Trucker's Advocate

Deke and Christine Henderson are rolling for votes.

“It’s not your average driving job,” says trucker Deke Henderson about his eight months driving Reggie the Registration Rig for the Republican National Committee.

In March, the committee launched the largest voter registration drive in Republican history when it introduced Reggie in front of its national headquarters in Washington, D.C. Reggie traveled 1,010 miles across seven states to get to the nation’s capital. The rig’s voter drive will be coast-to-coast, including Alaska, and the RNC hopes to register 3 million new voters by Election Day 2004.

Henderson, of Omaha, Neb., has been a trucker for 30 years, 20 of them hauling horses, and is a former owner-operator.

GMR Marketing of New Berlin, Wis., hired him five years ago to drive 18-wheelers that promoted events. When the Republican National Committee contracted with his firm, the long-time Republican was happy to drive for what he considered a worthy purpose.

“We’re not going dock to dock; we’re going town to town meeting people,” he says.

Henderson, 49, is driving a 2002 International 9400i equipped with a Cummins ISX600 engine and a 13 speed Eaton-Fuller transmission. The truck was leased in Wisconsin and driven to Washington.

The Featherlite trailer is fully equipped with interactive multimedia capabilities, Xbox systems and a sound stage. Its lounge boasts a 20-inch flat screen television, and four plasma televisions mounted on the wall play videos.

Visitors may also take digital photos in front of a background of their choice and can later download the images from the RNC Team Leader Website.

The trailer is equipped with a stage and stairs, and the rear lift gate serves as a podium. The trailer is similar to one used to carry NASCAR vehicles, Henderson says. “It’s a pretty flashy rig,” he says.

He doesn’t know how many registered the first day spent in Washington but says he got plenty of thumbs up from truckers and four-wheelers.

Henderson is accompanied by Christine, his wife of 14 years, who works with him as a manager. The couple has three grown children.

Training Pays Off
Trucker Jose Ogas Jr. kept his distance on the morning of Dec. 31 when the car in front of him began swerving into oncoming traffic.

But when the vehicle went off Interstate 70 near Washington, Pa., and landed upside down, Ogas, who has Army combat lifesaving training, acted quickly.

The Fayetteville, N.C., resident immediately called for help on the CB, pulled his truck over and grabbed his fire extinguisher. The car’s engine was smoking, and Ogas could see a body and blood dripping down the windows. Then he heard a little girl crying and saw her in the back seat.

“I knew I had to help her when I saw her moving around,” Ogas says. “I knew it was important for me to get her out.”

He pleaded with several other stopped motorists for help, and one onlooker with emergency medical training advised him against moving the girl because it might injure her further. “I told him, ‘I don’t care if I go to jail, I can’t let that girl die,'” Ogas says.

The men lifted the car, and he reached through the driver’s window, grabbed the girl’s legs and pulled her out. “She grabbed me by the neck and wouldn’t let go,” Ogas says. She was about 8 or 9 years old and was dizzy from the cut on her head.

The men again lifted the vehicle so Ogas could rescue the father. He grabbed the man’s shoulders and extracted the bleeding victim, who immediately asked about his daughter.

Ogas told him the girl was fine, but kept father and daughter separated so the father would not see her bloody face. The trucker had the man lie down and placed his jacket under his head. Then he gave first aid to the victims.

“When the paramedics arrived, they told me what I did was really great,” he says. The team told him that he did the right thing because the smoking car could have caught fire.

Iowa-based TMC Transportation, which Ogas has driven for since 1999, nominated the trucker for a Highway Angel award. Truckload Carriers Association has recognized Ogas and other truckers for unusual kindness and courtesy on the job since 1997.

Nominate a Highway Angel
Highway Angels recognition is awarded for a driver’s good deeds, ranging from simple acts of kindness, like fixing a flat tire, to heroic life-saving efforts, like pulling someone from a burning vehicle and administering CPR. When you know of, witness or experience an exceptional act of kindness or courtesy by a truck driver, you can nominate that trucker for a Highway Angel award by filling out the electronic form at or faxing the information to (703) 836-6610. Make sure the fax says “Attention Highway Angels program” on the cover sheet and that the driver’s name is clearly visible.

Truckers: The Next Generation
Like many sons of truckers, 14-year-old Devon Reed hopes to follow his dad’s footsteps into the trucking industry.

Some of Devon’s friends have the same dream, so the eighth grade student from Cloverdale, Ind., started the Future Truckers of America club to help them meet that goal – and try in their own small way to change the image of truckers.

“It’s really what I grew up with,” Devon says. “I can already drive a semi. My dad taught me. He let me drive it around the company parking lot.”

Devon’s father, Chris Reed, has been driving for 22 years. He started out hauling grain off the farm, then went into over-the-road hauling. Now he drives locally, hauling gasoline for Hunter Oil Corporation.

“I don’t make near the money,” Chris says. “But at least I’m home to be a full-time daddy, too.”

Devon took an interest in trucking from the start, riding along on runs with his father from the time he was 5 years old. “He was dropping and hooking trailers at 10 years old,” Chris says.

Devon and his friends got the idea for the club during football season when they heard about a family who was living in a big rig.

“The kids were taken away from their parents,” Devon says. “This gave us the idea to let people know there are good families in the trucking business. So we started a club.”

The club has around 20 members now, including girls who call themselves FTWA, Future Trucker Wives of America.

“We knew people from different towns, and they knew people, and people kept joining,” Devon says.

The members come from all over Putnam county and meet at members’ houses. Most of them have relatives in trucking.

Members pay dues of $3 a month that they plan to put toward buying a fan bus one day. They also have parties for friends and families where they encourage donations.

They want to use the bus to travel around for school sporting events and to visit truck dealers and shows. But the club members have even higher hopes than buying a bus. They want to change the image of truckers.

“Devon thinks it might catch on with these small groups and tackle a generation’s perspective of the truck driver,” Chris says. “He hears how the image of trucking is negative, and he wants to change that.”

Devon plays football and baseball and manages the basketball team at his school. He was No. 1 in his class last year, and he and most of the other FTA members are on the honor roll at school.

“The thing that makes me proud is these honor roll students wanting to be truck drivers,” Chris says. “They’re going to be able to clean the image up.”

The kids’ love of trucking extends onto the playing field at school. “They’ll holler ‘keep truckin’ as their way of encouraging their teammates, believing in each other,” Chris says.

They take the club seriously and know what they’re getting themselves into, Chris says. “There’s kids around here that get homesick for their mom and dad, so they know the hardships,” he says. “Devon knows the aspects of being an owner-operator down to a company driver.”

Devon hopes the club can branch out to other schools to let kids know the real story behind trucking – not just the negative image portrayed in the media.

“He’d like to get some kind of sponsorship from companies in the trucking industry to help him expand the club,” says his mother Marcia Reed.

Until then, they’ll just “keep truckin.'”

The Book on Better Driving
Most truckers feel the stress of sharing the road with other drivers – of both 18-wheelers and four-wheelers – who often seem to throw caution and courtesy to the wind. But trucker Richard Freer wasn’t content to pound his steering wheel in frustration; he wanted to do something to fix the problem.

Freer, 42, wanted to help drivers understand the unwritten rules of the road, so he wrote Survive Your Drive: A survival guide for driving in the new millennium.

It is a dangerous world for those behind the wheel. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 115 people die every day from traffic-related accidents in the United States.

That’s why it’s so important for driver’s to know how to handle themselves in stressful traffic situations, says Freer, a driver for Maier’s Bakery out of Pennsylvania.

“It’s craziness going on out there,” he says. He realized 13 years ago, eight years into his driving career, that the stress of the road was killing him. Driving a tractor-trailer in and around Philadelphia traffic was frustrating him.

Then he decided, “If you can’t change it, why worry about it?”

This new attitude led him to start writing down everything he had witnessed over his years of driving and share his thoughts with the rest of the world. He started making notes on scraps of paper during lunch breaks and while he was waiting for loads. He stashed them in a safe place and still has them tucked away today. Then he moved up to a composition notebook to organize all of his ideas.

When Freer first began composing his book, he tried to locate other books on the same topic but came up empty-handed. There are no other self-help books out there to help improve road rage or driving, he says.

So after three years of handwriting his book, he invested in a computer.

“I type like a truck driver,” Freer says. “I’m a two-finger typer.”

After a year of typing and copyediting, his book was ready to be published by First Books Publishing, a print-on-demand publisher. The 149-page book went on sale in October 2003.

Freer hasn’t made a profit yet but is getting close with 300 sales. At a new writers’ night at Barnes & Noble in Willow Grove, Pa., his book sold the most of any writer.

“They were selling like hot cakes,” Freer says.

He keeps the price of the book low because his main goal is to help people, he says. “If I could save one life, the whole book would be worth it,” he says.

Instead of using anger to persuade a fellow driver to follow traffic guidelines, Freer suggests buying two or three copies of his book and giving them out to those who cut you off in traffic or ride your bumper.

“You can’t teach another person how to drive by being aggressive toward them,” he says. Motorists do not suddenly get struck to drive better by being yelled at and having headlights flicked at them, he says.

Freer’s book has 24 chapters packed with information and advice ranging from tips on how to relax in traffic jams to safety tips for women traveling alone. He outlines bad mistakes people make while driving including the notion that racing from red light to red light will make their trip faster.

Freer has plenty of time to reflect on his favorite chapter, “Drivers stress and life on the road,” while making his run from New York City to Connecticut, he says. This chapter helps him remember how he gets through the heavy traffic.

“I still get frustrated,” Freer says, “but then I just laugh.”

He realizes there is nothing he can do about the bumper-to-bumper traffic he can see for miles ahead of him and wishes others would do the same – including truckers.

“It’s a new generation of truck drivers out there, and many can’t speak English,” he says.

Freer says many new drivers don’t know the rules of the road. After attempting to communicate with bad drivers over the CB, he just reverts back to taking care of himself and not worrying about the mistakes other drivers are making.

“I enjoy the old guys who still know the old ways,” Freer says.

He says there is mathematics to it all. Drivers need to realize the trip back and forth to work is going to take a certain amount of time and not get any faster, he says. A route to work can be broken down just by counting stop lights, turns and stop signs.

“I have three or four ways to go,” Freer says. He knows how long it should take to reach his quarter point, halfway point and so on to be able to take an alternate route if necessary.

Learning to relax and release stress while driving is also important, Freer says, “so they don’t get to their destination upset.” Before Freer changed his ways, he would arrive home tense from his drive and take it out on his wife. “I’m sure lots of people do that,” he says.

Freer even covers where a person should change a flat tire: “Do not change a flat tire on the highway side of the car.” He says many people are killed or injured by cars because they were too close to the road. Freer says the damage, if any, done to a rim by driving a few feet to safety is well worth saving your life.

Freer’s dream of teaching the world to drive well is closer than ever. He was invited to share his life-saving tips on a Santa Rosa, Calif., live morning news show the day after a road-rage killing. The station brought him all the way from his home in Pennsburg, Pa., to discuss his book.

And Freer is currently working out a deal with Barnes & Noble that would get his book distributed throughout all of their stores.

Now that his book is finished, he plans to continue teaching people how to drive, but not with a pen and paper. Freer will soon own a school and teach others how to drive motorcycles, cars and trucks.

If you have any information for Truckers News Advocate, mail to Kristin Walters, Truckers News Advocate, P.O. Box 3187, Tuscaloosa, AL 35403 or e-mail to [email protected]

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