Second time around

Gerald Rigby enjoys spending time with his customized motorcycle and Harley-Davidsons
when he’s at home.

Gerald Rigby of Buffalo, Mo., was a roofing subcontractor and a sheet metal fabricator between the two legs of his trucking career. Along the way, the 51-year-old learned attention to detail, customer service and self-motivation that’s serving him well as a successful owner-operator.

He’s also learned enough about mechanics to tinker with his three motorcycles when he’s not on the road. “It’s my therapy,” says Rigby of his hobby.

Rigby started out at 20 with a chauffeur’s license. He pulled mobile homes and hauled water to oil rigs. Later he left trucking to subcontract residential roofing, where he says he enjoyed the same self-motivation and sense of personal responsibility that come with being an owner-operator.

After nine years as a designer for sheet metal fabrication, the call of the road was more than Rigby could resist. “I enjoy the freedom and the challenge of being able to make a living doing this,” he says. Leased to O&S Trucking of Springfield, Mo., Rigby hauls refrigerated freight with his 2006 Peterbilt 379.

He says truckers “must stay vigilant every moment” to reduce costs and anticipate problems. “You have to be proactive instead of reactive to situations.” For example, Rigby manages his spending in part by making purchases when it’s cost-effective instead of being forced to buy things on the road, where costs are higher.

“I look at the price of fuel along the route to decide if and where I’m going to buy fuel,” he says. “Even when I don’t need fuel, if I can find a comparative market along the way I’ll go ahead and buy it. A few pennies here and there adds up.”

If trucking is a numbers game, then Rigby is winning, says Teresa Watson, operations manager for O&S Trucking. “What makes him different from other drivers is that he knows his business so well,” says Watson. “He knows what everything costs him to the penny because he pays attention.” Closely watching costs helped Rigby net $48,000 in 2007.

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Rose Kastrup, safety director for O&S, says Rigby “holds himself to a higher standard” than many others. “His attire, his attitude and his commitment to safety are part of his professionalism.”

Flexibility is a key to that professionalism, Rigby says. “Being willing to change habits, type of freight or routes” is critical, he says. For example, high fuel prices have led Rigby to change his driving style. “Besides just slowing down, I use progressive shifting,” he says, and maintains rpm on upgrades instead of using the cruise control.

Mike Spray, O&S fleet manager, says Rigby’s fuel economizing and his attention to equipment management make him stand out, and his expertise extends to people skills, as well. “He’s good with customers because he always delivers on time,” says Spray. “If he’s got to leave here at noon on Friday to be on time, he’s here at six in the morning ready to leave.”

Rigby knows how important customer service is. “Without shippers and receivers, we’re nothing,” he says. “You have to kind of practice that saying about the customer always being right.”

As for people outside the industry, Rigby thinks that drivers should be courteous to the point of invisibility. “The general public would love to have their stuff and not know how it got there,” he says. “You don’t want to be a nuisance or a hindrance or cause anyone any kind of grief.”

Rigby says that patience on the road is the key to dealing with the motoring public. “Even if I know that I have the right of way, and I see someone that doesn’t know that or isn’t going to respect that, then I let them go,” he says. “It doesn’t cost you anything to wait 30 seconds for other cars to go.”

Driving habits are just one way for truckers to improve the industry’s image, to Rigby. From appearance to equipment maintenance, he says change has to be “a concerted effort” for professional drivers: “We used to be the knights of the highway, and now we’re the scum of the earth.”

A life-long motorcycle enthusiast, Rigby enjoys riding and rebuilding the bikes. “Even though they’re very different vehicles, a lot of the same attitude and skills are needed to operate both a motorcycle and a truck,” he says.

For example, both require coordination and concentration. “It takes both hands and both feet,” he says.

Traffic is also a big concern for bikers, says Rigby. “You have to look ahead and drive defensively. Getting in a collision is not an option.”

In the large shop at his Buffalo, Mo., home, Rigby does most of his own truck maintenance and works on his motorcycles. “I like building them almost as much as I do riding,” he says. “We built the shop a couple years ago because it’s hard to have two vehicles, three motorcycles, and a truck in a two-car garage,” he says.

The freedom of traveling on two wheels appeals to Rigby. “I don’t have to have anywhere to go when I’m on my motorcycle,” he says. “I just go out to ride. You’re out in the environment instead of traveling through it.”

Gerald Rigby
1957: Born in Corning, N.Y.
1978: Started trucking locally
1980: Daughter, Rachel, born
1985: Son, Alex, born
1998: Got CDL
1998: Started driving for Gainey Transportation
2000: Drove for OTR Express
2000: Bought first truck, 2000 Peterbilt 378
2001: Went to work for Stever Transportation
2003: Grandson, Ebyn, born to Rachel
2003: Started driving for O&S Transportation
2005: Drove for Teton Transportation
2006: Returned to O&S Transportation

Trucker Trivia

A CUSTOM MOTORCYCLE that Rigby is assembling from aftermarket parts is almost finished. “I’ve been collecting parts and working on it for probably two years,” he says. “Pretty soon we’ll do the paint, chrome and wiring.”

IT WASN’T EXACTLY multi-modal work, but Gerald Rigby worked closely with aquatic vessels when he hauled everything from flat-bottom tracker boats to big cruisers for Teton Transportation. “People are excited when they get new toys,” says Rigby. “People get a lot more excited about a new boat than a load of frozen chickens.”