“I like being an owner-operator because I like to drive what I want to drive,” says Wayne Lowe, an Arlington, Texas-based owner-operator who hauls less-than-truckload freight for FFE Transportation Services in Dallas. “It’s like home to me,” he says. The prize Lowe won as the Truckload Carriers Association’s 2008 Owner-Operator of the Year – a 2009 International LoneStar – is one most truckers would be proud to call home.
Lowe received the honor, which he calls a “once in a lifetime achievement,” March 10 during TCA’s Annual Convention at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Orlando, Fla. The award recognizes Lowe’s contributions to the trucking industry, including running a successful business, maintaining an exceptional safety record and enhancing the public image of trucking, says Chris Burruss, TCA president. The contest is sponsored by Navistar Inc. and Overdrive.
Lowe’s grand prize LoneStar is a far cry from the grain trucks he drove during high school or the army vehicles he piloted while stationed in Anchorage, Alaska, during the Vietnam War. But those trucks – and a lifelong desire to drive – launched Lowe’s trucking career. His love of trucks was born when his father, who hauled refrigerated freight, took him along when he was a boy. “You always want to follow in your father’s footsteps if you’re proud of him,” Lowe says.
Ten days after being honorably discharged from the Army in 1967, Lowe took a driving test with FFE and was hired on the spot. Four decades later, his many honors include a 4 million-mile safe driving award and first place in FFE’s truck rodeo. In 2007, he was named Driver of the Year by the Texas Motor Transportation Association. David Hedgpeth, FFE’s vice president of corporate compliance and safety, calls Lowe “one of the industry’s most dedicated and professional drivers.”
Lowe bought his first truck, a 1969 Freightliner cabover, for $19,000 through an FFE program in which 5 cents per mile of his settlement went toward his truck payment. He paid it off in 11/2 years.
“I ran really hard,” he recalls. Since 1985 he’s owned Peterbilts and has traded them every four years, once he has “the wear and tear out,” he says. “After four years, it’s paid for. You might as well trade trucks and be ready to go.” He spends $500-$700 each year to have his truck polished and keep it looking as good as a show truck. “People tell me I should enter it, but it’s a working truck, not a show truck,” he says.
Conscious of both his truck’s maintenance and his own good health, Lowe says that, at 65, he “feels like a 30-year-old man.” He does 30 sit-ups and 30 push-ups under his trailer every morning, loads and unloads his truck and eats healthfully. “I try to stay fit,” he says. “Life is pretty short anyway.”
To keep his business in shape, Lowe pays an accountant $75 per month to handle his books. “When you’re driving down the road, you don’t need to be worried about it,” he says. “There’s enough to worry about with driving.”
On the road, Lowe focuses not only on his own safety, but that of other motorists. “A car coming down the street has no idea what I’m going to do,” he says. “I try to plan my turns so I don’t interfere with anyone else.”
Despite more than 40 years and 4 million safe miles, Lowe has no plans to retire. “As long as my health holds up, I might go to 75 years old,” he says. After all, there’s nothing else he would find as rewarding. “You sure can’t sit home and watch Judge Judy every day,” he says.
Prizes worth working for
As TCA’s 2008 Owner-Operator of the Year, Wayne Lowe wins a 2009 International LoneStar. But getting to the grand prize was no easy task. Lowe and other entrants had to meet minimum criteria, including having driven 1 million consecutive accident-free miles and being leased to a TCA-member carrier.
After passing the initial phase of the contest, entrants submitted a final application form, which included operating information, verification of work history and safety record, equipment specifications, a 300-word essay explaining why they are worthy of the grand prize, and a 300-word essay explaining their role as good trucking citizens.
Lowe’s efforts paid off. His SmartWay-compliant LoneStar, which includes payment of the federal excise tax, features a 550-horsepower Cummins ISX engine, 18-speed manual Eaton Fuller Roadranger transmission and Goodyear G305 Fuel Max radial tires. He also received other prizes, including:
· $3,950 in truck stop gift cards
· $1,250 cash
· TAG Heuer Swiss men’s watch, valued at $1,500.
The runners-up in the 2008 Truckload Carriers Association Owner-Operator of the Year contest are champions in their own right.
A truck driver for 55 years, second-place winner Clark Lett of Beatrice, Ala., has been leased to Dart Transit since 1991 and has driven more than 3 million accident-free truckload miles and received more than 35 consecutive safety awards. Lett advises younger drivers to keep a positive outlook to achieve success in trucking. Attitude “can make you or break you,” he says.
Third-place winner Gerald Clouse of Rockford, Tenn., credits his success to self-reliance. “If I’m going to get to the top, it’s up to me,” he says. Clouse has driven 3.4 million accident-free truckload miles and has been leased to Dart Transit for 22 years. He received the National Safety Council’s Three Million Mile Safety Award and Dart Transit’s 20-Year Truck Trophy Safety Award, as well as Dart’s President’s Safety Award and a Hall of Fame Safety Award.
In addition to trips with their wives to Orlando, Fla., for the TCA Convention, Lett and Clouse received numerous cash prizes.