Not all of us will be able to drive a truck, but that doesn’t mean that those who can’t don’t love them just as much as those of us who can. Just north of Los Angeles in the high desert, a very special family lives in Hesperia, CA. James Hernandez lives there with his mother, Norma Waigandt, and his two brothers, Steve and Scott. Over the years, James has enjoyed ready-mix concrete trucks – he loves to draw them, photograph them, has models of them, and is always on the lookout for them when out on the road with his mom. He has also befriended many folks at some nearby concrete plants, and frequently talks with them about the business of transporting cement loads. Having Down syndrome, James (38) can’t drive a cement truck, but he sure does love them – and his love is contagious.
When James’ mother Norma was 50 and her three natural sons, Mark, Larry and Gerald, were grown and left home, she got very lonely. Her husband Alexander did not want her to work outside the home, so she did something exceptional to fill the empty nest void. Inspired by a friend who was taking care of developmentally-handicapped kids, Norma enrolled in college (at 50) and took the courses she needed to be able to care for children with Down syndrome. Working with these amazing and special kids, Norma found her second family.
When Norma was 72 she decided to retire. After taking care of the boys for well over 20 years, to keep everyone together, she and her husband decided to adopt them. James came into their lives when he was only nine years old, so they have been a “family” for many years. Norma loves being a mother. Now 79 years old, her three adopted sons, James, Steve and Scott, have kept her young, saying, “They are always happy.” When James first came to Norma and her husband, they lived in Ontario, CA near a ready-mix plant – this is where James’ love of cement mixers took hold. James’ brother Steve loves ambulances (he rode in a lot of them when he was little) and fire trucks, while his other brother Mark loves the semi-trucks.
As a little boy, James kept seeing the trucks going back and forth to the plant near his home. Eventually, these trucks became his hobby, as he would count the trucks all day – he even has kept charts of the trucks he has seen for years. The way James sees it, if the cement trucks are running, the drivers are working, and that means business is good! Whenever he goes for a ride with his mom, he always takes paper and a pencil with him to keep track of how many trucks he sees. When talking to James, I could hear in his voice the love this man has for these trucks.
Over the years, James has learned a lot about cement trucks by asking lots of questions about how they work and all of the things that they help to build. We use cement for lots of important things – like foundations for buildings, curbing for decoration or water runoff, sidewalks and parking lots, just to name a few. When they load a cement truck, they have to keep the drum turning so the concrete doesn’t set up before it gets to the job site and poured. If something happens and the truck can’t get to the job site to pour the load and it sets up, there is major work ahead to get it chiseled out. To unload the concrete, the drum is turned in the opposite direction and the concrete is sent out the back, down the chute, to the place it is to be poured.
The drivers have to be very careful when they get to a busy job site. Before backing up to the spot where they are to pour, they must first get out of their truck and look to make sure there are no hazards in the way. Once the truck is in position, the pour can begin. If the job is too far away for the truck to get close enough, they have to call in a pumper, which pumps the concrete through a hose to the pour location. If the location of the pour is high or really far, the driver will have to call for a special truck with an articulating boom to unload – some of these booms can extend as far as 58 meters (190 feet) or more.
I talked with Lori Clifton with Hi-Grade Materials in Hesperia, CA. Lori, who has been communicating with James for over eight years, told me that James gets really excited when he gets the opportunity to visit the plant. They are working on setting up a ride in one of their trucks, and James is really excited about the opportunity. Lori told me that James sends them a camera and they are happy to send it out with their “people” who fill it with the pictures that James requests – he has asked for the camera they have right now to be filled with shots of pumpers. When the camera is full, they send it back to James so he can get the prints developed. We want to thank Lori for sending Stefan Reber to help us get the picture of James and his mom – Stefan is in Quality Control, and he helps take pictures for James on a regular basis, too.
Bill Forrest, who is the manager at Robertson’s Ready Mix in Hesperia, CA, told me that he has been talking to James for 15 years and that James has visited their plant, too. Bill is happy to send James t-shirts, hats, calendar and cups. He told me that they usually talk about three times a week. He also gets cameras from James to take photos and then return, which he gladly does. Robertson’s Ready Mix is the biggest family-developed concrete company in southern California, with 1,000 mixers divided between 48 locations!
John Koch, who is the manager at National Ready Mix Concrete Company in Moorpark, CA, told me that James just called him “out of the blue” last November and that they have been talking regularly ever since. After sending James shirts and things like accident forms and mechanic forms, John got a camera from James and the request to take pictures and send the camera back. Like everyone else, John was more than happy to do it! They have not been able to meet in person yet, but who knows, it might just happen one day.
Dan Ritezer is the Fleet Safety Manager at Superior Ready Mix in Escondido, CA. Dan told me that his introduction to James was a call out of the blue about two years ago. His friendship with James started that day, and I think it would be safe to say that Dan was “touched by an angel” the day James introduced himself. Dan said that when you get a call from James, you always know that it will be a happy call. James is a good thing that came into his life for a reason. Dan was so impressed when he saw a picture of James holding one of his model cement mixers, that he carefully bubble-wrapped his own prized, hand-painted mixer, and sent it to James. This hand-painted wooden model was a treasure he had received from another employee and he never thought he could give it away – until he met James. When James received it, he called to say thank you and to tell Dan how much having the model meant to him – at that point, Dan knew that the mixer was in the right place.
Who knew that loving cement trucks could spark so much positive and uplifting activities? And it all started with James’ amazing mom and her commitment to James and his brothers. James is touching so many other lives with his simple love for cement mixers. Some of the pictures he gets from the cameras he sends out and has made into puzzles. Then, he puts them together and has them framed so he can give them out as gifts for Christmas, birthdays, or a “thank you” if someone has helped him. Talking to James for this story, I have found out what a kind and thoughtful man he is when it comes to his friends.
The cement trucks James loves the most are the ones with brightly-colored lettering on the drums – he loves to draw these trucks the most. On the ones with blank drums, he sometimes will draw a special, personal message for the person he plans on sending it to. Some of his messages include Thank You, Happy Birthday, Friend, and God Bless You. He is happy to send gifts to his friends for a variety of occasions.
Helping advertise for the people who are his friends, James has several of his mixer drawings hanging in local businesses around his town. Hi-Grade Materials, Robertson’s Ready Mix, Stater Bros. Supermarket, Walgreens, his dentist and doctor’s offices, and many drive-in food places are just a few of the locations where James’ colorful artwork is on display. When people see his work, they want it in their businesses, too. It sounds like James is pretty well-known around his town! If he could drive, he has been told by many that they would hire him in a minute!!
James will never be a driver, but the trucking industry is still benefiting from his commitment and happy attitude. He is currently trying to find a model of a big cement truck that he could put together. He hasn’t had any luck yet, but I am sure that he will keep looking until he finds one. If any readers out there can help, please contact me through 10-4 Magazine at (714) 378-9990.
With the support of his mom and dad, James has been able to pursue his passion of cement trucks for nearly 30 years, and he has touched so many lives along the way. I am grateful that he has touched mine now, too. How many of us wish we could be happy every day? It sounds so easy, but it is not always as easy as it sounds. Or, is it? I urge you to get to know a person like James – you will not regret it – and you, too, will be touched by an angel.