A hard year on heroes: Remembering longtime specialized owner-operator Randy Cunha

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Tonight there will be little sleep to speak of. News of a friend's passing, these days, moves at the speed of 5G. Randy "Kemosabbi" Cunha, 74, succumbed to injuries sustained in an Arizona motorcycle crash he had been involved in March 18. He fought valiantly for over a month, but passed away on April 20. 

Kemosabbi was the living embodiment of an axiom attributed to writer-philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson, "The only way to have a friend is to be one." 

I found myself going through old messages I had saved from the recently retired heavy hauler late into the night;

Kemosabbi: Odious death of the cracker king: hits home! Started haulin padaddas out of mars hill in 69!  Put my 65 kw in the ditch near Sherman in 74….. 👍

randy cunhaRandy CunhaIt was around five years ago, back when I practically knew everyone who owned one of my CDs by their first names, when he reached out. He had been deep in the weeds, decoding my lyrics, full of the stories from the old days, a veritable library of trucking lore:

Kemosabbi: You know the story behind Santee ? The sheriff and his wife owned the two most infamous. One was the rebel. It burned down in 70!

He wanted to make sure he understood every line of every song. He was at the top of his game, then, still as spry as most men 20 and more years his junior. At seventy, he would reboot his old authority and run independent under Tonto Express. And he would become the subject of one of my first published articles for Overdrive.

[Related: Faces of the Road: Specialized open-deck haul Randy 'Kemosabbi' Cunha]

But Kemosabbi became well more than just the subject of a story for me -- he was a true friend. Back when he was having trouble with that enhanced 650 Cat of his, he washed up at our place for a couple days, bought an $800 car from my neighbor, and somehow got that old Pete down to Kentucky, where he knew of a shop that could get him lined out. Then he drove that car home to Texas.

semi hauling heavy equipmentCunha's 2001 Pete, pictured before he sold the business and retired in 2020. Find advice from Cunha on getting a footing in heavy-specialized hauling via this feature from that year.

The old 82nd Airborne paratrooper always seemed able to effortlessly execute an exit strategy for any tough situation.

Four Christmases ago, a card came in the mail from Kemosabbi and a dear friend of his who asked to remain anonymous. There was an insanely generous check in there, and a note to the effect that it would sure be nice to hear some new recordings. Our well had gone out that year, and we were low on money.

The gesture brought my wife to tears.

randy cunha and paul marhoeferCunha (right) with Long Haul PaulPhoto by Denise Marhoefer

It was sometime around the beginning of the pandemic when he sold out and retired. This wasn't easy for him. As he had told me more than once, speaking to the importance of his trucking business: "This is my life."

We had a few talks. The craft of trucking had been his "one thing." It had given his life center and focus. Now, his truck was sold, and he was going in too many directions, he said. For someone who had attained the apex of his vocation, leaving it behind was a tough row to hoe.

So somehow, as grievous as it is to see him go, the manner in which we lost him is not completely unsurprising. He described himself to me once as a seenager. That is, a teenager trapped in the body of a senior citizen. 

He was, after all, 82nd Airborne, whose motto was "All The Way." 

And so he was in friendship, in life, and in death.

So long, faithful friend. You were a good hand.

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