Career Driving Awards
Recognizing Driver of Year – 2002
If you want to know how officials at Witte Bros. Exchange Inc. of Troy, Mo., feel about company driver Ronald Johnson, just take a look at his tractor-trailer. It’s the pride of the fleet – all chromed out and detailed with his name on each side of the sleeper.
Johnson, 50, is the company’s top driver in seniority with an impressive list of driving honors. Now he has another accolade to add to his resume. In March, the Truckload Carriers Association and Truckers News named Johnson as the 2003 Company Equipment Driver of the Year at TCA’s annual convention in Hawaii.
“Ronnie is a 100 percent genuine man,” says Witte Bros. director of safety Tim Barth. “He’s the type of person who will give you the shirt off his back. No one is more deserving than him.”
The New Florence, Mo., resident has been driving for Witte Bros since 1980. He has logged more than 3.5 million accident-free miles in his career. “A good driver has to pay attention to what he’s doing, pay attention to his surroundings,” Johnson says. “Safety is important.”
Johnson’s love of trucking began when he was a youngster. His father, Wade Johnson Jr., was a farmer and a local driver in the New Florence area for decades. Johnson often rode along on his dad’s routes. “I remember how fascinating the world was looking out the window of my dad’s dump truck,” he says.
When Johnson graduated from high school, he got a job as a service attendant at the MFA Truck Stop in New Florence. Soon after, he started driving team with a friend of the family, pulling reefers from Missouri to California. He then left the road to drive locally for Clark John Mining, where he stayed until he went to work for Witte Bros.
Johnson credits his father’s work ethic for instilling his dedication to profession and company. “My dad worked two jobs to raise a family,” Johnson says. “Dad taught me to do what you tell people you are going to do. My dad said, ‘do it better than you have to.'”
Johnson says that when he went to work for Witte Bros., the company had only 15 or 20 trucks, mainly hauling livestock. But the company was expanding, so for a while Johnson picked up and delivered trucks Witte Bros was buying. After the company got a contract with a bakery, he began pulling a dry van.
Today, Johnson runs a long route one week, usually Utah and Idaho, then has a short week to Minnesota. “I like it because I run to the same area,” he says. “And I’m getting to know my customers.”
Johnson realizes his job is more than just driving. He sees himself as an ambassador for the company and the trucking industry when on the road. “I try to be courteous to everybody,” he says. “I try not to do anything to make me or my company look bad.”
And that attitude has caught the attention of everyone at Witte Bros. “If it takes a little longer to complete the task or assignment, Ronnie does it without complaint because he knows it’s part of the job,” says President Brent Witte. “Ronnie is truly a good person who represents the trucking industry in a positive light. I am proud he is one of ours.”
Johnson, who is a divorced father of two grown children and has four grandchildren, says winning the Company Equipment Driver of the Year is special for his entire family. “Being a truck driver can be hard on a family,” he says. “You don’t see your kids grow up like you’d like to. At least they can see all the hard work has paid off.”
“His family had to make a lot of sacrifices,” Barth adds. “They can bask in celebration of his accomplishment.”
Johnson says his mother, Mary Johnson, told him she had been praying he would win the award and his daughter, Lacy Marie, and son, Corey Ray, are both proud. They have attended other ceremonies in the past when Johnson has won driving awards, including the Missouri Motor Carriers Driver of the Year in 2001.
But it took a while for this latest honor to sink in. In fact, Johnson thought it was a joke when Barth and TCA representative Aimee Cirucci notified him on the road to tell him he had won. He got a Qualcomm message to call into the office. “I was in the middle of nowhere and decided to wait a while to call because I knew I wouldn’t get a good cell phone signal,” Johnson says.
He received a second message to call in immediately. When he did call, he was put on hold. Finally, Cirucci and Barth broke the good news. “I thought they were trying to pull something on me,” he says, laughing. “People around here like to have fun. I really didn’t expect to win.”
Johnson remains jokingly humble about his accomplishments. “I guess I’m the privileged one around here,” he says. Being privileged includes perks from the company such as his showcase company truck, a 2002 Kenworth W900, which he helped spec. It is complemented by a shiny trailer that stands out from all other Witte Bros. wagons. The rig also boasts signage, “Operated by: Ronnie Johnson,” on each side.
Witte Bros. President Brent Witte congratulates Johnson on being named Company Equipment Driver of the Year.
Just as his company has shown its appreciation to him, Johnson takes satisfaction in the trucking industry as a whole. “I’m proud to be a truck driver,” Johnson says. “It’s an honorable profession. I know that my job is important. If it weren’t for truck drivers, people wouldn’t be getting the things they want and need.”
Johnson admits mellowing over the years has probably helped keep his safety record intact. “I probably used to be easier to get mad at things like traffic when I was younger,” he says. “I never drive over 70 miles per hour even in states were it’s legal to go 75. You can get in trouble and make things worse if you try to hurry.”
And Johnson enjoys his downtime at home. He often takes off work for the entire nine-day local deer season to spend quality time with his son. He also likes fishing the clay mines with his daughter. And he keeps up with NASCAR even while on the road thanks to satellite radio.
But Johnson isn’t ready to slow down in his career. He needs more than a decade more under his belt to achieve another career goal – becoming the longest continuous driver at Witte Bros. “I want to keep driving and working here to become the oldest ever if the good Lord’s willing,” he says. “I have no intentions of going anywhere else.”
Prizes and Sponsors
Grand Prize Winner
Second Place Winner
gift certificates donated by Flying J
Third Place Winner
Fourth Place and Fifth Place Winners
Awards and Recognitions
2003 – Independent Contractor of the Year – TCA and Overdrive
1997 – 2 Million Mile Club Safety Award – National Safety Council
1997 – Contractor of the Year – Dart Transit
1996 – President’s Safety Award – Dart Transit
1995 – 1 Million Mile Club Safety Award – National Safety Council
1994 – Dart Safety Ring
1993 – Hall of Fame Safety Award – Dart Transit
1991 – 5 Year Safety Jacket – Dart Transit
1991 Contractor of the Month (December) – Dart Transit
Dart Transit driver wins truck as top contractor
When Ezra Carroll Benn decided to buy his first truck two decades ago, he never imagined how far that endeavor would take him. His only motivation was trying to provide a better life for his family.
In March, the Truckload Carriers Association and Overdrive magazine named the 63-year-old Center, Mo., resident as the 2003 Independent Contractor of the Year at TCA’s annual convention in Hawaii. “I never set out to win this award,” Benn says. “I’ve done nothing spectacular. It’s amazing that I could get something like this for just doing my job.”
As the winner, Benn, who is leased to Dart Transit Co. of Eagan, Minn., will receive a new, fully equipped 9000i Series tractor donated by International Truck and Engine Corp. The truck will be powered by a Signature ISX 500 horsepower engine donated by Cummins Engine Company.
It will be the first new truck he has ever owned.
“The new truck is thrilling,” Benn says, “but just being chosen for the award is the best.”
In 1983, Benn bought his first truck – a 1977 International Transtar Eagle cabover – and began hauling over the road for Overland Express. When the company folded in late 1985, he leased on with Dart Transit.
Benn quickly settled into pulling a dry van on Dart Transit’s national system and taking care of his wife Shirley and five children. “To be a good owner-operator, you first must be with a good company,” he says. “You’ve got to know how to manage money. But most important is having a wife that supports you. This occupation is hard on a marriage.”
Today, he is on his fifth truck – a 1999 Freightliner Classic – and runs on Dart Transit’s regional system. He has 35 years of driving experience and 3.4 million accident-free miles under his belt. “Trucking has been very good to me and my family,” Benn says. “Shirley and I grew up with nothing; we had to scratch for everything. As an owner-operator, I have provided my family with a good living, and I have the freedom to schedule my home time and operate my business as I see fit.”
Winning the Independent Contractor of the Year also has offered an unexpected perk for the Benns. The trip to Hawaii to accept the award coincided with their 45th wedding anniversary. “I couldn’t have asked for a better anniversary gift,” Shirley says.