Renaissance man

Albert Beck is meticulous with maintenance on his 2001 Freightliner.

Albert Beck has driven 23 years for Dart Transit with no accidents or tickets. But his driving record isn’t the only thing that’s spotless.

Beck, 66, of Big Lake, Minn., keeps his 2001 Freightliner Century in perfect shape, making sure to schedule regular maintenance checks, reminiscent of his Army days when he drove and maintained various heavy vehicles.

“I know to plan six months out for a set of rubber,” he says. “I kept a regular maintenance setup in the Army. I plan everything. That way I have no surprises.”

Beck says his love for trucking is a lifelong passion that dates to his family’s North Dakota cattle and horse farm. “I did it at home on the farm, hauling animals,” he said. “I then drove in the military. I saw there was a need for drivers.”

When Beck started out in trucking, “There were no good trucks,” he says. “Roads were pretty tough, and it took forever to travel. I had no money to back me up. It was hard to get a loan as a trucker from a bank to expense a vehicle.”

Beck began driving for Dart after retiring from the Army in 1976, but soon after was called back into service. A decade later, again retired from the Army, he returned to Dart.

He was offered his job back at Dart – no surprise for a driver who went on to log 2 million safe miles. Beck says he watches other drivers closely, gauging their reactions to traffic and road conditions. “I prepare myself,” he says. “A little courtesy on the road goes a long way. You give them room, and there’s no argument about the right of way.”

Working with military vehicles helped instill in Beck the need for rigorous PM discipline. Beck gets his oil changed once a month or every 10,000 miles. He tracks his income, expenses and cost per mile on a spreadsheet so he can compare his operation year to year. He nets an estimated $45,000 to $50,000 per year.

“After all total expenses, owner-operators might be left with less than 20 percent of gross income for personal use,” Beck says. “Maintenance costs such as repairs, parts and service costs have all increased.”

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This careful attention to financial detail keeps his mind focused on the big picture.
“A lot of truckers want new iron,” he says. “It may look nice, and it’s shiny, but can your budget afford it?”

It’s easy to make the mistake of spending beyond your means, he says. “Truckers have to balance supporting a family and paying for a truck. It calls for a little better forethought.”

His careful attention to finances allows Beck the freedom to pursue activities that help others. Dart spokeswoman Kristin Ries says, “While some owner-operators chose their career to be their own boss or for the independence, Al says he looks at trucking as a way to help and give back to the community.”

Beck devotes time to troubled teens and multiple sclerosis fund drives. He’s actively involved in American Legion and the VFW, and he helps with fund-raisers to help pay soldiers’ and veterans’ medical bills. He recalls that his parents lived in a nursing home, and so he has done charity work for senior citizens.

“Especially around Christmas, we would take turkeys to the homes to help seniors who couldn’t make it,” he says.

After Hurricane Katrina in 2005, a Minnesota school donated electrical supplies to a school in Louisiana, and Beck joined other drivers in hauling the materials and putting them in the classrooms.

New Orleans teachers were bending over backwards to help their students, Beck says, but enrollment was down, and there was so much to be done. “It was pretty tough – pretty desolate and bare,” he says.

That selfless attitude transfers into good professional relations, as well.

Beck is “probably the most conscientious driver we have,” says John Hynes, Dart operations supervisor. “He basically dispatches himself. Customers ask for him back. Everyone loves Al.”

Hynes says Beck knows the industry well and “knows how to keep customers and make customers happy. He can communicate with people on their level.”

“He’s an easy guy to deal with,” says Brent Barsness, a Dart fleet manager. “He gives Dart a good image to customers.”

Trucker Trivia
A DO-IT-YOURSELFER, Albert Beck builds and sells his own homes, drawing up his own blueprints and doing the construction work. He’s built four, completing the latest one in two years while working nights and weekends. Beck learned construction skills as a youth working with his grandfather and later serving in the military.

CLASSIC CARS Beck has restored include a 1932 Plymouth coupe, a 1974 Corvette and a 1958 Mercedes that he rebuilt. “I bring the cars back to standards, to their original conditions,” he said.

Albert Beck
1941: Born in McCully, N.D.
1959: Graduated from high school.
1960: Joined the Army.
1964: Served in Vietnam.
1966: Returned from Vietnam
1969: Stationed back in Vietnam
1975: Returned to the United States as an E-9 Senior Sergeant
1976: Leased to Dart Transit as an owner-operator, but was called back into active duty service.
1986: Returned to Dart as an owner-operator.
1995: Hall of Fame Safety Award, Dart Transit.
1998: President’s Safety Award, Dart Transit.
2004: Bought current truck, a 2001 Freightliner Century.
2005: Driver of the Month, Minnesota Trucking Association.
2007: Two Million Mile Safety Award, National Safety Council.