Over the years I have found that truck drivers are the BEST story tellers. Our dear friend “Uncle Darrell” Hicks is one of those storytellers, and boy does he ever have some good ones to tell. Darrell started out trucking in the “conventional” way, hauling pleasure boats and other freight, but later, his trucking career took an “unconventional” turn. Darrell has been involved with the trucking industry his entire life, but only a small portion of that career actually included hauling freight in a big rig.
Darrell often says he is “just a farm boy from Michigan” and that might be true, but that farm boy has done some amazing things in his 50-year career! And for most of that time (45 years), his beautiful wife Melva has been at his side every mile of the way – and Darrell wanted to thank her for that.
It all got started when Darrell got to ride with a friend and his dad delivering trailers to dealers (the kids were dropped off before they got to the dealers so they wouldn’t know children were riding along). His first trip was to Newport News, VA while the Ohio Turnpike was still being built. The first tunnel he ever saw was on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Darrell’s next trip was to Massachusetts. On the way home, they got to travel through a portion of Ontario, Canada (between Buffalo, NY and Port Huron, MI). At that time, Darrell was 12 years old and trucks and travel had already sparked an interest in him – and it was a spark that turned into a fire.
I was fortunate to get to talk with Darrell’s older sister Ardis Meyer, and when I asked her about Darrell she told me, “He was a pain in the neck – a pest. And when he was born, he stole all my attention!” She was six and perfectly happy being an only child, but when Darrell came along, everything changed. At the Cedar Lake Academy, where Darrell attended high school, the Dudley Paper Company sold paper supplies to the school. The salesman was a happy guy who called himself “Uncle Dudley” (Darrell doesn’t even know what his real name was). Later, when he got involved with the Trucker Buddy program, Darrell started calling himself “Uncle Darrell” hoping that he could make the same kind of impact on the kids in the schools that “Uncle Dudley” had made on him.
During college, Darrell drove for a contractor working on I-96. In January of 1963, he dropped out of college to haul pleasure boats out of Michigan. A year later, Darrell was forced to make the choice between going back to college or getting drafted, so back to school he went, but he continued to haul the boats and shuttle cars to the auto auctions in Chicago part time. Somehow, Darrell managed to graduate, but he was almost late for the ceremony because he was out hauling a load. Not long after that, while driving for Easley Hauling Service out of Yakima, WA, Darrell got drafted. After the Army Induction Center in Spokane worked him over for a few weeks, they sent him home due to a spine injury he had received when he was 18.
After Melva finished her training as a registered dietician, she was recruited by Hinsdale Hospital near Chicago. It was while they were living there that Darrell became involved in Prestone Automotive Products. In 1969 he started working as a salesman and a technical trainee in engine cooling, taking advantage of all the training they made available to him. Back in those days, salesman did more than just sell – they personally visited customers about their products and/or packaging failures. He probably made a customer for life when he personally cleaned the trunk liner of a lady’s car who had experienced a package failure (you just don’t see customer service like that anymore). Part of Darrell’s job back then was also to test trucks and record all the data. Unfortunately, all those stories are still classified as “confidential” so Darrell can’t share them with us.
In 1980 Darrell attended his first TMC meeting. The ATA Technology & Maintenance Council (TMC) is a group of industry professionals who work to improve truck equipment and technology. TMC has also developed recommended practices that are used by fleet managers to specify and maintain vehicles. The council’s “industry best practices” also provide guidance to manufacturers in the design of their equipment. TMC began in 1956 when a small but select group of maintenance directors sat down with representatives from the manufacturing community to discuss truck maintenance problems. Since then, TMC has grown into an organization of more than 2,600 members with representatives from every sector of the industry, and Darrell has been very involved since joining.
In 1994 Darrell met Gary King, founder of the Trucker Buddy program, and even though Darrell wasn’t a driver at the time, he was still able to get a class (he had access to trucks and trailers that he could take to his classes). And, of course, he had plenty of stories to share with his “kids” about his travels.
Over the years, “Uncle Darrell” got very involved with Trucker Buddy, which is a nonprofit organization that matches professional drivers with elementary students to correspond with each other, and to bring the transportation industry into the classroom. Darrell was not only on the Board of Directors, but he also served as President of Trucker Buddy International for four years, and he is currently an advisor to TBI. Darrell is proud of his association with this great organization and, as he says, “We will never know just how many kids this program has and will continue to touch.”
In 1996 Darrell founded “Truck Day” at the Arkansas School for the Blind in memory of a blind friend. The students there were able to “see” the trucks and trailers for a day, and like all of the other kids in his other classrooms, Uncle Darrell realized that their favorite thing to do was to blow the horn!
Our mutual friend Paul Abelson told me that he has been following Darrell’s advice and lead since meeting him at the first TMC meeting he attended in 1984. At that meeting, Darrell pulled Paul aside and suggested that he get involved, telling him, “It’s the only way you’ll amount to something in this group, and this group is where things happen in our business.” As an industry supplier, Paul could see the wisdom in his words. At that first meeting, Paul found a friend and a mentor. His new mentor preceded him through the “honors” at TMC. Darrell became a Recognized Associate, earned a Silver Spark Plug Award in 1992, and was the second-ever recipient of TMC’s Gerri Murphy Award for his lifetime of efforts helping the TMC develop.
Following in Darrell’s big footsteps, Paul got involved beyond TMC, too. Paul said, “Darrell introduced me to Gary King after I became a writer so I could do a story on Gary’s new organization, Trucker Buddy. Through Darrell’s efforts, he and I became involved with the group, first on the Board of Advisors, then as Directors. We both expanded our horizons and got involved with NAST (National Association of Show Trucks) during its inception. Darrell always established his presence through the strength of his personality and made his mark through his wisdom and insight. Whenever I think of Uncle Darrell, the words “get involved” come to mind. It was great advice then, and it still is today.”
Now retired and living in Tulare, CA, Uncle Darrell’s last driving job was his favorite – he drove the medi van and took vets from their homes to the VA Hospital in Fresno. He said the pay was great – it was a free lunch at the hospital. His favorite passengers were always the WWII veterans. Darrell enjoyed listening to the vets, all in their 80’s, visiting with each other while on their trip to the hospital and back home. Darrell isn’t a veteran himself, but he respects and appreciates every veteran and what they do (and have done) for our country. Sadly, in January 2009, Darrell’s driving career ended when he could no longer pass the physical.
I want to thank “Uncle Darrell” for all the work he did in getting information and pictures to me for this story. I wish that we had more room for all the funny stories he shared with me. Darrell Hicks is a great man who has done great things for our industry. Darrell and Melva have two grown children – a daughter named Kirsten Ann and a son named Kristofer, and several grandchildren. To sum it all up, “Uncle Darrell” said it best – “The main goal in life is to represent Our Maker on a daily basis in such a way to help someone else in their walk.” Those are humble words from a humble man. Thank you, Darrell for all you have done. Now go and enjoy your retirement!