Work in progress

Yoder, at the Mid-America Trucking Show, says it’s the freedom and challenges of trucking that keep him on the road. “I couldn’t stand to be penned up in a plant or something like that,” he says.

Owner-operator Wes Yoder, from Stuarts Draft, Va., has been among Mercer Transportation’s top 10 contractors for two years running. He nets $58,000 a year hauling flatbed freight and says his work ethic is a large part of what’s gotten him to this high place. That ethic’s the product, he says, of a childhood spent on a dairy farm with parents who believed strongly in the value of hard work. “They taught us to do a job and do it right; don’t stop until it’s done,” says Yoder’s brother Karl, a driver for Wal-Mart.

Wes and Karl aren’t the only Yoders to take that work ethic into the trucking industry. Their older brother Darwin, like Wes Yoder, drives for Mercer, and eight cousins and two uncles drive for various other companies.

“My dad drove trucks when he was younger, and my granddad had milk trucks in the early days,” says Darwin. “I guess we don’t know any better.”

Wes, the youngest of the Yoder brothers, started out at just 15, moving cattle and grain around the family farm in a 2.5-ton dump truck. Today, at 44, Yoder has 20 years of driving experience, nine as an owner-operator, and describes his current flatbed operation as a heaven of variety. “I like that not every load is the same,” he says. “I get into all kinds of different loads and challenges.”

Nick Hebner, truck coordinator for Mercer, says that Yoder’s willingness to accept a challenge makes him a great contractor. “Wes doesn’t turn anything down,” Hebner says. “He’ll go into the city with an oversize load, he’ll throw 8-foot tarps, anything. He just takes what’s there and runs with it.” This fearlessness, coupled with wide-ranging operational expertise, makes him a good example for other drivers, Hebner adds. “Wes is the best truck on my board by far.”

Yoder’s knowledge of the road comes from years of varied experience in the industry. His first trucking job was with St. Richland, Pa.-based, Rigidply Rafters. Yoder started out delivering trusses in a straight truck, then drove a crane truck for several years. In 1991 he joined Rigidply’s long-haul operation. He also spent three years leased to Lanita Transport before going to Mercer.

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Yoder says that being a good example on the road is important to the industry. “I think the whole industry needs to be cleaned up,” he says, adding that physical appearance and trash talk on the CB are two places to start. “Other drivers see the decal on my truck and ask me how I can be top 10 and still be home every weekend,” Yoder says. “I just do what I need to do to keep the truck moving.” And that means moving as early as possible. “If I’m not empty by 10 a.m.,” he says, it’s an unusual day indeed.

Yoder explains that even with fuel prices on the downturn, drivers have to choose loads wisely. “It’s all about getting freight both ways,” he says. Getting those loads, Yoder explains, requires versatility. “I have what I need on the truck to haul whatever I can pick up that pays well.”

Family friend and FedEx driver Robert Griffin says Yoder’s eye for good freight is a key element of his success. “If it’s a cheap load, he won’t take it,” says Griffin.

A friend since childhood, Griffin has first-hand experience with Yoder’s driving. “I rode with him whenever I could,” he says. “He’s a professional, no doubt about it.” Part of being professional, Yoder notes, is providing good customer service. “Within reason you have to do what the customer wants,” he says. “You need to be on time, polite and respectable.”

In a business where tight and changing deadlines, in addition to other obstacles, make it difficult for drivers to be consistent, Wes “does things the way people want them done,” says Yoder’s brother Darwin.

Fuel and freight challenges don’t phase Yoder, whose Mennonite heritage supports him on the road. “I just have to have faith that there will be work there, and that God will provide for my family,” he says.

Yoder’s dedication to hard work in trucking plays second fiddle only to his dedication to his family – his wife Christine; 15-year old daughter Nadine; and 12-year-old son Ethan. The family keeps a few longhorn cattle at their Virginia home, making for an environment much like the farm Yoder grew up on.

“Ethan takes care of feeding the cows and makes sure that they’re taken care of every day,” Yoder says. “I feel that it’s a good learning experience for him to have some responsibility and something to take care of.”

The “don’t stop until it’s done” attitude that Yoder’s parents instilled in him, and that he’s passing on to his kids, will keep him on the road a while longer. “I feel like I still have a lot left to do,” he says.

Trucker Trivia

YODER AND HIS KIDS load up their four hunting dogs and head into the Blue Ridge Mountains for black bear hunting season in December. “That’s one thing that they like doing and I try to do with them at least once or twice during the season,” he says.

ON SUNDAY MORNINGS Yoder drives a van for the Mountain View Mennonite Church outreach ministry, picking up as many as a dozen children. “It’s a chance for me to reach out to people who wouldn’t be able to go to church if we didn’t have that ministry,” he says.

Wes Yoder
1964: Born in Louistown, Pa.
1987: Drove a straight truck for Rigidply Rafters
1989: Married Christine
1991: First long-haul job with Ridgeply
1993: Daughter Nadine born
1996: Son Ethan born
1999: Bought first truck, 1989 Peterbilt, and dump trailer
2001-04: Drove for Lanita Transport
2005: Started with Mercer Transportation
2005-07: Won Mercer safety awards
2006, 2007: Named Top Ten Contractor at Mercer

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.