Sometimes it isn’t where you were born that becomes home. Sometimes it takes a bit of moving around to finally find a place to call home where you can put down some roots. David McKinney, owner of McKinney and Sons Transfer LLC out of Lexington, AL did just that. This is the story of David, his family and their other child, Bertha – a Peterbilt 379 that was a mainstay in their early years. Sometimes it isn’t where the road leads you, but the transportation along the way. With a purchase of a truck and the will to make the company thrive, David was left with “believing in Bertha” and seeing his dream become a reality.
David McKinney was born in the beautiful coastal town of Ventura, CA on September 24, 1974. The family remained there until David was 14 years old, and then moved to Oklahoma. A few years later, they moved to Alabama just before David’s 16th birthday. David started dating his wife Connie at age 19 and they were married on June 12, 1999. Together, they have two sons – Dalton (26) and Dillon “Dill” (19).
David started driving at age 21 after taking a six-week course at Bevill State Community College in Hamilton, AL. During that time, there was no other way to get your CDL unless you went to driving school or went to work for a large company. He went into trucking because he wanted to make money. In his area, at the time, if you wanted to make a good living, you drove truck. His mother had a hand in his learning to drive, too, as she drove truck, as well. Trucking was in his family, which included his parents, his brother John, cousins Bob and Lee Riley, and his aunt and uncle Lenard and Jenny, who drove as a team.
When David first started driving, he hauled a lot of dangerous loads. The older drivers at the company laughed at his struggles and wouldn’t offer any knowledge or assistance. There were, however, two drivers which were the exception – Ricky “Outlaw” Chapman and Gerald “Handyman” Thigpen. These two drivers taught David the ins and outs of what had to be done and how to do it right. Today, since 2014, Gerald drives for David and Ricky has drove for David off and on for the last 20 years. Seeing these three guys together is very comical, as they are always rattling each other’s cages, all in good fun, of course.
Bertha, a 1994 Peterbilt 379, was purchased in December of 2002. She boasts a 425 CAT 3406B with a 15 over transmission, 3:90 gear ratio and a 260” wheelbase. Although it can be difficult to see, depending on the light, the truck and fenders are actually two different shades of blue. The truck also sports 7” Dynaflex stacks and WTI rear fenders.
Bertha was the third truck David bought after some bad luck with the first two trucks he had. David was solely an owner operator until 2011 when he started to grow his company. McKinney and Sons Transfer was formed in 2001 and they got their own authority in 2012 and became McKinney and Sons Transfer LLC. How did Bertha get her name? David’s grandma’s name was Bertha Louise and she was a big, tall, sturdy, hard-working woman who didn’t take any crap from anyone. Grandma was known as “Granny Louise” but the truck took on her namesake.
David stated that Bertha retired after earning her keep and will never leave the family. She is the best truck he has ever owned, and if it ever came down to him owning just one truck again, she would be brought out of retirement and would again continue to feed the family, as she has done many years previously.
David and Connie have always said, “When we have this truck paid for, we will park it in the back yard and plant flowers in the 5th wheel.” After Bertha was in a wreck with one of their drivers on November 16, 2016, the most recent body work and paint was completed by Peterbilt of Nashville, and then it was put on display out in their showroom. Although Bertha is retired, plans haven’t been made to plant any flowers, but she is enjoying an easy life these days.
A few special thanks from the McKinney’s goes to Sims Bark for their working relationship, which has thrived through the years, as they have been a constant customer since the beginning. Thanks also go out to Arnold’s Truck Stop in Tuscumbia, AL for their patience and understanding, in the early years, when money was tight, which came full circle with David’s company being loyal to fueling at this truck stop, regardless of the cost of fuel. Like David said, never forget where you came from, because it is the people that stood by you during the tough times who deserve for you to stand by them during the good times. Also, thanks to Tri-City Truck Parts in Muscle Shoals, AL and Keven McLaughlin of M&M Truck Repair out of Killen, AL.
Today, McKinney and Sons Transfer LLC owns 10 trucks, with Bertha being the retired one. David runs the company wearing whatever hat he needs to on any given day, and Connie runs the office, with Dalton taking care of dispatch and Dill running the shop and taking care of truck maintenance. Dill also recently obtained his CDL in May 2019.
Bertha came home from her latest restoration the day I came to town in July of this year. I saw the emotion in David’s face when he looked at Bertha. It was a surreal moment to witness how meaningful this truck is to David – I could almost see the flashbacks he was having. I am humbled to call David and Connie my friends and look up to them for never giving up on their dreams and never forgetting where they started.
Thank you to David and Connie for opening their home and giving me the opportunity to visit and photograph Bertha. The locations we found were within the area they live, and all seemed to be appropriate locations to position Bertha for photos. We had some great weather, laughs and fun, including a kayaking trip we managed to fit in.
“Believing in Bertha” isn’t just about putting faith into a truck, but believing in a dream, which required a solid work ethic and the goal of making a life one can be proud of. Kudos to the McKinneys for accomplishing this goal. As always, to all the drivers out there doing the deal, truck safe.