2009 Driver of the Year: Butch Colvin

Butch and Dora Colvin have won numerous team driving awards over the years.

The 66-year-old is a poster child for positivity, according to his wife, Dora Colvin. “He’s got the best attitude,” she says. “He’s happy with what he’s got. Almost no matter what happens, he can always see the funny in it.”

Butch is also a team player, especially when it comes to trucking. His modus operandi is to do the little things that make it easier for his employer, fellow drivers and customers to operate smoothly. “He would never leave equipment like a trailer he was dropping somewhere unless it was in A-one shape for the next driver,” Dora says. “That’s how Butch is.”

Those are words of not only a proud wife, but also a proud trucking team member for almost two decades. Butch and Dora are what Randy Cornell, vice president of safety and recruiting at Con-way Truckload, calls a “dream team.”

“They have been an iconic team here for years,” Cornell says.

Butch recently reinforced that dream-team notion when he was named the 2009 Truckload Carriers Association’s Company Equipment Driver of the Year — an accolade his wife won in 2006. The award is sponsored by Truckers News.

Butch’s trucking career, from which he and Dora officially retired in March, spans 50 years. He logged a little more than 5 million miles without a chargeable accident — and 8 million traveled when you add in Dora’s contribution to the team.

Butch was raised in Winnsboro, Texas. When he turned 16, he started hauling grain for his father, who owned several trucks. “We would haul grain to Houston and bring back barbwire and nails and stuff,” Butch says. “I did it in the summer when I was in school.” Butch cut his teeth in a 1953 LJ-model Mack powered by a 220 Cummins. Later he hauled similar agricultural products and steel between Texas and Oklahoma after his dad relocated to Atoka, Okla.

Butch’s life took a new direction when he was asked to allow the daughter of a visiting family friend to ride with him from Houston to Atoka. The young woman was an aspiring schoolteacher who was eventually on her way to Los Angeles to take a job after leaving her native North Dakota.

“We were running with four of five of my dad’s trucks and she was sitting over there in the seat next to me talking. I didn’t like her too much at first,” Butch says, laughing. “But during the eight-hour ride to Oklahoma I fell in love with her.” Within about six months, Butch and Dora were married. It was the beginning of a long, storied romance that’s now 46 years and counting.

Butch and Dora enjoy some downtime with seven of their eight grandchildren in January 2008.

Butch and Dora moved to Udall, Kan., to be halfway between their respective relatives. The couple started a family, raising two kids of their own and two foster children. In 1965, Dora decided to get her CDL so she could ride along with her husband on weekends and during the summer when she wasn’t teaching school. To meet requirements of the day, she had to be at least 5-foot-3-inches tall. Dora had to wear two-inch boots to measure up to the discriminating law. Despite the skepticism of those administering the driving exam, Dora passed and became the first female in Kansas to hold a CDL.

Butch continued to build on his reputation as a dependable driver while playing the role of superdad whenever he was home. “I always made sure everything was taken care of at home — no honey-dos,” Dora says. “When he was home, it was so much fun hearing his stories. He was great with the kids and loved to come home, do things with the kids and go on impromptu trips.”

While Dora was a part-time driver when not taking care of the home life, Butch drove team with others most of the time. In 1992, he was joined by Dora on the road for the long haul as the last of their kids went away to college. (They actually hooked up as team drivers for the first time in 1972, though for less than a year.) The couple drove team for Wynne Transport before hiring on in 1996 with Contract Freighters Inc. (CFI), which was later bought out by Con-way.

The pair has earned numerous safety awards in all that time. They have also tested new technology and equipment for their company. They drove a truck powered by a first-generation low-emissions engine in 2002. This past year, the company let them try out a Kenworth T660 with a 2010 Cummins ISX 500-horsepower engine utilizing selective catalytic reduction technology with the addition of diesel exhaust fluid.

Butch’s approach to driving is simple — play it safe. “I never run with a pack in traffic,” he says. “I leave plenty of clearance when I’m driving. When taking an assignment, I look at all options for a route, get weather reports and take the route that is most clear.”

Getting plenty of rest is another key safety factor, Butch says. And because of changes in the hours-of-service rule, it was a tough transition — at least for him. “Driving with Dora, I liked to drive seven hours, stop and rest, drive seven more and stop and eat. I had an awful time with the 10 hours,” Butch says. “I would wake up during my 10 hours off and couldn’t go back to sleep. Then I would have to drive and be up 14 or 15 hours. Now she did all right. She can drive 10 hours straight and it doesn’t bother her.”

Considering more upcoming changes in the hours of service, Butch says it’s time to quit messing with the regulation every few years. “I’d like to see it go back to the way it was,” he says. “But whatever they do, they need to finally leave it alone and let us drive.”

Butch has seen plenty of changes in the trucking industry during his half-century of driving. “It used to be where you had plenty of time to make a trip,” Butch says. “Now, things have to be there faster and you have a lot more traffic. I used to drive all night across Montana and see nothing but deer. I liked it when it was more relaxed.”

That’s the closest Butch comes to being anywhere close to negative, quickly adding, “but there have been a lot of great changes, especially with equipment and communications. Cell phones and GPS are wonderful. It makes trucking much easier.”

Butch says he never thought about any other career since his father taught him to drive in East Texas in the early 1960s. Trucking has given him a good life, and with Dora as his team driver for much of the past two decades, he has been able to enjoy two of his greatest passions. “It’s been amazing,” Butch says. “I can’t imagine it any other way. I’m blessed.”

Yarns for the Ages

Butch Colvin plans book of his road adventures

Butch Colvin is a natural storyteller. And 50 years on the road has provided plenty of fodder — so much that he is putting his tales in a book titled, “Keep It Between the Lines.” Well, actually, he’s getting a little help from his wife, Dora, who is serving as a ghost writer.

“Butch tells me the stories in Texan, and I put it down on paper in English,” she quips.

Butch delighted the attendees of the Truckload Carriers Association’s annual meeting in March at the Wynn resort in Las Vegas, where he was presented with the 2009 Company Equipment Driver of the Year award, with this story:

After Dora was honored with same award in 2006, CFI gave her a new Peterbilt with “Dora Colvin, TCA Company Equipment Driver of the Year” in big letters on the truck. One day in Kansas City, Mo., Butch was out shining the truck while Dora was in the sleeper taking a nap. A car with a couple inside pulled up.

“The guy said, ‘You have a beautiful truck. Do you mind if I take my wife’s picture with your truck? She’s a model,’” Butch says. “I said sure and moved to the other side of the truck to get out of the way while they started setting up camera equipment.”

Butch said he got curious what was taking so long and, after about 15 minutes, stepped around the corner of the truck to see the model wife “completely nude” and having pictures taken of her under the part of the truck with Dora’s name proudly displayed.

“I got them out of there in a hurry,” Butch says, laughing. “I didn’t think it was that funny at the time, but it is now. It’s just one of the many things that happen on the road.”

Changes through Butch’s eyes

By Butch Colvin

Driving truck is the only occupation I have ever wanted. My dad was a driver from the 1920s, and his stories intrigued me, so I started driving as soon as I could. I have seen a lot of changes in the trucking industry in the past 50 years.

Butch at approximately 2 1/2 years old uses a pie plate as steering wheel and a chain as the transmission to pretend his imaginary truck is just like his dad’s real rig.

Engines: Shortly after I started driving, Dad let me take his favorite truck, a 1953 L J Mack with a duplex transmission and powered by a 220 Cummins with a single disc pump. I knew the engine was running right at night when I looked in my spot mirror and saw a 4- to 6-inch cone of fire at the top of the stack. My [last] truck [was] a 2010 T660 Kenworth with a 500-horsepower Cummins. It uses DEF and the inside of the exhaust system is as shiny at 425,000 miles as it was new.

Brakes: Spring-loaded braking systems were in the future when I started. The L J had a simple hand brake, which made things pretty dicey on narrow Oklahoma roads. One night I ended up where I shouldn’t have been with a load of steel and the bridge ahead didn’t look very good. I set the brake and walked out to the middle of the bridge. (As if I could tell how stout it was by looking at it!)

I heard a noise behind me. Sure enough, the air had leaked off and my driverless truck was coming right towards me. I jumped to the side and when the Mack was even with me I stepped in and drove the rest of the way across the bridge and on to my delivery. (Somehow, that night’s activities never came up for discussion when my Dad was in the room.) The T660 has bells and whistles of all kinds. If I get out of the cab without setting the parking brake they all go off. It also has the best engine brake I’ve ever had.

Tires: The first well-used truck I bought was a 1957 Autocar with a 262 Cummins, a 580 turbo and a 5-speed transmission with a 3-way Brownie. It came in, shall we say, a little over budget, and I couldn’t afford new tires before I made my first trip. It was well equipped with what we called Maypops.

The interstates weren’t complete back then, so I was on old U.S. 75 and when I got humming down the highway, you would have thought it was the Fourth of July! I had eight flats between Wichita and Houston! Every time I broke down all of my buddies would stop to see how they could help; now if I was on the shoulder, someone would try to run over me. Thank goodness we had lots of mom-and-pop truckstops back then that had plenty of tire-patching material. One of today’s chain fuel stops would have run me off!

When I worked with my dad, he insisted we stop and check the tires every hundred miles. Today we don’t stop to check tires; we check the tires whenever we make a stop. We currently use super single Michelin tires on all of our trucks and many of our trailers, and all tires are tubeless.

Sleepers: The sleeper on my Autocar looked like a tall, oversized coffin. One night our little neighbor kid, Craig Rowley, went with me on a trip to Texas. When he got tired, he crawled through the little opening that was over the seat and then fell four feet to the floor. It took a while before he found the bed in the dark. The sleeper on our T660 is a very comfortable mini-apartment.

Air-Conditioning: Air-conditioning in a truck was unheard of. We claimed we had a 250 if both wing windows were open at 50 mph. We were lucky if there was a place on the dash to mount a small fan aimed at the driver. Today there is not only air-conditioning but bunk heaters and power units to run anything electric.

Radios: The Autocar didn’t have a radio and I couldn’t have heard it if there had been one. By the time I bought my second truck, a ‘63 Freightliner with a 250 Cummins and a manual 4-by-4, I was able to listen to Bill Mack on WBAP or Ralph Emery on WSM. We still have Bill, but he is on satellite radio, which has every kind of program a driver wants.

Phones: The water pump on my Freightliner went out one day on Interstate 70 in Kansas. I walked, or I should say, I limped on blisters 12 miles to a little town for a phone so Dora could bring me parts.

Today we send a message by computer to road service and tell them our problem. When they contact the right repairman, he is given our cell phone number so he can tell us when he will be there.

Before we had CB radios, drivers communicated truck to truck with hand signals during the day and light signals at night. Today there is only one signal you get from another driver, and we all know what that is. It’s the same one from truckers and four-wheelers alike.

Women: Women drivers were unheard of in my world, until my wife showed up. She was so little back then that our new neighbors laughed just to see her standing beside that big old truck. They still tell stories about what they thought when she climbed in and drove off with it. If a patrolman saw her, he checked her license. Today there is nothing unusual about women working in any part of the trucking industry.

As I said, there have been a lot of changes in equipment and operations over the years. I sure am glad I have been able to sit around and watch them happen.

Contest Runners-Up

Second-Place Winner

Richard Gassman, Greatwide Logistics, Services, LLC, Dallas

Gassman has worked for Greatwide Logistics Services, LLC, since 2001, but has been driving trucks for more than 51 years. Over the course of his career, he has logged more than 4.5 million accident-free truckload miles and hauled everything from concrete to butter to clothing.

In December 2008, Gassman was selected as Greatwide’s Driver of the Month for its Dubuque Operations Center, and in April 2009 he was chosen as the 2008 Driver of the Year from among thousands of Greatwide drivers at all locations. He has received numerous safe driving awards from the American Trucking Associations and the National Safety Council and also has received the Safe Mileage Milestone Award from his company.

Third-Place Winner

Brian Rhodes. Con-way Truckload, Joplin, Mo.

Brian Rhodes has been a truck driver with Con-way Truckload since 1995. During this time, he has logged more than 1.5 million accident-free truckload miles. Rhodes and his twin brother, Bruce, drive together as a team and have been recognized as Company Team of the Month four times. They have also received their company’s Million Mile Award.

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