I believe everyone dreams of a job where they are not only paid well, but appreciated and respected. Someone can find a job, but working for a company that not only provides employment, but makes you feel like part of the family, is pretty special. Derek Bridgman (39) out of Oktaha, Oklahoma, found this at Mike Anderson Trucking LLC out of Checotah, Oklahoma, and considers this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Our featured trucker here, Derek, isn’t the typical guy who grew up in a multi-generational trucking family, but what he did have was excellent role models that taught him what it meant to work hard. Born and raised in Oklahoma, Derek has always been drawn to heavy equipment and commercial trucks. His grandfather, Jim Cameron, was one of the two men responsible for bringing him to the man he is today. His grandfather hauled watermelons with a 2.5-ton 70 model Ford truck and had Derek already behind the wheel learning the ropes around 10 years old. Jim also drove truck for a local paper mill.
When it came to driving, Grandpa Jim had Derek learn to back up the truck with a trailer, and when he became good enough with just using his mirrors, he started teaching him more. He continued learning and was eventually running the back roads, hauling tractors to the fields. At around 16 years old, Derek began employment with Jerry and Ray Metzger, who owned a sod farm. With this job came learning how to really drive a semi and increased Derek’s interest in them. Quitting this job after high school to go to college, thinking he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps with farm and ranch management, that only lasted for a semester, then he went to work.
This began Derek’s employment as a heavy equipment operator for a nursery. The boss knew he had worked at the sod farm and knew how to drive a truck, so he asked if Derek had his CDL, which he didn’t. However, Derek said if his boss could find a truck for him to take the test, he would go and get it. Two days later, he was in the seat of a semi and taking the driving test at age 18 in 2002. Trucking was just seasonal, hauling bare root trees (trees that were dug up and have no soil around their roots), from Fort Gibson to Tahlequah, and when he wasn’t trucking, he’d run equipment for the nursery.
After the nursery gig, he got on board with ODOT (Oklahoma Dept. of Transportation) for about five years, and then went to the oil field, hauling frac sand, for about the same amount of time. But Derek still hadn’t found the right home with a company until he spoke with a friend at a football game, which led him to Mike Anderson and his wife Brenda. Communication would continue for another six months until Derek began working for Mike in 2014.
Upon starting at Mike Anderson Trucking LLC, Derek began driving a black Peterbilt 379 with silver fenders that was repainted in 2016 to mimic Oklahoma State University’s (OSU) colors, which are orange and black. The idea came from the fact that Mike’s daughter attended OSU, so they wanted to build a Pistol Pete (the OSU mascot) truck. That truck is the same one you see pictured – dubbed “Poken’ Fun” – which is a 1999 Peterbilt 379 with a Caterpillar 6NZ, 18-speed transmission, 3:55 rears, and a 265-inch wheelbase.
The Peterbilt also has a stainless custom tapered 20 to 18-inch RoadWorks bumper with a 12 Ga. lift system, 8-inch Dynaflex stacks, a RoadWorks visor, six Trux Accessories Dual Revolution (red to clear) lights on the back of the sleeper, stainless Hogebuilt half fenders, and Phoenix lighting. The truck currently pulls a 2022 45-foot Transcraft Eagle custom flatbed with a forklift on the back for hauling block throughout Texas, Oklahoma, and Arkansas. A shout-out goes to Filiberto “Burrito” Muños who did an amazing job with the paint work, Thunder Grafix in Joplin, MO for the vinyl stripes, and Mike Anderson for all the prep and work on the truck.
The name “Poken’ Fun” came about as a play on words because the OSU crowd at games will yell “Go Pokes” because calling it the Pistol Pete Truck or OSU truck just wouldn’t sound right. Another meaning behind the name fits Derek’s personality, as he is one who always jokes around, laughs, and has fun. Overall, the name just fits both the theme of the truck and driver. If you look closely, the emblems on the sleeper say “Stax” which is a nickname Derek has had for a very long time. His best friend’s dad and an old drinking buddy (two men he looked up to) were sitting on the porch when Derek pulled up with his Dodge pickup, which Derek had put a stack on. His best friend’s dad said, “I knew that was you twin stacks” and, over the years, it was shorted to “Stax.”
In February of 2019, Derek began dating Laura and, together, they make a pretty great team. Derek and I talked about what it is like having someone who is understanding to the life of a trucker. He said Laura knows that when he leaves out for the week that she probably won’t see him until he gets home that Friday. Laura is very supportive of Derek in what he does, and she just rolls with it all, because plans are always changing. She understands that plans really can’t be made until the work week is done. Laura makes it less stressful while he is on the road, so he doesn’t have any worries about the home front being upset.
Having a long conversation about truck shows and which one he likes the best, Derek could not come up with a favorite – it was a tie between Busted Knuckle and the Red Dirt Showdown, both Oklahoma-based events, because of the laid-back atmosphere, catching up with friends, and the fun they have. There are a lot of positives that come from shows like the above mentioned, and that includes the ability to interact with the public, the people not involved in the trucking industry (those connected with the industry have these rare moments to leave good impressions on behalf of the trucking industry). Derek enjoys seeing people coming up to the trucks and getting pictures standing in front of them and, more times than not, the driver is invited to stand with him. But he also has a soft spot for the kids, being able to witness some seeing a big truck up close for possibly the first time and making sure to interact with them.
Buying his first truck in 1990, Mike started Mike Anderson Trucking LLC in 2009. Today, he takes care of most of the office duties and all the shop duties. All truck maintenance apart from any paint work gets done in-house, including all restorations and customization of the trucks. Derek said Mike is the most honest guy he knows and always has his driver’s best interest in mind. He isn’t the type of company owner that is greedy or spends money frivolously. It isn’t just that Mike cares about his drivers, but his drivers all care about him, too.
Mike Anderson Trucking offers a great family-oriented work atmosphere. If there is bad weather, Mike will park the trucks to keep everyone safe. The work slows down, but there is no downtime, because Mike will always make sure the employees are pulling a paycheck. Mike takes the approach that if the drivers aren’t making money, then neither is his company. Trucks are ready to leave out Sunday night or Monday morning, depending on where they are going, which means any major repairs that come in, Mike is handling over the weekend. The company always has at least one spare truck, just in case, plus has an RGN trailer in the event a truck breaks down and needs to be hauled back to the shop. That spare truck comes along, so the only downtime the driver sees is the transit time for Mike to get to them.
I asked Derek, “As a driver, what are some key points in finding the right company to work for?” He stated that you initially need to make sure they have nice equipment with a solid service and maintenance program. Downtime is a factor, because if the truck breaks down, you aren’t making money, which leads to making sure the potential employer offers a competitive wage.
Pride in your ride is something many drivers live by, and that sentiment isn’t only geared towards owners. Not all company drivers adhere to this saying, but Derek does because it is a rolling representation of not only himself, but of the company and the other drivers, as well. It means a lot to him that a great man entrusted him to drive this beautiful piece of equipment!
When I asked Derek who were his most influential people in the industry, he started describing the old school drivers he had the privilege of meeting or crossing paths with who would always give him pointers and advice. Willie “Crosswind” Green came up in the conversation as a really cool dude who was always there to lend a hand and calm Derek down during stressful moments. Another man, Ralph Caldwell, worked with Derek in the oilfield, and Derek could listen for hours to his old trucking stories. “These guys would never criticize you and were the first ones to help,” Derek said. In their time, they had done it all, across the country, when trucking was fun. They were full of knowledge that unfortunately he can’t pick up the phone to call anymore because they have since passed away.
Today, Derek and Laura have an almost one year old miniature Australian Shepherd named Dolly and maintain their enjoyment of attending truck shows every year. Laura enjoys going to the shows with Derek, which is not only supportive, but also hard to find someone that shares that same enjoyment. She is in charge of detailing the interior because she knows, as well as Derek, that is the last thing Derek thinks about when prepping the truck at a show. She has also helped with the add-ons for the interior including the bedding and custom knobs. Laura is also the picture taker at the shows, and manages to catch Derek in his element, without him knowing, as a neat documentation of the event.
Special thanks from Derek to the Metzger family because other than his current job, that was the best job he ever had. Everything seemed to have escalated from there, which is when the trucking bug officially bit him. To his stepfather, Terrell Cameron, and his grandfather, Jim Cameron, for both teaching him that hard work pays off. They are two of the hardest working men he knows, and Derek credits them with the man he is today. To his Papa Bailey for always having his back in everything Derek did, whether it was business or life advice, he told Derek what he needed to hear with honest answers. To Mike Anderson, who Derek highly respects, for giving him this amazing opportunity. Derek gets to drive a beautiful truck, represent Mike and his family, earn a good paycheck, and to have not only an awesome boss, but a better friend, as well.
Thanks goes out to the countless guys he has trucked with for the support, experience, and knowledge throughout the years, shaping him into the driver he is today. And finally, to Laura for putting up with and supporting his lifestyle that revolves around the truck and truck shows, for showing an interest, and wanting to be a part of it all. She is more than happy to see him do good and, more times than not, she sees his potential in something before he does. It is the late-night calls when he had to drive through the night to make sure he was good, as well as the calls to make sure he was taking care of himself.
Earlier in 2022, Derek and I had discussed options to photograph the truck and what lined up was first thing Sunday morning following the Busted Knuckle show. We found locations on the fly, which were fairly basic, but the backgrounds proved to be perfect. As we left Wilkins Oklahoma Truck Supply, we photographed on Fountain Road as we approached Highway 77, then in downtown Tonkawa right off of Main Street, and then ended up at a turn off location just south of town.
Thank you to Derek and Laura for your time, the opportunity to photograph the truck, and the communication since then to be able to tell your story. We can all work for someone and call it “just a job” but to be a player on a team, within a company, and be included as part of the family is a level no one takes for granted. As always, to all the drivers out there doing the deal, truck safe.