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Catching up with former Road King cover subjects

By on September 9, 2015

In honor of National Truck Driver Appreciation Week, Road King revisits three drivers who have graced our cover in the past. All still strongly believe in the importance and value of trucking. Two extend their knowledge and enthusiasm for the job to the next generation of drivers. The third honors the connection between driver and truck that is a key to a successful career on the road.

Training Days

With her gift of gab, driver-trainer Christine Stratton puts careers in motion

Christine Stratton has all the makings of a great late-night talk show host — she’s clever, funny and always in command of her audience: the next generation of truck drivers. When she offers her trademark bits of wisdom, she does so with a smile.

“I’m just this beach person from southern California. I’m pretty laid-back,” says the Prime, Inc. driver-trainer. “I’ll When you live on a truck with someone for 30 days, you get to know them better than you know your neighbor.”

That exuberance and good-natured charm helps her mentor new drivers experiencing growing pains. Her skill in bringing troubled learners into the trucking fold landed her on the cover of Road King in 2010. The story, “Next in Line,” touched on the tensions between rookie drivers and veterans, and since then, she has noticed an even greater divide between generations.

“It’s really like two different worlds,” she says. “The younger drivers think that some of the more experienced drivers are intimidating. In the past, drivers were on their own and they had to be independent. Some of the drivers will think, ‘Why should I help out those rookies?’ Everyone was raised differently, so they think differently.”

Sometimes that tension makes the learning process difficult, but rookies who had a hard time with other trainers find Stratton is accomplished yet accessible enough to ease their concerns and answer their questions. As she gets to know them, she has learned that many have troubled backgrounds. When they hop up into the passenger seat, they see trucking as a ticket to a better life.

“Trucking is kind of like boot camp,” she says. “You’re forced to face the fire, but you walk out with greater confidence. They learn that you don’t have to go to a four-year college or come from a well-off family to have a successful career.”

Wave of the future

Catching-up-with-former-Road-King-cover-subjectsEvery good teacher knows that they must keep learning also. Like many drivers of her generation, Stratton had been hesitant about using the latest technology, but she picked up a lot from her young charges and now embraces it.

“The phones today are phenomenal,” she says. “I use the weather apps a lot to check for storms and Google Maps, too. You used to have to pull out a laptop and hope you had reception. It just blows me away.”

New drivers have also shown Stratton the wonders of social media.

“Facebook has been a lifesaver,” she says. “We’re always in communication with each other. If you get a notification from one of the drivers, you know how to move forward. It’s fun to share photos and updates from all the little towns you’re traveling to. Most people have always wondered what a truck driver sees — and I’m excited to share it with them.” — Blake Boldt

Millions of Miles

Bill Donnelly and his truck spent more than 30 years on the road together

Millions-of-Miles2There was a for sale sign in the window. But one would have to look closely to find it. After all, a 6-inch-by- 9-inch sign tucked into the side window of a semi-truck parked behind a house next to a garage in a tiny Illinois town of maybe 1,600 people isn’t exactly the best way to make a sale.

I think that was by design. Dad never really wanted to sell his 1980 Kenworth. The May/June 2008 issue of Road King included my story on “This Old Truck,” and my dad’s devotion to it. At the time, he was still going strong in the driver’s seat of the long-nose W900, purchased new from a Kenworth dealership 20 minutes from our house in Michigan.

My dad, Bill Donnelly, will be 77 on December 5. His last run was an uneventful, 426-mile round trip from Effingham to Chicago, capping more than 4 million coast-to-coast driving miles, mostly on that one truck. The Kenworth stayed nestled next to his garage for 20 more months, only a few feet from where he would eat and sleep. Since buying it, the truck never was too far from his sight.

He had a simple reason for not selling that old truck immediately once his driving days were over.

“Because,” he says. “It’s mine.”

Not ready to be retired

Millions-of-MilesThe Kenworth was more than a cab, a couple of seats and a sleeper; it was home. He ate there and slept there for 33 years on the road. It was a best friend. It was never just a vehicle. It was his life, cherished and loved it. The engine was all of his toys, wrapped under one extended hood. Trailers, companies and bosses came and went. The truck remained. How could he not still call it “mine”?

Then, about a year ago, the town he lives in sent him a notice that the Kenworth couldn’t be parked in his yard. A buyer stepped forward. It’s in the hands of a guy in Toledo, Ohio, who intends to restore it to its original 1980s look. That means removing the sleeper my dad custom built and making a few other cosmetic changes, including a new paint job. Dad visited the truck once since the transfer of ownership, but no more.

“It’s too emotional,” he says.

From 1967 to 2013, my dad owned the road. Or, as they say, it owned him. Either way, his legacy will forever be that 1980 Kenworth. I called him on Father’s Day this year. I asked why he never traded in the Kenworth.

“I was comfortable in that truck,” he said. “I knew more about it than anyone else. It was a part of me.”

“That will always be my truck.” —Doug Donnelly

Strength Trainer

Maurice Blair helps drivers build their self-confidence as well as their bodies

Strength-Trainer2Few people talked about driver health in 1998, but most knew that the job could easily lead to weight gain. Maurice Blair managed to avoid that, and is still proud of the fact that he drove a truck for 17 years without developing the common problem of “trucker’s gut.”

“I was hauling oversize loads, and could only run in daylight hours, so in the evenings I would find a gym where I could work out,” he recalls. “I ate in truckstops every day. You order the right food, high in fiber and protein, and watch portions.”

He shared his methods for staying in good condition as an over-the-road driver in the Road King story, “Truckin’ Muscle.” Though he came off the road soon after the article appeared, he never stopped motivating drivers. He started holding workshops for truckers on fitness and self-esteem, which morphed into a career as a motivational speaker. He just wrote a book about his philosophy of Life Enrichment And Development (LEAD), called Let Us All Lead. Today, he regularly works with trucking companies to help drivers get in shape.

Changing perspective

“I know firsthand that when you feel good, you perform better,” he says. “A trucker’s time is limited, so I tell them how and where they can work exercise into their day. But in training them to take care of their bodies, you need to start with their minds.”

Strength-TrainerBlair has repeatedly seen men and women in his workshops who meander through their days without purpose. He urges them to think big and helps them develop a positive attitude about all aspects of the job. He wants drivers to make the commitment to stay in good physical shape, and apply that same discipline to other parts of their life. For some that means plotting out a course so that they can eventually work as an owner-operator. Others might look to management roles in the company.

He helps them see that their experience can open the door to any number of options within the industry.

His own career grew out of trucking in ways that he couldn’t have imagined.

“I am who I am because of trucking,” he says. “When I first started driving, I was kind of an introvert. I was quiet and shy, but meeting people on the road took that out of me. Traveling and seeing different cultures broadened my perspective. I learned to network. And when I would see others who suffered with low self-esteem, I knew that I could reach out and help them.” — Nancy Henderson

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