Back in the saddle, on a mission -- Toby Bogard's journey home to the road

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Lansing, Michigan-based operator Toby Bogard is on a mission. That mission is multifold, as you’ll hear in today’s edition of Overdrive Radio, where we catch back up with the driver, now hauling for Heartland Express after about a year and a half away from the road.

Bogard’s return to the road follows a million-plus-mile career prior, and he's newly involved in efforts to push something of a feel-good movie narrative about the life and times of a trucker, framed by his last ride home, with the goal of improving the public image of trucking. At least that's among Bogard's principal goals for involvement.

[Related: Holiday traffic highway safety PSAs fit for our four-wheeled friends]

This isn’t Bogard’s first such foray. Regular Overdrive readers may have caught a mention earlier in the week of his "Semi-Aware" book, designed for teens setting out to get their driver’s license for the first time. It's all about education and appreciation for the work trucking does, and even more specifically just how to maneuver around tractor-trailers on the road (more emphasis on which is sorely needed in driver’s ed programs around the nation).

It had been quite a time since I'd spoken to Bogard, and a whole lot had happened to him in the interim, including the move north from his former home in East Tennessee, the tragic passing of a loved one, and a big re-evaluation of goals during his time off the road caring for two young daughters. Take a listen: 


Toby Bogard: And it's a feel good movie. It's not a summer blockbuster with a bunch of explosions and gunfire. It's a movie that's designed to move people emotionally, something that drivers can enjoy, but also the general public. It's Sam's journey home. He's been driving for 40 years and it's time to hang up the keys and to hang the hat up for the final time, park the truck and see what the next chapter in life has to offer. And it's his journey.

Todd Dills: Now Lansing, Michigan-based operator Toby Bogard is on a mission. That mission is multifold as you'll hear in today's podcast, where we catch back up with the driver now hauling for Heartland Express after about a year and a half away from the road. I'm Todd Dills, you're host for this Overdrive Radio edition for November 18th, 2022. It’s Bogard's voice you heard at the top, summarizing one story that's at the heart of the man's mission with this end result in mind.

Toby Bogard: For the general public to see that truck drivers aren't necessarily what they think our image is.

Todd Dills: The project, a feelgood movie narrative not exactly in its infancy and about the life and times of a trucker, framed by his last ride home, it isn't Bogard's first foray toward that goal. Regular Overdrive readers may have caught a mention earlier in the week to his Semi-Aware book, designed for teens setting out to get their driver's license for the first time and all about education and appreciation for the work trucking does. And even more specifically, just how to maneuver around tractor trailers on the road. More emphasis on which I'm sure most would agree, sorely needed in driver's ed programs around the nation.

Toby Bogard: Right now, I'm just trying to build interest and make people aware that this project exists and see where it leads.

Todd Dills: It'd been quite a time since I'd spoken to Bogard, and a whole lot had happened to him in interim, including a move north from his former home in East Tennessee, tragic passing of a loved one, and a big reevaluation of goals during his time off the road, caring for two young daughters.

Toby Bogard: I told my fiance, I said, "If I go back, I'm going to go back and finish what I started."

Todd Dills: We'll hear all about Bogard's eventful return to the world of trucking after this quick break for word from Overdriver Radio's sponsor.

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Todd Dills: That's Howes, H-O-W-E-S, And if you'd like to try Howes Diesel Treat anti-gel formula or it's gelling rescue Lifeline treatment, dial the Overdrive Radio podcast line and leave us a message via (615) 852-8530 and we'll send you a prize pack. We'll be back in touch for your shipping information. That's (615) 852-8530. Here's Toby Bogard setting things up.

Toby Bogard: Well, I drove for 13 years for CFI. I got about a million and a half miles with them. And due to some family issues, I had to shift companies, which is not something I really wanted to do. I wound up driving for a company out of Nashville, Tennessee, dedicated so I could be home every weekend because I have two little girls. And things at home for them weren't exactly the best. So me being home more often was an absolute necessity. Well, fast forward to 2020. I'm driving dedicated and one Saturday morning, I find their mother dead.

Todd Dills: Oh no.

Toby Bogard: She died of a massive overdose. Addiction had been something she'd been battling for a very long time and she finally lost the battle. But it put me and my girls in a very unusual situation. They had a dad that was a long haul truck driver and fortunately, they were able to stay with their aunt for a while but their aunt decided that she was going to move from the area in Tennessee where we lived. And so I came off the road to be a full-time stay-at-home dad in January of 2021 and wound up with a major health scare. I had a cancer scare, lung cancer scare to be exact.

Fortunately, it wasn't lung cancer, so I'm good there. Their mom died right as COVID broke out in 2020.

And so the world was in turmoil, everything was being flipped upside down. The industry itself was going crazy and just everything was inside out and upside down and people were going nuts. And so I'm not really sure whether me being out of the industry for the 17 months I was out was a blessing or a curse. I do know I didn't have to go through a lot of the stuff that the drivers did, as far as the masks are concerned and the customer and company issues.

But I got to spend 17 months doing my favorite thing in the world, and that's be daddy so I'm not going to complain too much. Fortunately for me, in October of 2020 when my little girl's aunt decided she was moving back to Kentucky, my fiance came to me. At the time, we were just dating and she's like, "Look, the girls love me. I love the girls. Why don't you move up here to Michigan?" She lives in Lansing, Michigan. She says, "Why don't you move up here and see if we can get a fresh start?" So that's what I did. We moved up there. She worked full-time and I stayed home and became Mr. Mom, man. I absolutely loved it. Absolutely loved it. I really did.

Todd Dills: And what brought you back out to the road? I understand you've gotten work with the Heartland Express, if my memory is right on that.

Toby Bogard: Yes, sir. Well, what happened was, I got a phone call one day from a friend of mine, her name is Heidi Hart. She's runs probably one of the best third party recruiting companies in the industry, Hart Driver Solutions. And she said she knew I was off and she's like, "What do you think about coming back?" I said, "Well, why? What's going on?" And basically, CFI had been bought and sold a couple of times. I made it through two of the sales, the third one I wasn't present for. And she's like, "Well, they're kind of trying to put some million milers back in the fleets and I was curious how you felt about coming back." And I'm paraphrasing, and I talk with my fiance about it and talk with my girls about it. It was a family decision. And I told my fiancee, I said, "If I go back, I'm going to go back and finish what I started."

She asked me what I meant. I said, "Look, I set out to change the industry in 2010." When my book came out and I was doing all the promotional stuff and the brand ambassador stuff, I had set out to change the industry for the better from the inside out. To help drivers see companies different, companies see drivers different, but more importantly, for the general public to see that truck drivers aren't necessarily what they think our image is. And I told her, I said, "If I go back, I'm going back with that in mind. I'm going to finish what I started. I'm going to change this industry." And she supported it 100%. And I spoke with my friend Heidi, and she asked me how I felt about Heartland Express. And long story short, I started with Heartland about three weeks ago. And honestly, I have to admit, man, they have gone above and beyond what most trucking companies do as far as feeling comfortable with orientation.

Orientation was very comfortable. The people that I work with are awesome. Literally, this is a company that I think and feel that I could honestly drive another million miles for. I'm that comfortable here. It feels that good. This company has helped to reinvigorate me as a driver and help rekindle my enthusiasm for driving, which is something that as you know, drivers kind of lose after a few years. When I officially retired on February 23rd, 2021, I had been driving 20 years and two days. And the last few years of that became a real job. You know what I mean? And I'd always told myself if it became a job, it was time to get out of it. And now, I don't feel like that anymore. I feel great. I look forward to what the road has to offer every day. And sometimes it can be frustrating, as you know. You've dealt with drivers for years, man, you know what we can be like and what this can be like for us.

Todd Dills: And our initial attempts at conversation were interrupted by one of the those frustrating markers. I think you ran into a traffic jam, you couldn't get to a stopping point.

Toby Bogard: Right. I did.

Todd Dills: That happens. That's routine out there.

And it is makes the road a frustrating place to be, among many other things.

Toby Bogard: I have to admit, man, I'm grateful to be back. It's a very humbling experience coming back after all the time off and to work for a company that takes their drivers seriously, and they do here. And this isn't a plug for them, it's just the truth, man. They have been super cool about everything I do and about me being me as a driver. And literally, I have nothing to complain about. Most drivers can find something to complain about if they open their eyes in the morning. But driving here, I honestly have to admit, man, I'm really comfortable and I look forward to it. It's not like, "Oh my God, I got to go back to the road tomorrow." No, I get my two days off every week and I'm ready to go when my time off is over. I hate leaving my girls. Well yeah, of course. But I also know I'm going to be back in a few days and they know that, too. And they've got a great support group at home, which really helps out a lot.

Todd Dills: Bogard noted he had new plans for two books he wrote in the past, one intended as a guide for those brand-new to trucking, the other one I mentioned up at the top for young people new to driving, generally speaking. As noted, that one's called Semi-Aware. You'll hear him speak about both in what follows.

Toby Bogard: We're working currently on a third edition release of my original book “On The Big Road,” which is for new drivers in the trucking industry.

It's got additional content and we're going to have a new cover, and it's going digital because it's been requested for digital. And going along with what you mentioned, Semi-Aware is the sequel to On The Big Road and it actually is for the general public, primarily for people that are getting ready to go to get their driver's license. It's designed specifically for them, to help them be more aware of how to safely drive and operate their vehicles around us.

So the thought came about because of them being so close together and how they work together, of redoing the second one. So once the first one is done, once we've got the final proof of the first one and the new cover, we're going to release it and then we're going to start working on the updated edition of “Semi-Aware.” So they're going to be pretty close to release, hopefully within probably 30 days or so of each other. They're going to be released as totally standalone new additions. And I really hope that it accomplishes, at least in part, what I set out to do, which is help drivers and help people.

Todd Dills: That “Semi-Aware” always struck me as a potentially good Christmas present for truckers in the audience to send to the young people in their lives, I guess. I've actually got a copy here. It's about time for me to give it to my daughter. She just turned 14. But anyways--

She'll be driving soon, right?

Toby Bogard: My fiancee, her daughter just got her... Well, her oldest daughter just got her driver's license. She rode the bus for so long and now she's got her driver's license. She's like, "I don't know why I waited so long to get it." And actually, we've got some new stuff for that because the goal with that book originally was to try to get into driving schools, where high schools have driving programs. So many schools no longer have driving programs. Now, they're going to the private sector where you have private driving schools. And so that's what we'll start working on once we get that one finished. So there's a lot going on with that. And then I've got the new project that you wanted to talk to me about. We'll do that whenever you're ready.

Todd Dills: Yeah, yeah. Tell me about it. I know it's a project that I've been hearing about probably for... Actually, I went back and looked that up. I think Mr. Greg Martin has been talking about this Dispatch Me Home movie idea for about more than 12 or 13 years, it seems like. Tell me about how you got involved in this.

Toby Bogard: I've known Greg for probably a decade and I've known about the project for that same amount of time probably. And when I came back, I told you I came back with the idea of improving the industry from the inside out. And Greg and I talked, and I'm not even sure how we reconnected. We'd been friends for a very long time, but just something occurred, it's one of those things that the right place at the right time, or the right moment. And I don't believe in coincidence, never have. And so we started talking about it and he asked me how I feel about being involved with the project. And I know that it's been a work in progress for a very long time. And I thought, "All right. What can I do to help?" And so the project is Dispatch Me Home. It's about Sam Morris, Sam the Man they call him.

And it's a feel good movie. It's not a summer blockbuster with a bunch of explosions and gunfire. It's a movie that's designed to move people emotionally, something that drivers can enjoy but also the general public. It's Sam's journey home. He's been driving for 40 years and it's time to hang up the keys and to hang the hat up for the final time, park the truck and see what the next chapter in life has to offer him. And it's his journey. And along the way, you meet some of Sam's friends, Sam makes some new friends, shares some memories. And it's just a real feel good movie that's a great representation of how this industry is the backbone of this country and more importantly, how people matter. It's about people and it's got a tremendous upside as far as connection with the general public.

And I honestly believe, and I don't really put my name on anything I don't believe in, never have been one to do that. But it struck me at the heart, man. After everything that's gone on with COVID the last couple years and my daughters and what they've had to go through, I went, "You know what? This is something I need to put my name on." And to be honest, they're hoping and looking at the possibility of Kevin Costner playing the lead role of Sam Morris. I think that if anybody has ever been a fan of the TV show Yellowstone and you know who John Dutton is, then you can see Kevin Costner driving a truck. I'm a huge fan of Yellowstone and so I can look at that visual and go, "Yep, I could see that. That's doable. I could see Costner behind the wheel of a truck." So I'm really anxious and excited to be working with the team. And-

Todd Dills: This is kind of based on basically a prose narrative, story that Greg wrote. See, I know back 10 or more years ago, he was trying to find someone to put together a script for it. Has he done that? How far along is it at this point?

Toby Bogard: It's a work in progress right now. And the truth of the matter is, it's really... And you, yourself know, unless you're associated with the industry directly, it's really hard to get anybody to pay attention to you. Just hoping that my credibility in the industry, because I do have a lot of it, I spent 20 years building it, we're hoping that my credibility and presence in the industry can really help with that and make a very good representation of what this film has to offer for the industry and for the general public. Right now, it's a work in progress, but I feel really positive about it. And I'm humbled, man.

I'm a guy, I just drive a truck, you know what I mean? I'm nobody special. I just drive a truck. But I've been blessed with so many opportunities and to work with some great people. But I've had a lot of opportunities and this is one that I feel really strongly about. And like I said, it is a work in progress but I believe that we can make a real solid effort at making this a reality and that there's people out there that are going to want to definitely see this movie. Think about it for just a second. Back in 1977, Smokey and the Bandit had a budget of $5.3 million and two days before production, it was knocked down to $4.3 million. And it made $126 million domestically.

There's a huge ability, there's a huge open space here for this to be done. And more than anything else, I really believe that this movie can help change the public opinion, the public view of who truck drivers are. Because God man, you know as well as I do, sometimes they have the worst possible image of us and it's just not true in every case. It's like seeing one biker and thinking all bikers are bad. That's not fair. That's a stereotype. It's not cool.

Todd Dills: But if results of recent surveying by the Trucking Moves America Forward group is any indication, the sense of goodwill for trucking generally out there in the public has improved markedly over the course of the last few years. You may have seen that story at in recent weeks in fact. 87% of respondents to the group's recent survey said they had a favorable impression of trucking, up from 67% in 2019. With the economy where it is, with myriad pressures on both owner operators and drivers and the families back home, though.

It does seem like the time could be good for a real well done feel good story. Just something to provide some uplift.

Toby Bogard: With driving, with the industry the way it is right now, therefore about 10 minutes during COVID, truck drivers, doctors, nurses, those people really got the nod they deserve. I'll give you an example of what I'm talking about. Matter of fact, you might have actually heard about this. In October 9th, 2017, there was a young security guard shot at a Rite Aid drug store off West Avenue in Nashville, Tennessee.

It was my son.

Todd Dills: Oh wow.

Toby Bogard: He lived, he lived. But he's a massive individual. He's just huge. And when he was in the hospital, he was in a coma and his mother is a nurse. We were at the hospital visiting one day and they sent this little bitty, itty bitty nurse to go in there and give him a sponge bath. Now, my son is 6'2" and weigh 330 pounds, and this little 105 pound woman was going to try to turn him to give him a sponge bath. And his mom was standing there and she threw on a pair of gloves and she says, "I'm a nurse too. I got you. We got this." That woman showed more guts than I've ever seen in my life. I've never seen anybody... You know how much courage it takes to look at your son there in a coma and say, "Hey, I'm going to help this nurse give him a sponge bath"? That took amazing intestinal fortitude.

And I told her that. I'm like, "You know what? That took more guts than I think I could ever have." The point I'm getting at is for about 10 minutes during COVID, we all got the nod. The backbone of this country, the truck drivers, nurses, doctors, emergency staff, people that work that everybody looks at and never sees unless they need them for something. Because that's the catch right there. They never see us until they need us. And then they're going, "Well, where's our bread?" Or, "I need to get to the ER." Or whatever the case may be.

For that 10 minutes during COVID, they got the nod they deserved. And then COVID started slowing down and all of a sudden now, we're back to, "Eh, whatever." We need something that's going to make people feel good without beating them in the head with it. COVID was a slap in the face, man. COVID was a slap in the face and we don't need the slap in the face anymore. We're still recovering from that one, because it hurt pretty bad. But right now, we need something that's going to make this country, these people that we are, this industry feel good. For example, I'm sure you're familiar with an organization called Truckers Against Trafficking. I'm sure you're probably familiar with an organization called Missing Trucker Alert.

Todd Dills: That's the Missing Truck Driver Alert Network. Long ongoing project that originated with a pair of truck owners and collaborators that you can read more about in the archives,

Toby Bogard: These are two organizations that are near and dear to my heart. I was present at the beginning of them and they mean something to me. And so this is something... Like, for example, the general public probably doesn't know that these organizations really exist to a massive extent or how much drivers are involved with them. And so this is an opportunity... Dispatch Me Home is an opportunity to put these organizations in a place where the general public can see them and go, "Oh wow, wait. Truck drivers are doing more to be better. They're trying to help in the sex trafficking thing and they're trying to help families have peace of mind with finding their relatives if they're a driver and they go off the grid for a while." This is a way for those organizations to help their presence get increased, and I really want that to be a part of this as well.

Todd Dills: You see this as a vehicle to highlight all the good that's going on-

Toby Bogard: I do.

I see this as a way to highlight all the good that goes on within this industry, that so many people don't see. I really do. And that's why I'm so excited about it and that's why I got on board with it. I saw this as an opportunity to show people, the general public and other drivers, trucking companies, everybody, the whole world. Why not? That there's more to us than meets the eye and don't just honk at us and give us a one finger salute. Just take a moment. Look at the sticker that might be in a window, whatever. There's so much more to this industry than people give us credit for.

Todd Dills: That's Toby Bogard, B-O-G-A-R-D. He's easy to find on social platforms. Thanks for listening. 

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