Will Nygard and dad Don with the Bass Cat boat that became a place to really get to know each other.
Don Nygard is a trucker, just like his father was, and Will is his son, a recent high school honors graduate headed for diesel mechanic college. It’s tough being a father when you’re a trucker, harder when you’re a divorced trucker. The cell phone helped Don and Will connect, but it was fishing that made the difference.
At one point Will told his dad he wanted to be a truck driver “just like you.”
“I told him ‘if that’s what you really want to do, I’ll teach you.’ But I wanted him to be sure.” says Don, 47, an owner-operator leased to Tyson subsidiary PBX, out of Dakota City, Neb. “I told him he could ride with me, and he’d earn his money loading and unloading. I worked him hard; I’d only take loads that needed hand loading, and I’d always be waking him up at 3 a.m. and telling him ‘time to go to work.’ He worked hard, he really did, but after a month he dropped the idea.”
Will, 18, remembers it well.
“Yeah, he worked me pretty good,” he says with a laugh.
Don, who lives in Pomona, in south-central Missouri, steered Will toward becoming a diesel mechanic instead of a driver right away, and he’s headed to the Nashville Auto-Diesel College in the fall.
“He understands that he can always go and drive, but as a diesel mechanic there are a lot more things he can do in the industry,” Don says. “And if he’s ever an owner-operator he can save a fortune taking care of his own truck, in his garage or on the side of the road.”
Before Don and Will’s bonding time on the road, they shared a love of the outdoors. They did a little hunting, mostly to be out in the woods together, and a bit of fishing. But that was before Don caught the bass-fishing bug.
“About eight years ago I went bass fishing with a friend of mine,” he says. “To me fishing had always been just putting bait or a worm on a line and dropping it into the water. It wasn’t something I thought about a lot. I liked being out there; that was about it.
“But I went bass fishing with him a few times, and the next thing I know it was something I wanted to do all the time; it was something I just had to do.”
Bass, Don discovered, are endlessly fascinating and hard work to catch. “I found out that bass attack on sight. If the lure looks real and acts real, they’ll go for it. If not, it doesn’t interest them, and you can’t make it. I found out that water temperature and color, and wind and runoff and bottom cover and a lot more things were all things I had to work into how I fished.
“It takes some talent and it takes a lot of thinking about. I was hooked.”
That fateful fishing trip wasn’t Don’s first try at bass, but it was his first successful one. “I’d gone to some lakes and ponds and caught nothing. Nothing,” he says. “When I went with someone who knew what they were doing and started to catch fish and began to understand how to catch them, fishing got to be fun. Then Will got into the sport, too. He found it just as interesting as I did, and I could teach him the things I was learning,” Don says. “We’d be out there together, and I’d look at our situation and decide the best way to fish and work with him. Maybe I’d be working with him telling him ‘let it hit the bottom here and then let it drag over the bottom real slow’ or whatever technique we had to learn.”
But the student is already outstripping the teacher. “I really wish I was as good at it as Will is. He outfishes me all the time,” says Don. “And he rubs it in,” he says, laughing.
But bass gave the two more than just a passion for fishing.
“It’s hard to talk to teenagers; I got lost sometimes trying,” Don says. “It’s hard to communicate, to get through and to have both of you on the same wavelength. But when we are out on the boat fishing, that boy will talk about things he never talks about back at the house.
“I guess I do, too. I think I told him things I wouldn’t have if we were not out on the water. We had a pretty good relationship, but going out after bass together made it really much more special.”
Don would call his son every night from the road, and he was satisfied that the channels of communication were open between them. “I’d tell him about my day, and he’d tell me about his and we’d talk; it didn’t matter for how long. But something like this [bass fishing] really helped build our relationship.”
Don believes that being out on the water going after bass allowed Will to discover an equality in their relationship that helped break down any lingering barriers. “He was a good bass fisherman right from the start, and that meant he could teach me things and help me when I wasn’t sure.”
That meant, says Don, that what Will said was not just the words of a boy looking for approval or needing help, but an exchange between two guys on equal terms, both interested in the same thing and respecting each other’s thoughts on the subject and style of fishing.
“Fishing really made it easier for us,” says Will. “Most of the time when we go fishing it’s not about the fish, it’s just about us spending time together. I don’t see him a lot, and we make the most of the time we have together.
“Usually I only talk to my dad on the phone, but there are things you can’t, or don’t say on a phone. I tell him about my day and we talk, but I don’t tell him everything. But you can say things when you’re out fishing together that you wouldn’t say on the phone.
“It was really a subtle thing; I didn’t notice it at first. It was gradual. Some of the things I said really mattered to him, and I began to see that. And I could see he was taking some of my advice on how to fish a certain place the way I had taken his advice when we first started.”
As the son of an OTR driver, Will has observed something that many fathers and children in this industry may have missed. And it’s important.
“When the only way you get to spend any real time together is on the phone, you’d better learn to communicate. If you don’t you may not get to know someone very well. And it’s easy just to talk on a phone and say nothing. Dad and I talk just about every night, and that was really how I got to know him, over the phone.”
But, says Will, it was the openness of their discussions – even though they left out important events and feelings at times – that laid the foundation they built on when they went bass fishing.
“I don’t think we would have gotten this close and be so open on the boat if we hadn’t built a relationship on the phone over the years,” says Will.
Will lived with his mother, 150 miles from Don’s home in Pomona, and Don would drive and pick him up to spend weekends together.
Several times a year the pair fish in bass tournaments.
“We don’t do a lot of them, just some local ones and especially ones for a cause,” Don says. “We fish a cystic fibrosis tournament with about 220 boats, and we fish the Bass Cat tournament that has about 550 boats, but mostly we fish smaller tournaments.”
At last year’s two-day Bass Cat tournament on Lake Norfolk near Mountain Home, Ark., (open to all Bass Cat boat owners) Will hauled their fish to the stage for the weigh-in.
“He was up there at the scale as proud as a peacock,” Don says. “And I was down in the audience proud as a peacock of him, even prouder.”
Don runs a 161/2-foot Bass Cat (the company is a family-owned outfit in Mountain Home) with a 110-horsepower Evinrude. “That motor puts it up on top of the water real good. It’s not as fast as a lot of the bass boats we fish against, but we’re competitive.” He prefers Abu Garcia rods and is now finding success with a braided line.
As for his trucking equipment, Don owns a ’99 Western Star powered by a 550 Cat. During his 23 years of driving, he switched between company driver and owner-operator, finally deciding he preferred being his own boss seven years ago. Now he’s out for three or four weeks at a time, hauling mostly meat in a reefer, but his route will bring him back to his home every so often, so he can spend the night in his own bed.
He’s been a flatbedder, and he’s hauled tanks, cattle, swinging meat, “just about everything.” But, he says, “I prefer this. I’ve actually pulled reefer most of the time, and now it’s hard to sleep without that reefer behind me. I had the hardest time when they came out with reefers that shut off. I’d wake up in a panic.”
He also enjoys the responsibility of pulling something frozen that has to be frozen when it arrives or it’s his to buy. “A lot of guys tell me, ‘I just close the door and drive,’ and they’ll do that until they’ve bought a load.”
Don was raised on Long Island and moved to Missouri at age 13, when his father left trucking to start a dairy farm, something he had dreamed of in all his years behind the wheel.
“My dad is 85, and he drove a truck from the time he was 17 until he was 70,” says Don. “Before him my grandfather was also a teamster, going from Brooklyn out into New Jersey and hauling produce back. Dad ran produce coast to coast, and we lived on Long Island in New York. Then he decided to do what he said he’d always wanted to do and retire to a little farm.
“The farm was right beside State Highway 60, on top of a hill at Cabool, Mo. Dad would sit there and watch the big rigs climb that hill and listen to them changing gears. He’d say, ‘I miss those trucks.’ He was milking cows, so it seemed natural for him to get into hauling milk. I learned to drive with my dad, hauling milk tankers.”
Don has that same devotion to his profession. “There’s something about the roar of the engine and shifting gears. I don’t know why, but I’ve never even considered anything else.”
Not even pro fishing.
Here at Truckers News I keep trying to find you some way to travel around the country where you can sit back, relax, take it easy and just calmly watch the country flow by while someone else does the driving. But this month only half of that is true. The country will roll by, but you won’t be sitting back, calmly and idly letting the country roll by.
Whitewater rafting is a thrill. Usually it’s a series of hair-raising thrills (although you can select your own hair level) interrupted by quiet, calm stretches.
As you travel America you will come to literally hundreds of places that offer whitewater rafting where you do no more than turn up. Get into the sport and you can find outfitters who will provide you with equipment that fits well into most sleepers, and you can tackle rivers yourself. Most of the places you’ll go will let you park your tractor while you go adventuring, and in fact you can sleep in it overnight at many of them, giving you a lot more ways to use that downtime you don’t want to use frittering away time at a truckstop.
Whitewater rivers are everywhere you are. In different parts of the country, you will find entirely different experiences both on the water and especially in the scenery around you.
The Chattooga River flows out of North Carolina and creates the border between Georgia & South Carolina. The Chattooga is designated National Wild and Scenic for it’s rich Native American history, excellent scenery and numerous recreational opportunities. In Utah and Colorado the geology of the land beside the rivers is often breathtaking, and there are places were the walls rise higher above you than they would if you were at the bottom of the Grand Canyon. There are also Arizona rafting trips along the Colorado River as it flows through the Grand Canyon itself, one of them a 187-mile six-day adventure.
Oregon’s famous Rogue River boasts an amazing 35-mile stretch between Grave Creek and Foster Bar, with a mixture of difficult rapids and easy swimming or camping sites. You can even stop and fish for the river’s legendary steelhead trout. On the other coast New England offers a wide variety of whitewater rides, from gentle beginner streams to heart-churning rapids, many of them flowing out of the Berkshire Mountains. In West Virginia both the New River and the Gauley River are places where there is nothing about you but river and lush green mountains.
Once again I’m pushing the Internet as a place to find your whitewater adventure, whether it’s a fun way to pass your 34-hour enforced stop or take a few days break from the road and recharge your batteries. As always, try www.google.com, the Web’s best search engine, to find something nearby. Or try www.rafting.com or www.whitewater.com, both of which offer comprehensive nationwide guides.
Oh, and check out any outfitter’s safety record, equipment and emergency management practices before you climb aboard. If your tractor deserves a thorough pretrip (and it does), so does your raft!
RODS & BARRELS:
Me and the Girls
During the week, Tommy Payne lives alone in a Freightliner. But come the weekend he is out in the wide-open spaces and far from being alone.
Payne is a resident of South Roxana, Ill., across the Mississippi River from St. Louis. But he hails from the small town of De Kalb in east central Mississippi, and it’s there he often likes to get back into the wild.
“I get home maybe half a dozen times a year,” says Payne, “back to my parents place. Mostly I like to hunt turkey and fish, hunt deer. It depends on the season and who’s with me, how much time I have and where I am.”
And when he goes, Tommy Payne rarely goes alone. He takes a crowd.
“Work is work, and I’m gone all week,” he says. “But I’m home on the weekends, and that’s my time. It’s family time.”
Payne takes his wife Sharon and 16-year old daughter Tamisha. “Kids grow up so fast these days I try to spend as much time with her as I can when I’m home. We’re an avid outdoor family. Hunting, fishing, camping – we love it. And if I go, 99 percent of the time they go, too.”
And any or all of Tamisha’s friends are welcome to come along for the ride. “We take them all down to Mississippi, too,” Payne says. “That can be quite an education for city girls to go fishing and ride horses and be close to the cattle.”
A 13-year veteran with Maverick Transportation, Payne’s covered wagon hauls steel through the Midwestern states and as far afield as Oklahoma. He pilots a 2003 Freightliner Columbia with a Detroit Diesel Series 60 and a 10-speed transmission.
When he doesn’t roll down to Mississippi, Payne likes to fish Table Rock at Branson, Mo., and go up to Hannibal, Mo., “and do some lake fishing.”
When he goes fishing, Payne trailers his 171/2-foot boat, “sort of a combination fish and ski deal” with a small cuddy cabin and a 128-horsepower, four-cylinder Ford inboard motor.
Payne can also consider some new fishing spots now that he has a new craft: He was recently presented with a brand new flat-bottom boat, motor and trailer for referring the most drivers hired by Maverick between February and April.
Got a picture of you with your trophy game or fish? Send a copy to John Latta at Truckers News, 3200 Rice Mine Road, Tuscaloosa, AL 35406, and it might be featured in a future Great Outdoors section.