Cream of the Crop

Donald Burianek didn’t start over-the-road trucking until he was 38 years old, but his truck-handling roots stretch back three decades earlier. That’s when, at age 6, he first climbed behind the wheel of a work truck on his father’s 80-acre farm in rural Nebraska.

“I’ve been driving since my feet could reach the pedals,” Burianek says. “We had an old 1928 Chevy truck with wooden spokes. I started driving trucks around the farm, and delivered grain to town when I was a little older.”

Burianek, 60, of Wilber, Neb., honed his driving skills through various jobs before settling into a successful career as a company driver. For more than 21 years his safety record and work ethic have earned him numerous awards and the respect of his peers. The Truckload Carriers Association and Truckers News named Burianek the 2001 Company Equipment Driver of the Year in March at TCA’s annual convention in Las Vegas. He has driven for Crete Carrier Corp., of Lincoln, Neb., for more than 19 years.

Burianek’s résumé includes 2.3 million safe driving miles, two previous top 10 finalist finishes in the TCA company driver contest and several recognitions by his company and industry organizations. “Don Burianek represents all that is good in the trucking industry,” says Crete President and CEO Tonn Ostergard. “His commitment to safety, customer service and professionalism are second to none.”

Road to Trucking
Burianek admits he didn’t choose trucking as a profession. Instead, he evolved into it. After high school he decided he couldn’t make a living from the family farm. He moved from Crete, Neb., to nearby Lincoln to work at a Chevrolet dealership, sometimes traveling out of state to pick up stolen or repossessed cars. Later, still in Nebraska, he ran a wholesale bread route.

Burianek then followed a friend into the mobile home business where he set up, tore down and delivered trailers for a time. “We even rolled trailers over basements, where a basement foundation was dug and we pulled trailers onto rails,” he says. “We then jacked up the trailer and pulled the rails out. That was not an enjoyable job.”

Another friend urged him to give over-the-road trucking a try. He landed a job at Hill Trucking Lines, driving for an owner-operator leased to HTL for a couple of years until the company sold to Crete.

After hooking up with Crete, Burianek says he has never looked back.

“Crete’s always been good to me,” he says. “I get my miles every week. If I happen not to get my miles for the week every now and then, by year’s end I always get the miles that I had set as my goal at the first of the year.”

Last year, Burianek logged 140,000 miles and grossed $54,000.

“Don has always been an ‘easy keeper,'” says Kerry Kearl, Crete’s vice president of company fleets. “He knows his value to our company. His work ethic serves our customers and the public well. He understands and lives the life of a true professional. His example is one that all of our drivers should try to emulate. He does the right thing naturally, and does not have to be reminded of his responsibilities.”

Burianek has a dedicated route hauling pressed fluorescent lighting ballast materials for Advance Transformers from its facility in Monroe, Wis., to El Paso, Texas. From there the materials are taken across the Mexican border, assembled and shipped back to warehouses in the United States. Burianek then delivers the ballasts to one or more locations including Cordele, Ga., East Rutherford, N.J., and Hanover Park, Ill.

Occasionally, when Burianek gets out of his normal route, such as a recent swing through Tuscaloosa, Ala., for an interview with Truckers News, he hauls for National Freight. In this case, a load of wood chips bound for Hope, Ark. His deadhead miles are less than 4 percent annually.

“I love my route because Crete gets me home,” Burianek says. “I’m usually out for a couple of weeks and then I’m home for a couple of days.”

Burianek, shown here with some of his children and grandchildren, attends the Nebraska Czech Festival held each year in his hometown of Wilber.

Family Ties
Getting time to spend with the family is important to Burianek. He is of Czech descent and lives in a town that stresses the importance of family togetherness through its annual Czech festival. (Wilber has been known since 1987 as the Czech Capital of the U.S.A.).

“Family is one thing that is very important to me,” Burianek says. “All through the year I try to see my kids and grandchildren every chance I get. At Christmas I take a week’s vacation to spend with my family.”

Burianek and his wife Diana, 57, have been married for 25 years. They have five children and six grandchildren. Diana is an office worker for a health care facility in Wilber.

“About 14 years ago, my wife decided she wanted to drive with me on the road,” he says. “She went through Crete’s school and got her CDL. She stayed out with me for about eight months and decided that it wasn’t for her. She wasn’t really ready give up the house and she enjoys having a garden. She still goes with me sometimes as a vacation.”

Burianek occasionally takes his grandson with him during the summer for a week or so. He says he also tries to spend more time with his five siblings.

“About a year ago, my wife and I took a few days off and toured Nebraska with my brother and sister-in-law,” he says. “We never got on the interstate, and just stopped when we wanted to see something. We were gone about five days. We took our time, no hurry, no telephone.”

Trucking Philosophy
Burianek has a simple philosophy as to what makes a good truck driver. “I’ve always been a firm believer in enjoying what you’re doing,” he says. “I don’t care if you are a waitress in a truckstop or working at a warehouse. If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, get out of it and find something you do enjoy. Life is too short to have a hassle with things day in and day out.

Burianek says he sees too many people who get into trucking for the wrong reasons. “They just do it for the money,” he says. “In some towns there is not a lot of work and people get into trucking for the big money. They’re not in for the long haul. They’re not in it as a profession. They’ll tell you right up front, ‘I’m not going to do this all my life. I’m going to do it five years and I’m getting out of it.’ You have to enjoy it.”

Burianek says he also regularly hears that a driver can’t run legally, safely and still make a living. He says the fault lies with the employer. “I can because I work for a company that pays well,” Burianek says. “If you’re working for a company that doesn’t pay well and you try to live beyond your means, you have to run harder to make the money. There are some companies that pay between 18 and 20 cents a mile. That’s what I was making when I started.

“Crete is also very strict on logs. Part of that is to be safe and keep the DOT from hassling us. It gets us drivers in line. Some drivers don’t like it because they feel the federal government is sticking its nose into it or the company is telling them how to drive. But, there again, our accident rate would be phenomenal without a strict policy.”

Burianek says he believes there are some bad drivers out on the roads, but the trucking industry is making progress toward greater safety. “For the large amount of trucks out there compared to what there used to be, I think trucking is better,” he says. “I have no problem with the Department of Transportation and the regulations. Some of these rules had to be implemented because of the amount of traffic and the caliber of drivers we have out here. A lot of drivers have to be guided. It would be a mess out here without some of the rules we have. I can’t imagine what it would be like.”

Whenever he witnesses unsafe driving, Burianek says he tries to keep a level head. “If someone passes me and cuts me off, I might sometimes pick up the CB and ask them why they did that – just to let them know they might have made an error,” he says. “Whether they did it intentionally or accidentally, I want to make them think about what could have possibly happened. But usually I just back off and don’t hassle with it.”

Out on the road, Burianek says he’s constantly reminded of one of the industry’s biggest problems – driver fatigue. “You don’t have a problem if you get your proper rest,” he says. “You can get through your 10 hours. If I happen to get tired, I don’t take chances. No matter how hot the freight is, it’s not worth getting in an accident. If I get tired, I’ll pull over, take a nap, walk around until I’m refreshed and ready to go again.”

Burianek says communication is the key in everything. He often passes this advice along to new drivers. “I tell new drivers ‘don’t be afraid to ask questions,'” he says. “It doesn’t mean you’re stupid if you don’t know something. I tell them ‘you weren’t born with that knowledge.’ Everyone experiences things that you can learn from. You’re never too old to learn. When you think you know it all, you’re just kidding yourself.”

“I tell new drivers, ‘don’t be afraid to ask questions.’ It doesn’t mean you’re stupid if you don’t know something. When you think you know it all, you’re just kidding yourself.”
–Donald Burianek

Top Driver
Winning the Company Equipment Driver of the Year came as quite a shock to Burianek, even though twice in the past four years he placed in the top 10.

“It took a little bit for it to sink in that I won first place,” Burianek says.

Crete Chairman Duane Acklie officially broke the news to Burianek at the Lincoln terminal. “Duane looked at me and asked, ‘Are you a good driver?'” Burianek remembers. “I said, ‘Yes, I feel like I’m a good driver.’ He asked, ‘Do you really think you are a good driver?’ I said, ‘I believe my record shows I’m a good driver.’ He said, ‘Well, we think you are a good driver and so does TCA.’ Duane was so excited, he gave me a hug.”

Acklie says Burianek’s recognition as the top driver means a lot for Crete and its driver pool. “We have a very outstanding driver group at Crete which we are so very proud of,” Acklie says. “Not only do they lead the truckload carrier group in safety, they lead in service to their communities and are an outstanding bunch of Americans.”

Burianek says being named the top company driver won’t change him or his plans for the future. “I could probably do other things, but I’m not interested in anything else,” he says. “I get my time off and make good money and I have the things I have because of my profession. Had trucking not been my profession, I wouldn’t have them.

“As long as my health holds out and the good Lord’s willing, I’ll keep working.”


Awards, Achievements and Recognitions

2001 – 15-year Safe Driving Award (Crete)
2001 – 10-year member of the President’s Safe Driver Club (Nebraska Motor Carriers Association)
2000 – Finalist (ninth) in the TCA Company Equipment Driver of the Year
1998 – Million Mile Award (American Trucking Association)
1997 – Finalist (eighth) in the Interstate Truckload Carrier Conference
1996 and 1994 – Captain of the Nebraska Road Team (Nebraska Motor Carriers Association)
1996 – Judge at Nebraska Truck Driving Championship
1997-2000 and 1993-1995 – Contestant in the Nebraska Truck Driving Championships
1994 – Professional Driver of the Day (City of Lincoln Traffic Safety Committee)
1993 – Participant in Crete recruitment videotape
1992 – Crete representative at the 1992 Mothers Against Drunk Drivers red ribbon campaign kickoff
Selected to drive a 1992 Peterbilt conventional tractor with a Caterpillar engine for experimental purposes for High Plains Power Systems (Crete)
May 1991-present – Member of Crete’s Accident Review committee
1987, 1988, 1990 and a 1991 – Service Award (Crete)
June 1986-June 1987 – Crete Driver Trainer
May 1983 – Crete Driver of the Month


Prizes and Sponsors

Grand Prize Winner

  • All-expense-paid trip for two to the 2002 NAPA Auto Parts 500 NASCAR race in Fontana, Calif., on April 28 – Detroit Diesel
  • $2,000 U.S. Savings Bond – Great Dane Trailers
  • $2,000 U.S. Savings Bond, a personalized jacket and a recognition plaque – Truckers News and Randall Trucking Media Group
  • $1,000 in Frequent Fueler gift certificates – Flying J
  • $1,000 cash – Peterbilt Motors
  • $500 in gift certificates – Pilot Corporation
  • $500 cash – Roadranger – Eaton and Dana Corporations
  • $500 cash – TravelCenters of America
  • $400 cash – Mack Trucks
  • $200 cash and a wheel-end kit – ArvinMeritor
  • $200 cash – Fontaine International
  • $200 in Rip’s Bucks and $100 in meal coupons – Rip Griffin Travel Centers
  • $200 U.S. Savings Bond – The St. Paul Companies
  • $100 cash – Truckload Management, Inc. – TripPak Express
  • A KBI Dieselmatic System – KBI/Kold Ban International

Second Place

  • All-expense-paid trip for two to the 2002 NAPA Auto Parts 500 NASCAR race in Fontana, Calif., on April 28 – Detroit Diesel
  • $1,500 U.S. Savings Bond – Great Dane Trailers
  • $1,500 U.S. Savings Bond and a recognition plaque – Truckers News and Randall Trucking Media Group
  • $1,000 in Frequent Fueler gift certificates – Flying J
  • $1,000 cash – Peterbilt Motors
  • $100 in Rip’s Bucks and $50 in meal coupons – Rip Griffin Travel Centers
  • $500 cash – Roadranger, Eaton and Dana Corporations
  • $400 cash – Mack Trucks
  • $350 in gift certificates – Pilot Corporation
  • $350 cash – TravelCenters of America
  • $200 cash and a wheel-end kit – ArvinMeritor
  • $200 in cash – Fontaine International
  • $200 U.S. Savings Bond – The St. Paul Companies
  • $100 cash – Truckload Management, Inc. – TripPak Express

Third Place

  • All-expense-paid trip for two to the 2002 NAPA Auto Parts 500 NASCAR race in Fontana, Calif., on April 28 – Detroit Diesel
  • $1,500 U.S. Savings Bond – Great Dane Trailers
  • $1,000 in gift certificates – Flying J
  • $1,000 cash – Peterbilt Motors
  • $1,000 U.S. Savings Bond and a recognition plaque – Truckers News and Randall Trucking Media Group
  • $500 cash – Roadranger – Eaton and Dana Corporations
  • $400 cash – Mack Trucks
  • $350 in gift certificates – Pilot Corporation
  • $350 cash – TravelCenters of America
  • $200 cash – ArvinMeritor
  • $200 in cash – Fontaine International
  • $200 U.S. Savings Bond – The St. Paul Companies
  • $100 in Rip’s Bucks and $50 in meal coupons – Rip Griffin Travel Centers
  • $100 cash – Truckload Management, Inc. and TripPak Express

Fourth and Fifth Place

  • $1,000 U.S. Savings Bond – Great Dane Trailers
  • $1,000 cash – Peterbilt Motors
  • $750 U.S. Savings Bond and a recognition plaque – Truckers News and Randall Trucking Media Group
  • $500 cash – Roadranger – Eaton and Dana Corporations
  • $400 cash – Mack Trucks
  • $350 in gift certificates – Pilot Corporation
  • $350 cash – TravelCenters of America
  • $200 U.S. Savings Bond – The St. Paul Companies
  • $200 cash – ArvinMeritor
  • $200 cash – Fontaine International
  • $100 in Rip’s Bucks and $50 in meal coupons – Rip Griffin Travel Centers
  • $100 cash – Truckload Management, Inc. – TripPak Express

Company Driver Top 5

1. Donald Burianek: Wilber, Neb., Crete Carrier
2. Robert Spurlock: Arlington, Ga., Arnold Transportation
3. Arthur Rhodes: Fort Worth, Texas, Arnold Transportation
4. Wilbur Farver: Union Bridge, Md., DM Bowman
5. Walter Spiesshoefer Alma, Ark., USA Truck

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