Bryan Smith is one of three finalists for the 2017 Owner-Operator of the Year award, produced by the Truckload Carriers Association and Overdrive. The winner, who will receive a $25,000 cash prize, will be announced in late March at TCA’s annual convention in Orlando, Florida. The other two finalists are Philip Keith and Kevin Kocmich.
Owner-operator Bryan Smith, 48, of Asbury, Iowa, has always tried to make it a point to be involved in his community, his church and his daughters’ school events.
In addition to hauling flatbed freight during the week – anything from John Deere tractors to construction equipment, building materials and steel – Smith spends his weekends as a martial arts instructor, his church’s music director and more. As a first-degree black belt, Smith teaches a beginner’s class and women’s self-defense classes and also competes in martial arts tournaments.
With three daughters – Emily, 18, Bethany, 14, and Vivian, 12 – Smith also has made it a point to be involved in school events, sometimes bringing his truck to give students a close look.
He traces his love of trucking to his childhood, when a friend’s father would let the kids play on his truck. After operating heavy machinery in the U.S. Marine Corps during Operation Desert Shield and Operation Desert Storm, he enrolled in driving school.
“I got a job at Schneider out of trucking school, then started working for Art Pape in January 1993 as a company driver,” he says. Smith remains with Art Pape Transfer, where he has been an owner-operator since 1994.
Over his 27-year trucking career, Smith has compiled more than 3 million accident- and violation-free miles. He attributes much of his safety to keeping a good following distance and watching out for other drivers, giving him more time to react.
As for avoiding violations, Smith works to keep his truck in good shape mechanically and otherwise, not giving law enforcement a reason to pull him over for more inspections.
“Being a flatbedder, inspectors are really looking at load securement and all of that, so I make sure my chains and straps are in good shape and that I have enough,” he says.
Smith mostly runs in the Midwest with his 2016 Freightliner Coronado, but occasionally goes as far west as Colorado and to the east, Baltimore.
His success as an owner-operator, he says, stems from making wise financial decisions for his business and personal life. As much as he would like to have a decked-out show truck, he knows he has to keep an emergency fund for anytime he is out of work or has an unexpected repair.
“You want to live below your means,” he says. “As owner-operators, we aren’t paid for a breakdown or illness. Having money set aside to make your truck and insurance payments is important.”