A Good Outfit

Roger Smith, (l) shown with hunting buddies Rick Taylor and Gary West, left the road behind after 30 years, but he kept his 1979 cabover Kenworth to do some dirt work on the side.

For many hunters it’s all about the trophy. For others it’s the thrill of the chase, the excitement of the action and the photograph that etches a successful day in memory. For some it’s a maximum bag and a full freezer.

But hunting is not always about numbers and size. Some hunters are like the travelers in the old saying that it is better to enjoy the journey than it is to arrive.

For two Iowa truckers, a son and his father, the son’s own 19-year-old son and two of their closest friends, hunting is all about friendship.

“I don’t hunt as much as I used to, I just don’t have the time,” says trucker Bob Smith, “but it’s still special to get out there during the season. When our little group goes out, we enjoy every minute of it. It’s being together, the camaraderie, working together, trying to help each other out, looking out for each other, and the satisfaction of spending a day with people close to you out in the woods doing what you love. We don’t need trophies.”

When his son Tyler took his first deer last year, Bob, 45, was on the road. “I wasn’t there. But his grandpa was. I’d been out with them the day before, but I had to get back on the road.”

Bob’s father, Roger Smith, 68, is a retired OTR driver. “When Tyler got that eight-point buck, he was so proud,” Roger says. “But you know what, he was no more proud than his grandpa or his dad was. All of our little group was feeling pretty good.”

Two of the Smiths’ buddies fill out the hunting group – Rick Taylor, a man who had worked with Bob when he spent some time at a local meat packing plant, and Gary West, who runs a repair shop and garage.

Bob’s wife Chris Smith sees the enjoyment her husband gets from hunting from dawn to dusk with the small group. “He never comes home without saying he had a good time, relaxing, enjoying himself, getting the road out for a couple of days,” she says. “It can be hard to get your work out completely of your mind, but he does that when the group goes hunting. He knows when he leaves here, he’s going to enjoy his hunt whether they get anything or not. The friendship is why he does it, it’s special to him, and the others.”

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Bob, who lives in the Fort Dodge, Iowa, area, is a company driver for Barr-Nunn Transportation, a company he has been with for 17 years. He hauls a 53-foot dry van on regional runs, usually within 500 or 600 miles of his base, running through 12 states in a Freightliner Century with a straight 10-speed and a Detroit Series 60.

“I used to think I wanted to see everywhere, go everywhere, but after 11 years of going everywhere the thrill of new places ran out,” he says. “So I got runs to the East Coast and back. I could get to Boston or New York City and be back home for the weekend.”

Being back for the weekend is one of the most important career objectives Bob ever had when he followed in his father’s footsteps and went into trucking.

“When dad was home, we worked on the truck, doing whatever had to be done to keep it on the road. He did all his own maintenance work,” Bob says. “I had a belly full of fixing trucks when I was growing up.”

Roger was on the road for 30 years, hauling to all 48 mainland states. “I used to pull meat, mostly swinging meat, some boxed. When I was home and Bob was young, he helped me an awful lot on that truck. Even when he was really little, he’d be under her helping me with wrenches and stuff, oil in his hair and grease on his clothes.”

Bob’s wife Chris knew about the long, hard hours, too. “When we were married, she said she understood I had to drive to make a living, but when I was home I was going to be home with her and not working on a truck every hour. I had no problem agreeing with her on that,” he says.

“Family is still very important to me. I came from a close family, and I have a close family.” His elder son is a teacher in California, Tyler is in college studying to be an auto mechanic and his daughter, 17, is in high school.

Bob also followed his father’s footsteps into hunting. Roger hunted all his life, shooting at his first game when he was eight or nine, the same age he let his son start shooting.

“I started out hunting when I was real young, going with my dad,” Bob says. “I loved to rabbit hunt. I was about 5 when I first went out, and for a few years I was just the dog, the retriever who went and got what other people had shot. But I was experiencing it and learning.”

Once he started shooting at about age 8, Bob Smith found himself “having the most fun I ever had hunting” when he hunted rabbits with special dogs.

“I used to hunt everything – squirrels, pheasant, rabbits – but it got so that the rabbit hunts were the best. I got in with a guy who hunted with Beagles. There’s nothing like them for hunting rabbits. I took a lot of shots, and I was getting a lot of rabbits; it was all action. You could go through a box of shells and get your limit really quickly. And you had to be a good shot; they were fast.

“We did a lot of hunting on a Christmas tree farm. The woman who owned it wanted us there to stop the rabbits eating her young trees. But the trees were all in rows, and there was only about five or six feet between them, so you had to learn to be ready and shoot quickly.”
That early love of “being out in nature” and hunting stayed with him.

Bob took an office job at Barr-Nunn five years ago but couldn’t stay out of the truck long. “I only lasted a couple of years,” he says. “I used to be amazed at how I’d be more tired after a day in an office than a day driving. I was mentally exhausted, and that made me feel physically tired. I thought I’d like it, but I didn’t want to do it anymore, so I left before they threw me out and went back on the road. I can make more money out here anyway.”

Bob has been driving for Barr-Nunn ever since. “Barr-Nunn have been good for me, and hopefully I’ve been good for them,” he says. “There’s no perfect job when there is a truck involved. Changing the name on the door isn’t going to change that. If you can find a company that treats you decent, pays you well and gets you home, well, what else is there?”

Roger retired from his life as an owner-operator 15 years ago. He went to visit his wife at a factory where she worked and walked away the maintenance man, a job he still holds. One of the reasons he got the job was his ability to keep his truck working, fixing anything and everything that could and did go wrong with it.

When he retired, he was driving a 1979 cabover Kenworth, and he still has it today. He kept it in case he didn’t like his maintenance job at the factory. He bought a low boy and a tracked John Deere loader and does some dirt work on the side.

“I retired because I wanted to spend more time with my grandkids,” Roger says. “Tell you the truth I didn’t spend enough time with my own kids. I was on the road too much.”

The Smiths, father and son, had been hunting in a large group when each one found he was liking it less and less. When it came up in conversation and they found they felt the same, they floated the idea to mutual buddies Rick Taylor and Gary West, and the new group was born three years ago.

“With the bigger group there were always people I didn’t know, and that took some of the enjoyment away,” Bob says. “I wanted to be with my friends, but there were way too many people, and we couldn’t just hunt together. And I always had in the back of my mind that some of the people might not be as safe as they should be and might start shooting in my direction. That put some tension into the hunting. When you want to hunt to relax, tension doesn’t help.

“The woods in this area are broken up a bit, and now we can have some of the guys go to one end of the area and drive deer – they’re all Whitetail in this area – back towards the others as they hunt. There’s a feeling of interaction, of working together, combing our wits and energy to do something, almost like a team. We’re small and we can hunt on private land, so we can get off by ourselves easily.

“There have been times since we started when I never even get a shot. Sometimes we’re in the right place at the right time, and we get a couple. But what’s nice is that both times are good times.”

Bob has occasionally thought about going big game hunting. But, he says, he’s never taken the time to do it, and one of the main reasons is that he’d be alone or with strangers and that’s no fun.

In season the group hunts daylight to dark, and if it’s a weekend the men are hunting both days.

“This little group of ours is more fun than the big group ever was,” Roger says. “Being out there with my son and grandson is the most satisfying hunting experience I will ever have. I don’t think we’ve ever got anything that you would call a trophy deer. We don’t really care either. It’s the camaraderie, not the trophy, that is important to us. We’re close friends doing things together, and you can’t replace that feeling. Hunting for us is a lot of fun and laughter. It’s a good outfit.”

Both Bob and Roger enjoy having Tyler in their group.

“We bought Tyler a 12-gauge Winchester pump when he was 14, and he still uses it today,” Roger says. “Then we got him through his safety course, and he came out with us. For two years I never even fired a shot. I walked with Tyler, teaching him what I know, helping him learn. That was as rewarding as any hunting I ever did.

“I was with Tyler one time when he saw a buck. I knew his father was off in the direction of the buck, so I waited to see what he’d do. He was ready, but he never lifted the gun, turned to me and said ‘I can’t shoot in that direction.’ It’s a great feeling to know your grandson is learning hunting the right way and understands it.

“Everybody helps,” Roger says, “and we look out for each other. And there’s something special when someone who is a close friend gets something. I think we all share his thrill.”

Bob once tried bow hunting, but he never got a shot off at a deer. But he expresses no disappointment. He was out with his outfit, enjoying them and the woods as much as the chance to shoot.

When you’re with friends like these, says Bob, not getting a shot is not a big deal.
“What this group is,” Roger says, “is a genuine, lasting friendship.”

Off-Duty Destinations
Wandering on the Wind

Wanna get away from it all? But you don’t have enough time to go to the perfect resort. Here’s a destination for you – an open field. Why? Because in open fields all over America you can take off and see the country (something most drivers love to do) from a totally different perspective.

Hot air balloons fly all over America, and they like this time of year. They actually fly better in cooler weather because the balloon’s hot air provides more lift. And a balloon ride can fit well with a trucker’s schedule. Most flights are made early, from dawn to an hour or two later, or in the two or three hours before dusk. The wind lies down and the air is more stable in these hours. So you can fly and then drive for the rest of the day, or drive until your log says you can’t drive any more and then go for a pre-dusk balloon flight.

Balloonists say the smoothness of the ride is something you’ll marvel at, a one-of-a-kind experience floating, mostly silently, with the world at your feet. You are kept aloft by heated air in what balloonists call the “envelope” (what we’d call the “balloon”), and a propane heater in the passenger basket beneath the envelope occasionally – and loudly – shoots a flame into the envelope to keep the air hot enough to give the pilot the lift he wants.

You’ll go wandering on the wind. The balloon can’t be steered, but your pilot will be well aware of the weather forecast and the wind direction and speed. The pilot can also do some maneuvering, making the balloon rise or descend so that it floats in different layers of air, where the wind directions may be different. Most flights last about an hour and a “chase” vehicle will meet you when you land (wherever that may be, usually another field) and take you back to your start point.

A balloon ride is not a destination you’ll have to do a lot of deadheading to find. And thanks to the Internet you can go to places like www.hotairballoons.com/, www.launch.net or http://goplayoutdoors.com/ balloon_menu.htm and find flights. Maybe check out the Balloon Federation of America (at www.bfa.net). As always, go to www.google.com (or the local Yellow Pages) and search for rides near where you have to park it, especially if it’s a 34-hour layover.

Llamas are both farm animals and pets to Ron and Pat Marks.

Rods & Barrels
Llama Farmer

The Great Outdoors isn’t just a place for big game stories. And Rods and Barrels isn’t just a place for your best hunting and fishing photographs. One driver’s favorite outdoor photos are best taken with his family on his 10-acre Tennessee mini-farm.

Ron Marks wanted to live in the country. So did his wife Pat and their two teenagers, Logan, 19, and Kylie Ann, 15. The Marks wanted the great outdoors right outside their doors, and they wanted it to be an active, interesting piece of land.

“We’d run cattle on a previous small holding in the country, and I didn’t want to do that again,” Ron says. “Pat came up with the idea for llamas after she’d read about them. They are very efficient animals; you can get four or five to an acre instead of a single cow or horse on the same land. And they’re easier to handle than cattle or horses. A llama may weight 300 pounds, but a horse can weight 1,200 pounds.”

Pat says the llamas are “very curious animals, and they can be trained. They’re graceful, exotic, different. They have a personality.”

Llamas have been used as beasts of burden in the Peruvian and Bolivian Andes Mountains for more than 4,000 years. They are surefooted and can carry as much as 200 pounds for 12 hours a day. They know about the toughness of OTR life – when they get tired after hours on the road, or if they are loaded with too much weight, llamas lie down and refuse to move, often spitting at their driver.

Ron and Pat have had as many as seven animals at one time, but now they have three. Trading, buying and selling to keep a small herd from inbreeding and trying to find animals with the best coat to provide wool for weaving keep the herd fluid.

Ron drives team in a 2004 Freightliner Century for Ryder System and runs a dedicated route, something he never had before signing on at Ryder. Coming off five years pulling a flatbed – “those were hard years” – Marks now hauls for the Saturn automobile plant in Spring Hill, Tenn. It gives him two days a week at home, time to work with the llamas. But Pat, he says, does most of the work by far.

Still, Pat says the little llama farm is important in Ron’s life: “He helps out with the hay, the vaccinations, the worming, things like that. Ron doesn’t like to sit around. This is only a little farm, but he’s always working to keep it up. Even if he’s tired he’ll work, because getting things accomplished when he’s home is satisfaction and therapy for him.”

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.

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