Contest winner takes positive, professional attitude along every route through his multifaceted life
Willis Shaw Express driver James Loveland has given up on the notion of retirement – not out of necessity as much as personal choice.
“When I was 55, I said I was going to retire at 62,” Loveland says. “When I reached 62, I said I would retire at 65. Now that I’m almost 66, I’ve decided as long as my health holds up, I’m not going to retire.”
Loveland’s reasoning? He loves driving a truck.
You could call trucking a second career for Loveland, but it’s probably more accurate to refer to it as the last in a series of successful ventures that fit his adventurous nature.
Before getting into trucking full-time about 11 years ago, the Mobile, Ala., resident had served in the Air Force, raced motorcycles and headed up a heating and air-conditioning company and a motorcycle repair and customization business.
With 1.6 million accident-free miles under his belt, Loveland remains anxious to see what lies beyond the next curve. “I love trucking because every day is brand-new,” he says. “You know that every day is going to be different. And I love meeting people. That’s a big part of this job.”
Loveland’s people-person persona, inquisitive spirit and sense of what it takes to do a job right have propelled him to the top of his profession. In March, he was named the 2008 Company Equipment Driver of the Year, sponsored by the Truckload Carriers Association and Truckers News, at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Orlando, Fla. As grand champion, Loveland received a new Cummins-powered Dodge Ram pickup – a prize he described as “finer than frog hair” when he took delivery of the truck.
Loveland’s trucking philosophy is simple: Do a good job and show respect for yourself and others. “I’m a professional, and I take pride in how I do my job,” he says. “If I do my job right, then the company I work for makes money, and the company can take care of its drivers.”
In turn, Loveland says he treats the company’s equipment like his own. He washes the company truck when he’s home and on the road carries a blower to clean out the trailer.
For fellow drivers, Loveland makes sure the reefer unit is fueled before dropping it, and he often swaps loads to help others get home.
“This is what every responsible driver does,” Loveland wrote in his application for the contest. “If I help another driver, like making a repair so that he can get home or to a terminal, that driver will remember that and pass it along.”
Loveland feels it’s a driver’s job to also project a positive image to the public. “Everywhere I go, I’m a guest,” he says.
Always a trucker
Loveland’s love of big trucks goes back to his days growing up in Camden, N.Y., where heavy snowfall meant a visit from the snow plow. “When I was a little kid, about four or five years old, the snow plow would come down the road, and I’d say, ‘Man, I’d love to ride in that thing,'” he says. “When I got older, I’d say, ‘Man, I’d love to drive that thing.'”
Due to his father’s failing health, Loveland moved with his family to a warmer climate. They settled in Daytona Beach, Fla., in 1959. His passion for trucks was rekindled when, on his way to go fishing one day, he passed a little truckstop and heard the air-starter on one of the truck’s engines roar to life. Again, he thought how much he would love to drive it.
After a four-year stint in the Air Force (plus two years of inactive duty), he found himself working part-time at a gas station as he contemplated what to do with his life. He saw an ad for a truck-driving job. Minimum wage was $1.15 per hour at the time, and the position offered $1.50 to haul aggregate for a road-building project.
“I went and got a chauffer’s license and then lied to the employer about having experience, but I learned real quick,” Loveland chuckles.
After the job played out a year and half later, Loveland worked for sheet metal company where the fact of his chauffer’s license led to his hauling materials to jobsites. He went to college for several years to get journeyman sheet metal certification, but he continued delivering materials on the weekends while working as an apprentice during the week.
In 1977 Loveland, married now and with a child, moved his family to Mobile, where the cost of living was cheaper. He started a heating and air-conditioning business. He also opened a motorcycle shop, which he calls a front for motorcycle-racing ambitions. Pretty soon, he was working on friends’ bikes, and the business employed several people, including family members. “It wasn’t my original intention, but I turned a hobby into a successful business,” he says.
It was in 1998 that Loveland returned to trucking for good. He signed on with Willis Shaw and hasn’t looked back. He says when the company nominated him for the Company Equipment Driver of the Year contest, he was amazed.
“When I made it to the final three, I thought just getting third place would be great,” Loveland says. When his name was called at the awards ceremony during TCA’s annual convention, he was shell-shocked. “I asked Jim Gourley [vice president of safety for WSE parent company Comcar Industries, who accompanied Loveland onstage] what they said. Jim said, ‘You won.’ I said, ‘Won what?’ Jim said, ‘Grand champion.’ I was floored.”
While Loveland is a dedicated employee, the one thing that comes before career is his family. His quiet neighborhood house is teeming with loved ones, including his wife of 33 years, April Loveland, daughter Sara Disney, son-in-law Rene Disney, granddaughter Julia Loveland and mother-in-law Rosemary Pickels.
“We’ve learned how to navigate around each other,” Loveland laughs. “But we’re very tight. They mean everything to me.”
Second Place: Robert Harmeyer
Hometown: Batesville, Ind.
Company: Batesville Casket Company
Logged: 2.4 million accident-free miles
· $2,000 in truckstop gift cards
· $1,500 cash
· $250 Best Buy gift card
Third Place: Ralph Boles
Hometown: Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada
Company: Bison Transport Inc.
Logged: 4.5 million accident-free miles
· $1,200 in truckstop gift cards
· $750 cash
· $250 Best Buy gift card
First to Step Up for Charity
Several times in James Loveland’s career he has been called on to help others while on the road. Off the highway he’s been just as willing to help those going through adversity.
He often doesn’t wait for a request for assistance before pitching in if he sees a need. Several years ago, he came up with the idea to get “high-rolling” customers of his motorcycle shop to help with Mobile, Ala.-based St. Mary’s Home for abused and neglected children during the Christmas holidays.
Clad in biker attire complete with long hair, beard and body tattoos, Loveland approached skeptical officials at St. Mary’s with his idea. He called his campaign Santa’s Helpers on Harleys. After meeting with Loveland, they warmed to his idea.
Loveland wasn’t content just getting his friends and customers to throw a few nameless gifts in a box. He got St. Mary’s officials to give him names, clothes and shoe sizes and a list of 10 things each child wanted. “Each gift was personalized,” Loveland says. “They didn’t say it was Santa. We wanted the kids to know that the gifts came from real people who cared about them.”
Loveland also solicited a local jeans-manufacturing plant to get employees to donate their time making each child jeans in his or her respective size.
“We did this for about eight years,” he says. “The last year, we donated about $80,000 in food and gifts.”
Loveland also has been active in charities like the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Penelope House for battered women.
“Throughout his life, James was always one of those guys who would give you the shirt off his back,” says WSE President Chris Kozak.
Natural Disaster Assistance
When Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and the