Bruce and Marilyn Barnes have been married for 20 years and have two sons.
“A lot of drivers seem to be mad at the world,” says Bruce Barnes, a 47-year-old owner-operator. “It’s a ‘me’ world. No one out here cares about anyone else.”
Barnes, a Troy, Mo., resident, tries to rectify that by being courteous to customers, fellow drivers and motorists. “Just to smile and say hello makes a huge difference in someone’s day,” he says.
Barnes says his professionalism, courtesy and desire to drive – qualities that have led to achievements in his career, the show truck circuit and as a Trucker Buddy – come from his father, who drove a local gasoline tanker around Troy, Mo. “I could not wait to get up and go with him when I was younger,” says Barnes. “I rode with him as much as I could.”
Before he graduated high school, then-17-year-old Barnes delivered diesel and gasoline to local farmers for the same company his dad drove for, Lincoln Oil Co. For 16 of his 25 years in trucking, Barnes has been leased to Witte Brothers Exchange Inc., a refrigerated freight company.
Those early examples of good behavior set by his dad, ones like sharing the road with other motorists, are obvious to those who know Barnes.
Elmer Riegel, a longtime friend and Witte Brothers colleague, says that Barnes is “one of those people that can take in everything around him and remember it all. I feel like I could trust him with anything.”
Barnes has an eagle-eye as a driver, Riegel adds: “Nothing gets by him.”
One of his biggest rewards has been sharing on and off the road experiences with school children for the last six years. As a Trucker Buddy to a first-grade class at Craig Elementary School in St. Louis, Mo., Barnes helps students with their writing, math and geography by relating their class work to his time on the road.
His letters describe his loads, including weight and distance to travel. Barnes sends postcards from his stops around the country to show the kids new places, and they write back. “I’ve noticed what a difference it makes in their writing from the start of the year to the end of the year,” he says. “It really helps them to open up to write to someone outside of the class.” As an extra treat for the children, Barnes takes his truck to the school once a year.
Barnes says truck shows are another way he shares his enthusiasm for the industry. “The public realizes the work that we put into our equipment when they get to see our trucks,” he says.
Barnes has won at least eight truck show awards for his convoy gold 2005 Western Star 4900FA. Under the hood it has a 450-hp Mercedes-Benz MBE 4000 engine and a 13-speed Eaton Fuller transmission.
His favorite feature in the truck is the 82-inch Stratosphere sleeper. “We have customized the interior with new door panels, reupholstered seats, wood flooring and cabinets, and chrome accessories throughout,” he says. “I enjoy my XM radio with Bluetooth, 17-inch flat panel television with PlayStation 2, and 17-inch laptop with printer.”
Despite the many trophies his truck has won, it isn’t just for show. Barnes has put 500,000 miles on his Western Star in just three years, hauling reefer freight.
He says he maintains his truck, chooses efficient routes and saves expenses by planning ahead for trips. “I look for the little things that could be easily overlooked,” explains Barnes, who bought a Carrier auxiliary power unit to cut down on idling and extra fuel costs.
To him, those costs are the greatest challenge for owner-operators today. “I watch where I stop to fuel, and try to plan my routes better,” says Barnes. “I’m trying to stop more at truck stops that have movie rooms and entertainment so that I can stay out of my truck sometimes.”
To track his expenses and mainten-ance Barnes says he records all of his receipts and works through his company accountant and maintenance crew. Barnes’ net income for 2007 was $45,000.
Brent Witte, president of Witte Brothers, says that Barnes is dependable, especially so for refrigerated hauls that require timely delivery. “You’re 100 percent responsible for the integrity of the load you’re carrying, and different products require different temperatures and different care,” Witte says. “The best thing about Bruce is that when he has a job to get done, it gets done.”
Matt Thornton, a fleet manager with Witte, says Barnes’ flexibility makes him stand out. “If something doesn’t go exactly right, which happens, he does whatever it takes to get the job done,” Thornton says.
For Barnes, happiness is part of his success. “I don’t know if I’d like a warehouse or office position because I have a lot of freedom out here to do my thing,” he says. “I’m very fortunate that I am leased to a company that gets me home every week.”
Barnes’ wife of 20 years, Marilyn, is the safety director for Witte, and they have two children together: Joe, 23, and Bill, 20.
“The good life that I’ve led is because of some of the sacrifices they’ve made,” says Barnes. “They mean the world to me.”
After he pays his truck off next year, Barnes says he’d like a change of pace: “I want to spend more time with my family.”
1961: Born in Troy, Mo.
1979: Graduated from Troy Buchanan High School
1982: Started driving tractor-trailer for Perdue, Inc., Salisbury, N.C.
1984: First over-the-road driving job with Witte Brothers Exchange, Inc., Troy, Mo.
1988: Married Marilyn Troutt.
1997: Bought first truck, a 1995 Kenworth T600, leased to Witte Brothers.
1998: Traded for 1997 International Eagle.
2000: Traded for new 2000 Western Star Constellation.
2003: Placed second in Truckload Carriers Association Owner-Operator of the Year Contest; placed fifth in 2006.
2004: Bought 2005 Western Star
2008: Received the Gary King Memorial Trucker Buddy Award
HIGHWAY ANGEL, a Truckload Carriers Association program, is one of the honors Barnes received in 2002 for helping the driver out of an overturned tanker. “I figured it was my duty,” Barnes says. “I was glad I was there, as unfortunate as it was.”
THE SPECIAL OLYMPICS convoy in St. Louis has benefited from Barnes’ help for the last three years to raise money for the Missouri Special Olympics. “It shows that we as drivers and the policemen and city locals can pull together for a good deed,” he says.
DO YOU KNOW an exemplary owner-operator with 15 years of trucking experience and an excellent safety record? Write to Lucinda Coulter, Overdrive, P.O. Box 3187, Tuscaloosa, AL 35403, or e-mail [email protected]. Honorees are considered for Trucker of the Year.