From the Ground Up
Ron Leoni’s 35-year career took off from a company started from scratch by his grandfather
Hoekstra Transportation driver Ron Leoni’s trucking roots trace back to 1930 and the inception of Leoni Motor Express, started by his grandfather, Andrew Leoni.
Grandpa Leoni was a brick mason in Chicago Heights, Ill., the town where Ron Leoni grew up, and his work required some means to move his equipment from job to job.
Naturally, Leoni says, his grandfather bought a truck, which proved to be a hot commodity among friends and neighbors, as they “were always asking him to move stuff and asking if they could borrow it,” he says.
Thus, the family business was born, and Leoni started contributing when he was 13, sweeping out trailers for 50 cents a pop after school and on weekends.
Shortly after, he picked up driving as a means to avoid asking the company’s drivers to move trucks and trailers so he could clean them. He learned the ropes puttering around the yard in a 1951 Diamond T. “I learned how to back up and stuff like that. Then I started driving right after high school, when I turned 18. They had me moving trailers around town, and I gained more driving skills doing that.
“The next thing you know, I was behind the wheel full-time.”
That was 1975, and he stuck with the family business until 2005, when he left for his current job at the St. Anne, Ill.-based Hoekstra. Leoni hauls food items and paper products regionally in the Midwest.
He says he’s a “very defensive driver,” something he says has spurred his run to 3 million accident-free miles.
“Defensive driving is one of my main things,” he says. “Even when I get in a hurry, I just basically try to stay out of the way and really watch what I’m doing.”
Since starting with Hoekstra, Leoni says he has had three Level 2 inspections, all of which yielded violation-free results, something he attributes to thorough pre-trip inspections. “When I do pre-trips, I actually look for things to be wrong. You have to look for problems to avoid bigger problems in the future.”
Contrary to his driving habits, being proactive and “a little bit aggressive” can help the money-making side of driving more profitable.
“Don’t pass up opportunities,” he says. “Don’t haul the cheap freight. You have to stay with it and be determined.”
Of late, Leoni says he’s been putting thought into trying to become a driving instructor. With 35 years of driving under his belt, he says he would be good at helping beginning drivers learn things that “aren’t in the textbook.”
“I see a lot of drivers that are put on the road way, way too early,” he says. “I’d like to teach new drivers about handling certain situations on the road when you get into them and teach them ways to get out of them when you find yourself in one.”
Q & A
Q: What is one thing you always carry with you in your truck while on the road?
A: Toolbox. I always make sure I have that. If there’s something that goes awry, I can make a quick repair. A toolbox always comes in handy.
Q: What advice would you give younger drivers?
A: I would tell them to find a good company to work for that will allow them to operate within the realms of the law — hours of service rules, especially. I’d also tell them to be a very defensive driver and to be careful. Don’t guess on anything. If you’re not sure of something, ask. And always make an awareness of your surroundings.
Q: What is your most memorable moment in your years of trucking?
A: Hauling flatbed was always interesting. You always haul a lot of interesting things. I always enjoyed that. It was more of an adventure, not a job.
COMPANY DRIVER OF THE YEAR
Truckers News will select a 2010 Company Driver of the Year, to be announced in early 2011, from its current Driver of the Month profiles. The winner of the contest will receive prizes from trucking industry vendors.