But once construction ended, that job was finished, too.

“That same day, I starting looking for my own truck,” he says. “I closed the deal on a truck the very next day.” He bought a 1976 Kenworth cabover with a 290-hp Cummins and set to work as an owner-operator.

The 1976 cabover was the first of four red Kenworths that Baker has bought. “My dad had more Kenworths than anything,” Baker says.

He soon leased to Aetna Freight Lines in Warren, Ohio, where he stayed for 17 years, running from Ohio to New York. “That is where my dad worked,” he says. “My uncles and family worked there. They had good freight at good pay.”

In 2001, Baker signed with PGT Trucking, hauling steel along much the same route. “I didn’t want to quit, but work was slow,” he says. “I felt like it was a time in my life for a change, and there were better opportunities out there for more work and better loads.”

Bob Reda, who works with owner-operators for PGT, has known Baker for six years. “When you think of consistency and performance, he stands out among the 1,100 drivers here,” Reda says. “If you give him a load, you don’t have to worry about anything. He’s very reliable and takes care of business. You can’t get much better than him. I’ve never heard anyone say a bad word about him.”

At age 47, Baker has logged close to 2 million miles. He netted $37,259 in 2006 from a gross $115,858. “I’ve always had my own truck and trailer,” he says. “I don’t want to pay 10 percent rent on my trailer. I don’t have to answer to anyone by owning my own trailer.”

Robert Holdsworth, owner of TMI Trailer Sales, has sold trailers to Baker and his family for 20 years. “If there were more Ronnie Bakers in the world there would be a whole lot less problems up and down the road,” Holdsworth says.

Safety is the most important element of trucking success, Baker says. “If you haven’t got a good clean license, you don’t have a job.” Baker has received safety awards every year he has been an owner-operator, starting with Aetna and continuing with PGT. His sole accident in his rig – bumping into a car at a red light in 1985 – didn’t count against his record because he wasn’t on the job.

Baker advocates regular maintenance and equipment upgrades whenever necessary. “You have repairs and maintenance, or you have a new payment,” he says. “It is a company investment, and if I am going to put money into a truck, I’d rather it be new and worth the value.”

Baker’s son, Kevin, is in college and his daughter, Krystal, will be headed to college when she graduates high school, but Baker says he never had second thoughts about quitting school. “I’ve provided well for my family,” he says. “My heart has always been in trucking. They talk about blood running through your veins, and diesel fuel and trucking run through mine.”

Ronnie Baker
1960: Born Feb. 18 in Hyden, Ky.
1970-1975: Worked on father’s fleet on weekends.
1975-82: Worked in trucking-related jobs in Ohio and Kentucky.
1983: Bought a 1976 Kenworth cabover; leased to Aetna Freight Lines.
1985: Married Sheila Deaton.
1986: Son, Kevin, born.
1987: Bought a 1979 Kenworth and a 1979 Ravens flatbed.
1989: Bought a new 1989 East flatbed.
1990: Daughter, Krystal, born; bought a new 1990 Kenworth W900.
1997: Bought a new Reitnouer flatbed.
1999: Bought a new 2000 Kenworth W900.
2001: Leased to PGT Trucking of Monaca, Pa.
2005: Bought a new Reitnouer Big Bubba flatbed.
2007: Bought a new Reitnouer Bigger Bubba flatbed.

Trucker Trivia
BUBBA TAKES A BOW. Ronnie Baker premiered the 2007 Reitnouer Bigger Bubba flatbed at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., on behalf of TMI Trailer Sales. Having bought the first one of its kind, he was asked to demonstrate to attendees how it worked loaded.

FAMILY FIX-UP. Baker’s wife, Sheila Baker, and their children act as the pit crew for Baker’s rig. In exchange for Ronnie working extra hours to recoup lost income when Shelia quit her job, she agreed to take care of the rig’s washing and maintenance – along with doing yard work her husband had done.