John Newsom stands with his traveling partner, Nadine.
John Newsom got his nickname, Jawbreaker, during his days as a professional boxer, but he later confirmed that moniker on the road – when he broke the jaw of a California trucker who challenged him to a fight over the CB radio.
“The guy told me I wouldn’t pull over, and I did, and so did he,” Newsom says. “He got out of his truck, and I got out of mine, and I punched him.” Newsom said the trucker’s boss later tracked him down and informed Newsom he broke the guy’s jaw.
Newsom’s fame precedes him. The Woodland, Calif., owner-operator’s voice already was familiar to former owner-operator Dan Darvishian when the two met in 1995.
“I always heard him over the radio, and then one day I was on the driving range and heard John’s voice,” Darvishian says. “I walked up to him and asked, ‘Jawbreaker?’ and it was him.”
Darvishian calls Newsom one of the hardest working men he’s ever met.
“He loves trucking and manages to get the job done no matter what,” Darvishian says.
Newsom says he’s tried to retire several times, but the open road always calls him back. Today he hauls equipment for oil-drilling rigs and transports the 20 forklifts he owns and rents to customers as a side business in his 1996 Freightliner FLD. He grosses $300,000 annually between the two jobs, both of which make around the same amount of money, he says.
Newsom grew up in rural Tennessee, picking cotton in the morning, and hunting and swimming with his five brothers in the afternoon. He says there wasn’t much career opportunity in his hometown of Camden during the 1940s.
“I knew that someday I was going to do something big,” he says. “I wasn’t going to live like the sharecroppers lived forever.”
At age 17, Newsom joined the Marines and began amateur boxing. Newsom said he always had an urge to fight and he discovered that he could do so freely as a boxer in the Marines.
After three years in the service, Newsom became a professional fighter under the name Johnny Gordon, because a Johnny Newsom already was appearing on the circuit. He won his first fight, against Junior Dixon in 1960 at the Grand Olympic Auditorium in Los Angeles. “I didn’t really know what to expect,” he says. “I just went out there and hit him. He never got up, and I thought, hell, this is easy.”
Newsom went on to a record of 13-3-3, including seven knockouts. Newsom also fought exhibition matches against three champions: light heavyweight Archie Moore, middleweight Carl “Bobo” Olson, and the legendary Joe Louis.
Newsom’s first trucking gig was for his friend and later boxing manager Gordon Shaw. Now deceased, Shaw owned a Kenworth cabover that hauled construction supplies. One day Shaw’s driver didn’t show up, and Shaw asked Newsom – who never had driven a truck before – to fill in.
” ‘Go on and get yourself in that truck,’ Gordon told me. After that, I never got out,” Newsom says.
Married and with a child on the way at age 27, Newsom had to choose what was best for his family. Instead of boxing, he picked trucking – partially because it made more money, partially because Newsom had come to believe “it’s always been my calling.”
Today, Carol says her husband is a “fish out of water” without his truck.
At 73, Newsom runs a mile and a half each day and eats healthy. He is contemplating a return to fighting for the simple reason that he misses it. Newsom has his heart set on the cage-fighting card at the Colusa Casino Resort in Colusa, Calif., about 40 miles from his home.
“I’m trying to get in to fight someone 50 years and up,” he says. “They [the other fighters] think they can beat me. I’d like to see ’em try. Just let me in a ring and lock the gate, that’s what I want.”
Newsom remembers seeing diesel at 15 cents a gallon, a far cry from the $4-plus that he now pours into his tanks. He now spends $800 on a fill-up. Newsom passes these costs on to his customers. “I now have to charge $10 or $15 more an hour,” he says.
Newsom handles bookkeeping chores himself and knows his numbers well when making business decisions. “I know in my head when I have it and when I don’t,” he says.
Newsom challenged himself one year to gross $1 million, just to prove he could, and succeeded – by running a mobile truck-service company during the day and driving his truck all night. “It was way too hard and almost killed me,” he says. Newsom sold that service business to family members.
The best advice Newsom can give young owner-operators is to stay honest. “Say what you do, and do what you say,” Newsom says. “Be dedicated and honest with people, and the rest will fall into place.”
Newsom isn’t sure what his future holds. “I don’t think I’ll retire. If I don’t truck, I still want it in my yard,” he says. “That way I can lean back, my toothpick resting in my lip, and say, ‘Yep, that’s my rig.’ ”
1935: Born in Camden, Tenn.
1952-55: Served in the U.S. Marines, including a year in war-torn Korea manning tanks and other equipment.
1957: Began delivering construction supplies in big rig owned by a friend, who would later become his boxing manager.
1962: Married Carol Applegate and bought a 1962 Peterbilt 379.
1965: Daughter, Terri, born.
1967: Purchased a 1964 Freightliner cabover.
1968: Daughter, Patti, born.
1970: Son, Jonny, born.
1976: Adopted five-day-old boy, Jason. Purchased 1976 Freightliner.
1982: Opened J&J Truck Repair as a side business.
1992: Sold J&J Truck Repair to his son Jason and a son-in-law.
2008: Purchased a 1996 Freightliner FLD day cab.
SUPERSTITIONS INHERITED by John Newsom from his father include never starting a new job on a Thursday: “Those are not good days.” His father once was struck by lightning on a Thursday, which may explain the aversion – “although I still drive my truck on Thursdays.”
HIS CONSTANT COMPANION on the road is Nadine, a 10-year-old white Lhasa Apso that was a gift from his wife and children. “She’s with me everywhere I go, except when I golf,” he says. Newsom once traded in a new pickup truck that didn’t suit Nadine. “I ended up getting a white GMC like I’d had before, because the dashboard was big enough for Nadine to sit on.”