This month, as I do every year in November, I want to remember my dear friend Bette Garber – I can’t believe that it has been five years since I lost my friend and trucking lost such a great ambassador for the industry. I’m sure that Bette would have loved to interview and shoot these young drivers that I am featuring this month as much as I did. Bette, this one is for you!
I’ve written a lot about the veteran drivers who have been out here for a long time, but this month I am focusing on some youngsters that are just getting started in the business – the “young guns” of trucking. All five of these men have a passion for the profession and pride in the trucks they drive way beyond their years. All of them got their CDL when they were 18, and even though they are young, they all want to run “old school” and cool. It will never be like it was back in the good old days, but they are trying to get as close as possible – and still stay out of trouble.
I recently met Brandon Jones from Taylorville, IL and he was happy to show me his clean 2004 Peterbilt 379 and 2012 Wilson hopper he drives for Copeland Trucking out of Palmer, IL – his truck is the one in the fleet with all the lights! He also takes care of keeping them all on, because it’s not cool to have one out. At 22 Brandon couldn’t have started his career any younger. His mom Lisa told me that he used to ride in the truck in his car seat. Lisa has her CDL and drove some, but she prefers her dispatch job at ADM in Decatur, IL. The day I got to stop in Taylorville to meet Brandon and some of the other guys I got to meet his mom Lisa, and you could see the pride in her face when she talked about Brandon. She has every right to be proud of this young man – I do not know very many kids today that will tell everyone that their mom is their best friend!
Communicating with Brandon a lot through Facebook, I have told him on more than one occasion that he is wise beyond his years – the observations this “kid” makes about people and conditions out there sounds like a driver who has been on the road for 30 years. Brandon will turn 23 on November 13th (Happy Birthday) and he has a little girl due on December 3rd. Her name is top-secret until the day she arrives!
My next “young gun” also drives for Copeland Trucking – Jr. Thompson. Living on the farm, Jr. grew up around trucks. He got his CDL so he could haul grain from the farm at 18. He told me that his mom has a book he made when he was in second grade and in that book he wrote that he wanted to be a truck driver. It’s a family thing – Jr. owned a 2003 Pete 379 with a 550 Cat and was leased to his grandpa “Puffy” Matluas before he sold the truck to his father. Now, Jr. drives a 2001 Peterbilt 379 and pulls a 2013 Kruz 53’ spread-axle flat for Aaron Copeland, owner of Copeland Trucking. Both Jr. and Brandon said that Aaron is a great boss – he has 22 trucks and does most of the work on them himself. It’s hard to get some experience when you are young, but these guys are showing their boss that not only can they do the job, but they can take good care of his equipment, as well.
Travis Montgomery had to get his CDL when he was 18 so he could take the trucks he worked on out for test drives. He wrenched on trucks for almost two years, and that experience can only help him as a driver. Travis drove for a farmer hauling grain locally for a while but he wanted to go farther. Now, he is driving a 2007 Peterbilt 379 and pulling a 2009 Timpte hopper for Bill Knierim of Knierim Trucking in Lerna, IL. Travis’ dad Jeff was a driver for 22 years, and Travis would ride with him whenever he could. While Travis has only been driving OTR for a little over two years now, he takes his job seriously – and you can see the pride he has in his truck.
My next “young gun” driver is Josh Phegley, who is 24 years old. Like most of the other “young guns” mentioned here, Josh got his CDL when he was 18 so he could haul grain out of the bins at the farm, but shortly thereafter he moved from Illinois to Texas to work on the oil rigs. After being there for just a short while, he was promoted to supervisor, a job that came with many responsibilities. With the added pressure of those huge responsibilities, Josh found himself in the hospital suffering from severe stress, which could have eventually caused him some major heart problems. Not wanting that to happen, Josh moved back home to Illinois to pursue a trucking career.
After passing the test for a hazmat endorsement, Josh’s grandpa told him to stop by Jones Trucking in Stewardson, IL to pick up some paperwork for him. It was a set-up, because when Josh got there, they had an application waiting for him to fill out. And, as they say, the rest is history. Josh thinks it’s pretty cool to get to work with his grandpa. Driving a 2003 International with a 400 Cummins, Josh pulls an oil tanker in the summer delivering hot oil and, in the spring and fall, he delivers anhydrous ammonia.
Josh met Travis while they were pulling hopper bottoms, and now these four young drivers hang out together and are all Facebook friends, where they post plenty of pictures of their adventures on the road. I want to thank all of them for taking the time on a Saturday to let me take the pictures of them and their trucks. Thanks for lunch, too – and a great time talking trucks!
My last “young gun” was referred to me by fellow 10-4 photographer and writer Troy Miller. Troy met Robert Campbell, Jr. at the truck show in Salt Lake City this summer and was pretty impressed. At only 23 years old, he owns his own cool truck – a 1986 “Sexy Red” and black 359 Pete with a 3406B Cat. Robert told me that he is a “young cat” with an old-school truck. Robert’s dad was a driver until cancer forced him off the road. At the time I talked to Robert, his dad was in San Diego, and with the help of chemo and good friends, he is doing better. Robert used to pull belly dumps, but now he pulls a cow trailer, and loves it! Running from California to Nebraska, Robert works hard every day to help his dad live comfortably and worry-free while kicking cancer’s ass!
Talking with these young men made me remember the days back when I got started. When Brandon told me that he was the “baby” of the bunch, I told him to enjoy it, because before he knows it he will be the old man talking to the new drivers who are just getting into the business. These young men are special, not just because of their age, but because of their attitude and commitment to trucking, which is pretty rare these days, especially in this industry. As the aging generations from the good old days retire, someone has to step up and keep the traditions alive – and these “young guns” just might be the guys to do it!