Bring up the gear

The Armed Forces Retirement Home is a 29-year-old, 11-story building in Gulfport, Miss.

Last August, as thousands of Gulf Coast residents fled Hurricane Katrina’s impending wrath, approximately 400 of the 600 veterans at the Gulfport, Miss., Armed Forces Retirement Home stood their “posts.”

The residents stayed at Gulfport during the storm because their 29-year-old, 11-story building can withstand 200-mph winds, and as AFRH-G public affairs officer Mary Kay Gominger notes, “When you have long-term care residents, where do you go?” Besides, “We have an A-team that comes in for the storms,” she says: including a medical staff and 20 Seabees from the nearby base.

Though 64-year-old Bob Rutherford left during past storms, he decided to “take a chance on this one.” He compares the storm experience to “riding a freight train for 10 hours” – a freight train that clogged the home’s plumbing and drowned its generator. By 6 o’clock the following night, 10 chartered buses had arrived to evacuate the home’s residents.

The home “was slippery, it was hot” and with its elevators idled, “you had to climb stairs,” Gominger says. Consequently, the vets evacuated with only what the home’s staff and volunteers “could carry down for them.”

This spring, the federal government awarded the bid for returning stranded possessions. “We had 350 rooms that needed to be inventoried, packed, and shipped” to 32 states and the District of Columbia. Gominger says that “several companies came in and looked. Of course, some of them ran screaming.”

Alexander’s Mobility Services did not. In June, approximately 20 drivers from Alexander’s, a subsidiary of Evansville, Ind.-based Atlas World Group, which boasts of its ability to relocate everything from a “dinosaur egg” to a home TV, returned those left-behind goods.

Jonathan Cotten, Alexander’s national account manager, coordinated the company’s efforts. “It was totally unlike anything else we had ever done. You had 235 shipments that were going under one bill of lading from Gulfport to D.C., then you had 108 other shipments going to 35 different states.”

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For Alexander’s crew, the job’s most difficult aspect was “packing in very small rooms,” where “there’s no air conditioning.” “It’s very hot, and they often would arrive at the job at 6:30 in the morning and sometimes didn’t leave until 7:30-8 at night.” Cotten calls the crew’s dedication “absolutely incredible.”

Once each room was packed, its contents were labeled and sent to waiting drivers.

To coordinate those drivers, Alexander’s tapped driver/contractor Erb Locklear’s 15 years of experience handling major moves. Though the job’s scale resembled that of a plant closure, it lacked the confusion normally associated with those type moves. “The people down there had everything under control. This job went smooth as silk,” he says.

Locklear’s organizational ability made the driver’s job simpler still. “They just pulled up and I had the stuff waiting from them. I didn’t have to worry about or baby-sit anybody,” he chuckled.

Don’t let his humor over-simplify the job though. “It was hard work,” he admits. But “I had a great time” because “everybody worked together” to get the veterans’ possessions returned, including drivers from Alexander’s affiliates, such as Atlas and Florida Van Lines.

Alexander’s had to complete the move before any 2006 storm wreaked further damage, and before the final half of June, the company’s busiest period. Completing the pack-out “in a 10-day time period was aggressive,” Cotten explained.

Alexander’s aggressive-but-attentive efforts paid off for those veterans who now have their personal belongings. When asked how it felt to reclaim his effects, soon-to-be-82-year-old U.S. Navy WWII and Korea veteran Charles Magill said, “It felt great. I had bought a mattress, one of these foam mattress things, space mattress, whatever the heck it is, and they sent that” to me. “I was glad to get that, I’m sleeping on it now.

“The stuff was in good shape,” he says, but he saves his greatest praise for the Alexander’s driver. “The fellow that delivered the stuff to me, he was great, really nice. He’s a good kid.”

Bob Rutherford parrots Magill’s sentiments. Alexander’s “did an outstanding job of packing. They did an outstanding job of unpacking. I didn’t have anything broken.”

With his pictures and other keepsakes now in his possession, the only thing that Rutherford misses is the “camaraderie and friendship of” his “fellow residents.”
–John H. Ratliff

John Ratzenberger lends his voice to Mack truck character

Disney and Pixar’s revved-up racing movie Cars boasts a wide range of computer-animated automotive characters, including a Mack truck, aptly named “Mack.”

Played by the voice of Pixar favorite John Ratzenberger, best known as Cliff Claven from Cheers, the character “Mack” is a 1985 Mack Superliner, a classic model that perfectly fits the personality of the character and the company, Mack senior manager of communications Bob Martin says.

“We are very happy with ‘Mack,'” Martin says. “His character traits are the core of Mack Trucks. He is loyal, dependable, and his goal is to get the job done.”

Ratzenberger, who has given his voice to a character in each of the six Pixar movies, has truck driving in his blood. His father was a truck driver and drove a Mack, which prompted the people at Pixar to choose the Mack company logo for the character. The movie features Lightning McQueen, played by the voice of Owen Wilson, as an egotistical racecar driver who ignores those around him for his own fame and fortune. His relationship with Mack deteriorates when he forces the 18-wheeler who transports him to races to drive on little sleep. The rest of the plot is a classic Pixar lesson in friendship and integrity.

Other famous voices in Cars include an impressive grouping of racecar drivers, including Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Darrell Waltrip, Michael Schumacher and Mario Andretti.

Ratzenberger’s relationship with Mack Trucks is not limited to his role in Cars. The actor hosts a television show on the Travel Channel called Made in America, in which Ratzenberger tours different factories around the country and profiles the people who keep America running. One of his favorite episodes was the Mack Truck factory in Lehigh Valley, Penn., where Ratzenberger said, “I’d work for Mack in half a second.”

The Lehigh Valley factory sponsored a free Saturday morning screening of Cars for 300 children in the area on June 7.

For information on Cars, visit this site. For Made in America airtimes, log on to the Travel Channel website at this site.
Rachel Telehany

Experienced trucker’s book takes prospective OTR drivers on a journey through the ups and downs of trucking

In his years as a driver trainer and over-the-road driver, Gordon Knapp has seen many rookies enter the trucking industry without knowing what it really involves.

So the 66-year-old driver decided to put his miles of experience and advice to work helping rookies and prospective drivers decide if trucking is the career for them.

His new instructional book, Is Over the Road Trucking For You?, outlines each aspect, both positive and negative, of the trucking industry. Knapp offers insider info on almost 300 categories of issues – training schools, becoming a company driver versus an owner-operator, safety issues, logbooks, pay and conditions, fatigue and its problems, company policies, regulations, personal issues and many other aspects of trucking.

“I’ve seen multitudes of people who want to drive and are capable, but figure out that they actually don’t want to drive when they find out what it’s all about,” says Knapp, who was born and raised in the family trucking business and officially entered the industry at age 18. “There are a lot of inexperienced, 10-minute drivers out there, and combined with inexperienced civilian drivers, that’s a dangerous mix.”

Knapp also includes driving tips, from how to maneuver entrance ramps, courtesy signaling, exiting, bad weather making wrong turns. He even has a section on how to mask anger and impatience when dealing with shippers, receivers and dispatchers. Knapp writes, “You would do well to master the blank stare of uncaring, even though you may be vibrating inside with emotion of one kind or another!”

Now living in Des Moines, Iowa, with his wife of 40 years, Knapp calls his book an “enlightener.”

“I’ve seen truck drivers leave a truck in the middle of a delivery because they couldn’t take it anymore,” Knapp says. “This is a difficult profession – it’s not simply going from point A to point B.”

Knapp concedes that many companies try to make it as easy as they can for young drivers coming into the industry. But some things can’t be helped, like the time drivers have to spend away from their families.

“I want to help young drivers make an intelligent decision as to whether they really want to do it,” Knapp says. “I’m trying to help the industry, not hurt it.”

Is Over the Road Trucking For You? can be found online at most major bookstores, including Barnes and Noble online and
–Rachel Telehany