Gary Buchs, 62, of Colfax, Illinois, has spent many solo hours logging 2.3 million accident-free miles in his 27-year driving career. His success comes from being able to interact with so many people daily.
After learning to drive trucks around the farm where he grew up, his commercial trucking career started in the late 1980s, hauling regionally around St. Louis for Roadway and spot-driving for farms. Later, he drove for Nu-Way Transportation and in 2003 leased to Landstar Systems.
“Part of my decision to join them was that I was hiring them to do what they do best, so that I was able to do what I do best,” Buchs says. “I was able to use my people skills to seek accounts that were looking for stronger customer service.”
Buchs is one of three finalists for the 2016 Owner-Operator of the Year, produced by the Truckload Carriers Association and Overdrive. The winner, who will receive a $25,000 cash prize, will be announced March 28 at TCA’s annual meeting in Nashville, Tennessee. The other two finalists are Philip Keith and Kevin Kocmich. The contests is sponsored by Cummins and Love’s Travel Stops.
The award recognizes the winner’s safety record, efforts to enhance the industry’s image and contributions to the community. For the owner-operator award, business acumen is an additional consideration. To be eligible for the contest, applicants had to have one million consecutive accident-free miles and meet other standards.
Buchs typically stays around the Midwest, hauling multiple-stop loads, often of high value, such as kitchen cabinets and theater sets. Because those loads tend to pay more, he can do short runs and still bring home a good profit.
Because he averages only about 300 miles a day, he has held onto the truck he bought when he signed on with Landstar – a 2000 Freightliner Century. “I knew maintenance costs would be low, and I don’t drive to California and back,” he says. “A long run for me is 500 miles. The truck is profitable and comfortable.”
One of Buchs’ most challenging safety concerns is keeping himself from getting caught up in the emotion of what’s going on around him on the road. Outside of safety, he advises new truckers and up-and-coming owner-operators to know why you want to do the job, learn how to control fixed costs and not overcommit regarding your capabilities.
Buchs also teaches local student drivers how to drive safely around trucks. “I tell them to make the decision to keep yourself safe first, which keeps the people in the truck safe and all the other drivers around the truck safe, so by making that first decision, you’ve kept a number of people safe,” he says. Those concerns include his wife, Marcia Peterson Buchs, two children and three grandchildren. “I base so many of my decisions around these people and how it will affect them.”
Buchs’ best day is one where he can get in and out of a delivery site with no complications. “If you do your job right, don’t cause any damage and show up on time, the customer feels great, and they don’t dwell on you,” he says.