Mr. Clean

Reece Phillips was on a run from Montana to Idaho a few years ago when the electronic control module on his 2000 Kenworth W900L quit on the freeway. He phoned longtime mechanic Troy Winn. With help from his buddy’s pickup and another truck, Phillips made the last 30 miles to Lava Hot Springs, delivered his cargo with no losses and, soon after, replaced the ECM.

“He does everything perfect,” Winn says of Phillips, a fellow resident of Preston, Idaho. “You can’t stop with livestock.”

Phillips’ care of his equipment and the pigs, sheep and cattle he hauled in his 23 years on the road has earned the 43-year-old a sterling reputation among drivers and brokers. “When he put his bull wagon for sale on the Internet, two days later it was gone,” Winn says. “When he puts his truck up for sale, there’s a line of guys waiting to buy it. He’s known around the nation.”

Phillips runs mostly in the Pacific Northwest and California. He enjoys his schedule, which takes him home part of every weekend, with Mondays off.

The middle child in a family of three sons, he grew up on a farm in Idaho Falls, Idaho. In the sixth grade, Phillips rode with his father, Lester Phillips, hauling produce to Canada and on regional livestock hauls in the winter.

“Ever since I was knee-high, that’s what I wanted to do,” says Phillips, who netted $60,000 last year. “I remember getting up early in the morning to haul sheep. It was wonderful.”

When his parents lost their 500-acre farm in the recession in 1982, his father began hauling livestock full-time for Golden Valley Transportation. Phillips’ background handling cattle, pigs and sheep helped when he hired on with Doyle Elison, owner of Elison Quarter Horse Co. near Preston. Within five years, he had won the company’s Trucker of the Year award and a safety award. Phillips says Elison was a role model for developing the business acumen he needed to start Phillips Trucking in 1995.

His gleaming Kenworth, custom bumper and trailer first attracted broker Tod Jensen, of Mound Valley Cattle in Thatcher, Idaho, 15 years ago. Since then, Phillips has hauled one to three loads weekly for him. “His trailer is always cleaned, and in cold weather, he’s always got salt. He’s always prepared,” Jensen says.

Dressed in a Western shirt and always sporting a clean hat – “He’ll throw a dirty one away,” a friend quips – Phillips’ positive attitude goes beyond surface polish on his trucks.

“When he walks into a room, he livens it up,” says owner-operator Robert Murray, of Wellsville, Utah, who has known Phillips since 1989.

Brokers and colleagues especially appreciate Phillips’ knack with animals.

“I’ve never had a cut-up, banged-up or dead animal come out of the truck,” Jensen says. “With Holstein cows, he gives them more room than beef cattle and knows how to gate them.”

Murray learned from his friend’s example. “When you haul sheep, they’ve got a mind of their own,” he says. “You can’t herd sheep. He showed me the ropes with my lambs.”

Winn agrees that Phillips’ care for both the animals and his two air-suspension trailers is effective. “The cows seem to haul better,” he says. “Reece stops and checks on them all the time so they don’t get trampled.”

Phillips says regular power equipment maintenance is essential, too. His truck is serviced every 15,000 miles.

“He’s adamant about oil changes,” says Reece’s wife, Nan Phillips, who keeps the company’s financial records and drives a school bus. “Every spring, he spends a day to have someone buff out the tank, wheels and bumper. He’s been enamored with trucking since the day he was born.”Respect for the work has helped him persevere in difficult times.

Two non-chargeable wrecks that weren’t his fault depleted his equipment, as well as financial and emotional reserves. The first was in 1995, soon after he started his business. The second was in 2000, when his trailer was broadsided by a drunk driver who fled the scene. His fourth child, Justin, was born the same day.

“Those were teaching moments,” Phillips recalls. “The only reason I’m successful is because of loyal customers and the people around me.”

Murray, who lent Phillips a trailer after the second accident, admires Phillips’ tenacity. “He started from zero,” Murray says. “He’s had his ups and downs and had to make it work.”

Over the last few years, Phillips says he’s had more time at home. Recently, among other trips, he and Nan traveled to Yellowstone National Park, and again to Belize on a cruise with their children, Lynette, 20; Bradley, 18; Leslie, 14; and Justin, 10.

“In those early years, I paid my price,” he says. “But it’s been a good ride.”

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