Third generation businesses are not only remarkable, involving plenty of history, but are also only accomplished if each generation strives to continue building on the legacy and dreams of their ancestors, and their own, as well. And these days, that is a tall order – and getting “taller” by the year. Such is the case for JT Mercier of Washington, GA. As a third-generation trucker, with a sharp black Kenworth, this young man is working hard to build his dreams on the legacy of previous generations.
I first saw JT’s truck in February last year at the 2019 Shine in the Pines Truck Show in Dublin, GA when he spoke about his truck, along with a group he started called Largecar Life. Largecar Life was started in May of 2018 as a way for drivers to get back to where trucking once was, and to bring the past to the present. Although it has had its fair share of ups and downs with moving forward, the basis of it has remained the same – to build a brotherhood of truckers that are there to support one another and help each other out when needed.
At the time of the 2019 show, I still resided in the state of Missouri, so trying to coordinate shooting this truck was almost impossible, until I moved to Georgia last year. Thankfully, I had the chance to make a trip up to Washington, GA this past January to visit with JT and his family and photograph his truck. As the first city in the nation to be named after George Washington, Washington, Georgia is a quaint older area that is as hospitable as it is historic.
The town of Washington, GA was originally called Heard’s Fort, which was a stockade built around 1774, and it also served as the state’s early capital. Washington is where the Confederate government essentially disbanded on May 5, 1865, after the Civil War ended, and where the final distribution of the Confederate Treasury was made (with some of the gold still unaccounted for). Located in Wilkes County, Washington has the most antebellum per capita than any other city in the United States (the elegant mansions and plantation homes built approximately 30 years prior to the American Civil War). In short, it is a beautiful and historical place, and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit there.
Growing up in Lincolnton, GA with a close-knit family, trucking was always a big part of JT’s life, from the time when he was little to today, at 33 years old. His grandfather Ollie was the first to start driving around 1954, then JT’s father, John, started driving in 1984, eventually forming his own trucking company called Mercier Trucking Co. out of Lincolnton, GA. Later, in 1996, Ollie actually began driving for his son John at this company he founded.
As most multi-generational truck drivers recall, there were always those special trucks which usually started the love of trucking and began the flow of diesel in their veins. For JT, it was a 1984 Peterbilt cabover where many of his childhood trucking memories came from. He attended public school until he finished the 8th grade, and then he began being home schooled. Graduating a year early in 2001, there were no official summer breaks for JT since he was being home schooled, except for the time off to ride along with his dad in the truck.
One of JT’s favorite memories, riding with his dad, was when he was around 12 years old and went along with him to a mill to load wood chips. The mill was broken down, so there was this big group of drivers, just outside their trucks, talking and cutting up, until the mill was operating again. With all the drivers leaving the mill at the same time, the CB was never quiet, because there was a convoy of trucks running together. JT thought that was pretty cool.
Even though he had always wanted to be a truck driver, just like his father and grandfather, JT’s dad wanted better for him and wanted him to consider other options besides trucking. As much as he wanted to get into trucking, JT went to school to be an auto mechanic and, after graduating, worked as a mechanic for many years. Throughout those years, he married his wonderful wife April in 2008, they moved to Washington, GA, and together started their family, which now includes their 10-year-old daughter Harmonee and 6-year-old son Jax.
In September 2014, it was time for JT to finally do what he wanted to do all along – get his CDL and start trucking. As most starting out know, it is one thing to get your CDL, but it is another to find a company willing to hire you with no experience, which is pretty difficult to do. And that is not the only hurdle, as most insurance companies and banks don’t try to help new businesses, either. So, JT started on with his dad, running team for Mercier Trucking in a 1999 Kenworth. In 2015, JT moved on to drive solo for Mar-leta Farms out of Washington, GA for a year and a half, running local in the area. When it came time for JT to purchase his own truck in February of 2017, it really didn’t make sense for him to leave his dad’s company, so he stayed there. Plus, he enjoyed working with his dad, who drives a Peterbilt, these days.
The rig featured here is JT’s 2005 Kenworth W900L with a CAT C15 Acert under the hood, a 10-speed, 3:36 rears and a 265” wheelbase. The KW also sports a 20” Valley Chrome blind mount bumper, RLK Services bowtie visor, a custom rear light bar made by Cowboy, 6” stacks, United Pacific quarter fenders and a custom tune by Will Hege.
Even though the truck may appear basic, it has details which make it stand out from others, including the fact that JT is meticulous about keeping his black KW clean, both inside and out. Typically hooked to a 2007 Reitnouer Maximizer flatbed trailer loaded with lumber or equipment, JT usually runs in and around the east and southeast regions.
What is so special about this truck? Those who only have one truck view their truck as part of the family, and with that is an understanding that it also feeds their family, so their level of pride in the work they do, as well as the appearance of their truck, is important. This is the case with JT and his KW, as it is considered to be part of the family, a special part, that helps the entire family to not only survive, but thrive.
You might notice the firefighter’s shield displayed on the sides of the hood. This is something dear to JT’s heart, as he followed in his father’s footsteps and not only went into trucking but was also a firefighter. Due to trucking being so time-consuming and not allowing him to make the fire drills, he wasn’t able to continue as a firefighter, but he loved it. He was part of the department from 2011 to 2015 and remains certified today.
When JT’s truck was taken to get the lettering done, his dad surprised him and had the Maltese cross put on the sides of the hood with the truck number on them to incorporate JT’s firefighting history on the truck. JT also removed the shield from his firefighter’s helmet and placed it in the passenger-side window, sitting on the arm rest, to further honor his firefighting heritage and support his friends still serving the community.
One of JT’s fondest memories during his trucking years so far was when he ran to Cleburne, TX with his daughter during the 4th of July holiday, which was the furthest west he had ever driven, and having the opportunity to watch the fireworks. Another was when his son went with him to Oklahoma City to move some stuff out there for one of his friends, Tony Rizzi, and they got the opportunity to hang out with him and “Daddy Dave” from Street Outlaws. And even though JT drives a Kenworth, in his heart he is a Freightliner guy, as he reminisced a lot with me about the 1994 Freightliner FLD his father had.
Special thanks to Burt Lumber Company of Washington, GA for the opportunity to photograph JT getting loaded, Tom Calloway of Washington, GA for the use of his property to shoot the truck on a beautiful sunny day, and to the Mercier family for their kindness, great conversation and hospitality during my stay. My only regret is that I was unable to take this trip sooner, as the Mercier family lost Ollie in July 2019.
The state of Georgia has many hidden gems and reasons why I love it here, but by far one of the best reasons is the good-looking trucks which reside here and the awesome drivers out there building their dreams. As always, to all the drivers out there doing the deal, keep America moving and truck safe.