Trucker Talent Search winner Mandi Jo Pinheiro captures ‘Heartbeat’ of trucking

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Updated Nov 23, 2018

In her 37 years, two of Mandi Jo Pinheiro’s biggest loves have been trucking and music. The influencers in both areas have been many, but one musical mentor stands out: her father, Roger Brown.

That influence paid off as music and trucking converged for Pinheiro in August. That’s when she won the fifth annual Overdrive-Red Eye Radio Trucker Talent Search in Dallas.

The team-driving owner-operator, based in Twin Falls, Idaho, says as much as she loves writing songs, playing the guitar and singing, she doesn’t consider herself to be a natural on stage, so she was a bit surprised to win.

“This was a big fear of mine — playing for a crowd,” she says. “Now, I’ve done it. Besides the obvious feelings of happy and honored, I feel very proud of myself and a bit more courageous.”

In addition to a paid trip to GATS and a $1,000 prize, Pinheiro won a studio recording session. “I plan on taking Dad with me to the session,” she says.

Pinheiro says she did not start playing the guitar until her late 20s, after getting her first one as a birthday gift from her mother. “It sat for two years before I finally learned to play,” she says. “My dad taught me to play. I’ll be learning that thing forever.”

Mandi Jo Pinheiro’s Chihuahua, Avi, rides along on hauls. “She’s meaner than hell,” Pinheiro says.Mandi Jo Pinheiro’s Chihuahua, Avi, rides along on hauls. “She’s meaner than hell,” Pinheiro says.

Pinheiro has long been one of her dad’s biggest fans. “He is among the incredibly talented, undiscovered musicians around the world, the folks that just play for the love of playing. But he’s great, and I just thought that it would be fun to get some recording done with him, something for me to carry with me the rest of my days.”

She draws inspiration from all sorts of artists, particularly “trucker musicians such as ‘Long Haul Paul’ [Marhoefer], Ken Freeman, Tony Justice, Bill Weaver and Taylor Barker. They set the tone for how life is for me right now and dominate my playlist.”

Pinheiro first rode in a truck around age 11. “My best friend and I rode in her uncle’s truck from Twin Falls, Idaho, to maybe Helena or Butte, Montana.” While “it left an impression,” she says, “I didn’t actually have the idea to be a truck driver until I was working in admin and I was super jealous of the UPS guy. Then I just started daydreaming about being the UPS driver. At that point, I never thought I could. They must get so cold delivering in the winter! One thing cooler would be to be a truck driver.”

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Soon after high school, she relocated to Uruapan Michoacan, Mexico. “I fell in love with a dude that was from there,” she says. They went to Mexico, planning to get married. The wedding got delayed, and they moved back to Idaho, where the relationship fizzled out. Pinheiro learned a lot in Mexico, such as some conversational Spanish and how to wash and dry clothes properly without machines. More importantly, it led her to get a one-time job four years later: “I helped haul a pickup down on a flatbed hauled by another pickup.”

When she was 24, that job helped her get on with an Idaho-based company looking for experienced drivers. “I shuttled personal vehicles up and down the Salmon River for a summer,” she says.

After that, she signed on with Boise, Idaho’s Action Couriers, still driving a small van before upgrading to a larger Freightliner van. Action, then a mom-and- pop company, soon expanded into a large fleet.

“I delivered medication to the homes of hospice patients, transported blood from Red Cross blood drives and hospitals, delivered meds to pharmacies once making the move back home to Twin Falls, and tendered human specimens to airports to make their trips to various labs.”

By this point, “I was almost 30 and really tired of being single. I had gotten on a couple of dating sites and had bad experiences with them. So I got on Facebook, and if someone looked interesting, I would friend them.”

William and Mandi Jo Pinheiro got married on their trailer Sept. 14, 2013.William and Mandi Jo Pinheiro got married on their trailer Sept. 14, 2013.

That’s where she ran across William Pinheiro. “I saw that he was a little older than me, I saw he was a Christian and really good-looking, so I friended him. About a week later, he accepted.”

They messaged back and forth. She already had a good feeling about him before meeting in person.

“Somewhere in the messages, he told me he was a truck driver,” she says. “I knew I wanted to marry one, and I knew I wanted to drive truck with somebody. That was my life’s goal. When he told me, I screamed out loud. I knew I was going to marry him at that point.”

William says he soon learned about Mandi Jo’s musical talent. “The first time I came into her house, I saw all the guitars on the walls. She wrote me a song called ‘My Heart Has 18 Rolling Wheels,’ about driving truck and the sound of the gears.”

He also had seen a post on Facebook from her stepdad, Art Hoag, referring to her informal performances. “I guess she was kind of known as the local troubadour, because she had these metal rocking chairs out on her porch, made of old 1930-’40s steel, and she would sit out there in the evening times and play her guitar, watching traffic go by,” he says. “This was long before I came along.”

William and Mandi Jo were married in 2013 on the bed of the Doonan trailer they had purchased together the previous year with a 2005 Pete 379. “The truck and trailer were decorated in daisies and roses with purple accents,” she says.

Once the reception began winding down, Pinheiro brought out her guitar and performed a song she wrote for William while the remaining guests sat around a campfire.

William, who has more than 30 years’ experience as a truck driver, leased on with Pittsburgh based American Transport once the couple bought the 1995 Pete.

Though it was great to have their own equipment ready for teaming as independent owner operators, she still didn’t have her CDL. “I also made the decision that we wouldn’t go for our own authority till we had the truck and trailer paid off.”

Once she got her CDL in 2015, Pinheiro switched roles at Action Courier to where she occasionally drove the company’s linehaul from Twin Falls to Boise “when the other guy wanted days off,” she says. “I loved that job and worked for the company for almost 10 years. I left the benefits and great people to haul whey, of all things. I hauled a tanker from a local yogurt plant to dairies and whey ponds around the valley. I did that for about a year.”

Pinheiro and William finished paying off their equipment and then set out to get their own authority. The completed the process without having to pay for a service to help them.

Running independently as Charleston Transport, they have a lot of freedom in their schedules. Booking through a load board, they haul stepdeck freight, even oversized loads.

“William and I, despite our ever-so-modern initial connection, work very well together as a team — something you can only hope for when you go into such a line of work together. Some days are not as great as others, but we just keep on truckin’. I adore him and this little rolling existence we have.”

Their lifestyle includes Avi, a 12-yearold Chihuahua. “She is the puppy of the Chihuahua I brought home from Mexico,” Pinheiro says. “Avi fools people with her adorable looks, but she won’t hesitate to take a chunk of your ankle.”

Also part of their life on the road is Pinheiro’s music. Because “a regular guitar takes so much space in the truck,” William says, he gave her a Jam Stick, a wireless stringed fretboard that plays varied sounds through a smartphone. “She hasn’t [warmed] up to it, because it doesn’t play the way she wants it to.”

William has observed her music’s evolution. “As she’s getting older, she’s realizing that death is part of life,” and that her father’s getting older. “She’s spending more time with him, playing guitar together. That’s influencing what some of her songs are about.”

But even with the little bit of attention the Trucker Talent contest has brought her, Pinheiro says, “My goal right now is to be the best driver/owner that I can be, and that is where my focus is for now.”

Independent owner-operator and singer-songwriter Mandi Jo Pinheiro performing her “Heartbeat” original song at the 2018 Overdrive-Red Eye Radio Trucker Talent Search at GATS.Independent owner-operator and singer-songwriter Mandi Jo Pinheiro performing her “Heartbeat” original song at the 2018 Overdrive-Red Eye Radio Trucker Talent Search at GATS.

‘Remembering the very best’

Mandi Jo Pinheiro’s performance of “Heartbeat,” a virtual travelogue of highways and sights familiar to over-the-road drivers, won the hearts of judges last August in the finals of the Overdrive-Red Eye Radio Trucker Talent Search.

The original song also extols the pride of the men and women who work on those roads and their need to represent the industry well. Here are two excerpts:

From the loneliest road in Nevada to Highway 1 Key West,
Rollin hearts are rollin’, remembering the very best,
Best we keep on speakin’ with strength and integrity,
To show the view out of the windshield
is much more than you and me …

From the lakes of Minnesota to the hills of Tennessee,
Loaded hearts are rollin’, loaded hearts are rollin’
From sea to shining sea.

“This song came about from getting involved with everyone who is trying to do good in the trucking industry — activists,” Pinheiro says. “I asked a bunch of them what their favorite roads to truck on are and why. And they told me, and it became a song.”

–Max Heine