You may be reading the headline of this article and thinking, “It’s a little late for a Father’s Day post, isn’t it?” You’d be right. But there’s a special reason I held onto this one for a few more weeks.
Today, July 6, 2023, marks the end of a remarkable career in trucking for the man who is largely responsible for the position I hold today as an editor of a trucking magazine -- it's doubtful I would have pursued an opportunity to write about trucking without him.
My father, Sam Cole, has turned off the ignition, cleaned out his truck and handed in his keys for the last time after nearly 40 years driving, many of those as an over-the-road driver. He’s made it through those four decades with no major accidents, no tickets.
This article is a surprise for him, so I wasn’t able to pry too much without raising his suspicion. I don’t know everything about all the awards and/or recognition he’s received through the years, but I do know he was most recently honored this spring by the company he’s retiring from, Arxada Wood Protection, as its 2022 Safe Driver of the Year. I think it’s safe to say he’s going out at the top of his game.
Trucking, particularly OTR trucking, isn’t an easy career path for anyone, with days and sometimes weeks away from the comforts of home, family and friends. For those who are married and have children, I’ve seen first-hand just how tough it is.
Dad’s talked several times of when he would have to leave out after a few days at home, and I, not much older than toddler age, would run down the driveway chasing his truck as he pulled away. After watching that happen a time or two, he asked my mom to not let me do that anymore. It was just too tough for him to watch in his mirror.
He wasn’t always home for birthdays or holidays, for my athletic events or my sister Rebecca's band concerts. He was halfway across the country when my mom went into labor with Rebecca, and he missed her birth by a couple hours despite his best efforts to catch the first flight back home. We never really thought twice about the missed events, though. Dad was a truck driver, and that was the nature of being a truck driver. Rebecca and I had great childhoods and never wanted for anything. He made sure of it by working those long hours and being away from home.
Where it all began
He has spent his entire career as a company driver, and his first jobs were pulling gas tankers around Atlanta – first for Turner Transportation Company from 1984-’85 (not to be confused with Ellenwood, Georgia-based car-hauler Eric Turner and his Turner Transport business, featured numerous times in the pages of Overdrive). When he started with Turner, he hadn’t yet met my mother, Lisa, and my birth in 1989 wasn’t even remotely on his radar. Trucking is actually how my parents met. My mom’s brother, Ricky Campbell, also drove for Turner in the early 80s and ended up introducing them.
Dad drove for Union Oil after Turner, delivering to the Unocal 76 gas stations in the area from 1985-‘90.
He moved to hauling reefer freight regionally after that for Martin Brower, delivering food to restaurants like Red Lobster, Chick-fil-A, Long John Silver's and others. He stayed with them until 1994, when he found work with Beatrice Cheese, based in Wisconsin with a terminal in the Atlanta area.
That was his first truly OTR job, as he frequently made the trip to the company’s home base and elsewhere. Even though he was gone for longer periods, it paid off for us at home. He frequently brought home all manner of cheese. My mouth still waters when I think about the smoked cheddar!
Dad went back to local tanker work briefly in 1998, hauling for Georgia Tank Lines for a few months before landing a job with New Jersey-based LTL carrier Jevic Transportation, which also had a terminal in Atlanta.
This is where my memories of Dad as a truck driver really kick in -- this was the first time I was able to go out on the road with him. They had a rider policy, as long as the rider was 10 or older, as I remember it. The summer I turned 10, I spent several weeks out on the road with him, going to different parts of the country. He stayed with Jevic until 2002, after they had been acquired by Yellow.
[Related: Work-life balance OTR: You have to build it]
During his tenure there, I rode with him as much as I could, every summer. The sleepers in Jevic's trucks had fold-down bunk beds, and I got the top bunk at night when we were parked. As much as I’d try to be awake any time we were rolling, I usually ended up staying in bed and having to move to the bottom bunk during the early-morning starts. As most of you well know, trucking was a lot different back then, and it wasn’t out of the ordinary for us (mostly Dad) to put in 16-18-hour days between driving, multiple stops at receivers, then requests coming over the Qualcomm for pick-ups once we were empty. I think we even had a 20-hour day one time.
I felt like one of the luckiest kids in the world, though. I was a Green Bay Packers fan, and we ended up getting a load out of Jevic’s Chicago terminal to Green Bay one time. We got to the receiver and Dad asked one of the guys working there where Lambeau Field was. He pointed down the alley, and there it was, peeking out above some trees. I was over-the-moon excited.
After the freight was off, Dad drove us over to the stadium so I could see it up close. (There’s photo evidence of that somewhere, but I couldn’t track it down in time for this story.)
I guess it was during either a Christmas break or Spring break one year, and we got a load up to Minnesota. There was about a foot of snow on the ground, and we had a snowball fight outside the receiver, a rare occurrence for a Georgia boy like me.
It’s been more than 20 years since he was with Jevic, but I think I rode with him through about 25 states, many along the East Coast and between Atlanta and Chicago. I was definitely the most well-traveled kid in class at the end of the summers.
Journey back to tank work for a long-term home
After leaving Jevic in 2002, Dad went to work for Network Communications, an outfit that hauled real-estate books across the country. He drove team with them, partnered with a guy he knew back in his Martin Brower days. They were on a dedicated run to California for a few years until Dad got on with New Century Transportation in 2005, founded by Jevic’s founder, Harry Muhlschlegel -- a man Dad always had great respect for.
I was in high school by the time he started at New Century, but it was another opportunity for me to hop in the truck with him when I wasn’t in school or working during the summers. New Century had nice trucks. Dad’s was a Kenworth (I want to say a T600) with a Studio Sleeper. The company, like Jevic, was headquartered in New Jersey, but they didn’t have a terminal local to us around Atlanta. He brought his truck home throughout his tenure there, and he took care of that truck like it was his own, making sure it was always shined up inside and out.
He stayed with them from 2005 until 2011, when he went back to tanker work for a company then known as Arch Wood Protection, out of Conley, Georgia, where he rode out his final 12 years behind the wheel. The company underwent a couple of name changes while he was there -- first to Lonza, then more recently to Arxada. The small private fleet hauls wood treatment chemicals to lumber yards across the country and into Canada.
I may be biased, but I don’t think it’s that big of a stretch to say that with Dad’s retirement, Arxada is losing one of its hardest-working truckers. And I believe that’s the case at any fleet he’s left through the years. He’s always hauled what needs to be hauled, where it needs to be hauled, when he was asked to do it. He’s treated his customers well, providing top-notch service with on-time deliveries.
And while he'll no doubt be missed by the fleet manager, dispatchers and his fellow drivers, as a family we’re super-excited to see him move on to the next chapter of his life, whatever that brings.
Thank you to all the trucking dads (and moms) out there, and a very special thank-you to my Dad, for all the sacrifices you have made over the last four decades to help keep food on the table, lights on in the house and countless other things. Congratulations on an incredible 40-year career.