Long, long haul

Tennessee owner-operator Scotty Collett started trucking in a 1947 Chevrolet two-ton that he bought to haul pulp wood out of Tennessee’s Natchez State Park in the 1950s. More than half a century and four million accident-free miles later, Collett is Landstar’s farthest running accident-free active driver.

“I just went from one thing to another until I worked my way up to this, and I’ve been with Landstar for 40 years now,” he says. Collett’s mileage with Landstar doesn’t include his wood and gravel hauling days or his nine-year run hauling cotton from Memphis, Tenn., to North and South Carolina.

“I am a small business owner,” Collett says, referring to the tag Landstar gives its owner-operators: business capacity owner. He says he runs his business on values he treasures – professionalism, respect and courtesy. A genuine smile and a clean haircut go a long way for him, too.

“He’s always friendly and laughing and in a good mood, and that’s hard to do in these economic times,” says Jack Faulk, a Landstar agent based in Kentucky. “He has a good time and he works hard. That’s a good combination.”

Because Collett started driving soon after high school, he’s grown with the industry over the years and witnessed its many changes – some, he says, are good and others bad.

“It’s the difference between daylight and dark,” he says. “Back then if you could just hold a steering wheel, you could drive a truck.” Collett says that, like drivers and regulations, the roads have changed, too. “Back then we didn’t have that many roads and now we have super roads,” he says, adding that even today’s roads are rough at times. “At least it’s all blacktop.”

Collett explains the main lesson he’s learned through 50 years of trucking experience: “No one knows what’s coming next.” Despite decades of industry change, Collett’s values remain the same.

Emily Newton, a Landstar agent based in Utah, says Collett’s positive attitude and professional demeanor define his success. “Our customers love him; they even have lunch with him whenever he’s in town.”

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It’s not uncommon for customers to call and brag on the service that Collett provides, says Landstar Manager of Operations Bruce Scott. “In this day and time, it’s easy to take for granted the kind of work that he does,” Scott says.

Though successful, Collett says trucking is not without its challenges. “It’s got its ups and downs – rates, slow freight, good freight.” His net income last year was $28,000, which was lower than normal due to the economy, Collette says.

He keeps costs down by doing “all of the work except for the internal,” he says. “Brakes and keeping it up and looking after it day by day – I do all that myself.”

With tracking expenses, though, he has a little help. “That’s part of my wife’s job,” says Collett of the record books. Louise helps to keep a monthly record of all expenses, in addition to being a mother, grandmother, great grandmother and keeper of the couple’s 114-acre cattle farm.

When it comes to freight, Collett says he has been lucky to secure a fairly consistent run from Salt Lake City, Utah, east to North Carolina and Pennsylvania. He hauls pipe for Westinghouse one way and when possible transports pallets back. “It’s not really dedicated, but when I get a load to Utah, I call my agent out in Salt Lake and they hold a load for me,” he says. “Then I have to find a load to get back out to Utah.”

Collett says he enjoys the run because of the landscape and because it’s flatbed. “I’ve pulled a van, and I’ve pulled drop decks. I’ve pulled some wide loads and hazmats, but I like the old flatbed,” he says.

Newton, his agent in Salt Lake City, says that most drivers Collett’s age, 72, slow down or avoid flatbed as they get older. “He’s one of the few guys his age that still throws tarps,” she says.

Age seems an unimportant factor for Collett, who doesn’t see retiring soon. Even if he did retire, there’s more work waiting at home. For now, trucking helps to support his farm. Collett says both jobs, the farm and the truck, require a close watch on expenses and upkeep. “When I get home, I love being out on the farm,” says Collett, who will soon take a break from driving to go home and cut hay for the livestock. The Colletts lease an additional 54 acres of land for hay.

“I am going to get out of this thing one of these days and just be on the farm,” he says.