Across the country, mining has been a mainstay for many communities that have witnessed the rise and decline periods within this industry. Along with the coal miners came trucks and truckers, which are common in Virginia and West Virginia. This is the story of Dale Bennett (66), a second-generation trucker from West Virginia who, once away from hauling coal mining related commodities, was more than happy to not look back. Today, he is the proud owner operator of a 359 out of King, NC and part of the pride in generations with his son, Josh, following in his footsteps, as Dale did with his father.
Growing up not knowing anything but trucking, Dale was basically made to like it, but he wasn’t really made to do anything because he loved trucks, and still does. He was born on June 20th and always thought it was pretty neat that he celebrated the same birthday as his home state of West Virginia (June 20, 1863), where he was born and raised.
Stories of trucking’s past are cool to listen to and always welcomed, but they also give some insight on how different (and tougher) trucking was back then. Dale remembers as a teenager that fuel was $0.27 per gallon and winters were definitely harsher. Sometimes it would be so cold that his dad would start the trucks in the evening and just let them idle through the night so they wouldn’t freeze up. Another tactic was using three-gallon Maxwell House coffee cans, stuffed with rags soaked in diesel fuel, that would be lit under the front axle to warm the oil pan, making the trucks easier to start in the mornings.
By age 12, Dale was already helping his dad around the shop, which included greasing trucks and moving them around the yard. His dad, John Earl (everyone but his wife called him that), owned J.E. Bennett Trucking, and he started out with flatbed straight trucks hauling mine timbers. Mine timbers were cut to a certain size and length and used as braces inside the coal mines to prevent the walls from collapsing. After John Earl transitioned from flatbed straight trucks to triaxle dump trucks, he began hauling coal. Continuing to teach his son, Dale began driving on his own eventually, especially during the summers, between his junior and senior years of high school.
One time when Dale was driving and not quite “legal” yet, he heard on the radio that the DOT was set up on top of Raleigh Hill, doing road checks on the driver’s licenses and registrations of the trucks that passed by. Hearing this, Dale had to pull over and call his dad to come out and drive the truck. John Earl came, took over driving until the DOT left their location, then put Dale back in the driver’s seat and said, “Have a good day.” At 18, already a seasoned driver, Dale obtained his Chauffeur’s License, the precursor to the modern-day CDL.
As the coal mining industry came into a decline, it trickled down to the other industries involved, including trucking. Dale’s father decided to move to road construction materials, which included gravel and paving (Dale and his parents were three-part owners of J.E. Bennett Trucking). At about 32 years old, Dale and his then wife were expecting a baby, and with another mouth to feed, he spoke to his dad about needing a raise. After a couple weeks, John Earl asked if he thought he could make it on his own. Dale’s reply was, “I learned from the best!” This led him to choose one of the six trucks in the fleet and start Dale’s Trucking in 1986. No longer a partner in the company, Dale still hauled for his father under his own authority, as well as continuing to help with the maintenance on the rest of his dad’s fleet.
The truck Dale chose was a 1979 Ford 9000 triaxle dump truck, which was one of the two trucks that had air conditioning. A couple years later, with winters being harsh and sitting a lot during that season, Dale knew he needed to find consistent work that wasn’t just seasonal so he could work year round. He and his dad heard about a company in Winston-Salem, NC that had regular work, so they drove down to check it out. Interestingly enough, the company was on top of a hill and below was a quarry called Vulcan Materials, which is where they ended up because they missed the asphalt company on top of the hill.
After talking with the dispatcher at Vulcan, Dale and his dad were directed to speak to the trucking company who did their hauling. Several conversations were had regarding hauling dirt by the load from the quarry to just down the road. Dale didn’t feel he would make any money doing this, but that didn’t stop him from talking to the owner and, finally, the owner, probably sick of the talks that weren’t going anywhere, told Dale to be on site that Monday. So, Dale called his then wife, they packed up everything that weekend, and moved to North Carolina.
Moving to North Carolina wasn’t just with the thought of steady work, but also providing more opportunities for his sons since, at that time, the area Dale grew up in was limited on opportunities other than trucking. Upon moving to North Carolina, he became friends with a man named Teddy Chapman (2005 Overdrive Trucker of the Year). In 1985, Teddy bought a Peterbilt 359 extended hood piloted by his driver Curtis who, over the years, had plenty of chances to get into a newer truck, but he loved that truck and couldn’t see driving anything else. This truck regularly made its way back and forth to California.
In 1991, Dale purchased his first Peterbilt and took it to a show that used to be held in Winston-Salem, NC at the coliseum. As the years went on, Dale grew a small fleet of triaxle dump trucks. As both of his sons, Jeremy and Josh, became adults, he told them they could live in their house for as long as they wanted if they got a full-time job or went to college. Jeremy, the oldest, chose to go to college and Josh, once he turned 18 years old, told his dad he was tired of school and thought he would like to try his hand at trucking.
After eyeing a yellow Peterbilt for a while without a box on it yet, once Dale knew his son Josh was serious about driving, he went ahead and bought that truck. Josh wasn’t necessarily a natural at trucking, but he had the drive and determination to learn. Already in good standing with his customers, Dale was able to talk to them and be able to bring Josh out to learn.
Over time, finding good drivers became difficult, so Dale ended up downsizing to around three trucks. Dale had always admired that previously mentioned black 359 that Teddy owned, which he eventually sold to his driver, Curtis. In 2014, after Curtis had the truck parked for a number of years, Dale asked if he was interested in selling it. Although he did not want to sell it, he also knew it shouldn’t just be sitting, so he told Dale he’d like nothing more than for him to own it.
Soon after the purchase, the motor was rebuilt, and Josh was actually the one who got to run it – and Dale couldn’t have been prouder of how he handled that truck. This is the truck you see featured here today. As stated before, it is a 1985 Peterbilt 359 extended hood with a CAT 3406E, 18-speed transmission, 3.55 rears, and a 265-inch wheelbase. Repainted in 2017 to keep the original black color, the truck has 7-inch Dynaflex stacks and pulls an aluminum 39-foot East dump trailer.
A year after the paint, Dale decided that he wanted to truck with Josh to see the country. In 2002, Teddy Chapman bought himself a brand new Peterbilt 379, which was the truck that he drove full time. Eventually he went ahead and parked this truck in the shop where it sat for about eight years. Dale worked out a deal with Teddy and bought that blue 2002 Peterbilt 379 in 2018, which Josh bought from Dale in 2019, then started Bennett Trucking. That 379, which is also pictured, boasts a Caterpillar 6NZ, an 18-speed, 3.55 rear gears, a 270-inch wheelbase, and pulls a 39-foot 2015 East aluminum dump trailer. This rig always looks as good as it does in the picture, showing the pride Josh has for it.
Today, Dale and Josh stay as local as they can, hauling for farmers during harvest season and switching to road salt and miscellaneous commodities in the winter. All the maintenance work on the trucks is done in-house except for engine rebuilding. Dale takes a lot of pride in his trusty old 359, which he has known since it was brand new, and loves the fact that it is dependable, has plenty of horsepower, and looks good going up and down the road.
I met Dale last year at the 2022 Mayberry Truck Show (he was one of the chosen calendar spot holders for the show’s 2023 calendar). Dale and Josh found a great location to take the pictures that would be fitting regardless of what kind of weather Mother Nature threw at us. Thank you very much to Kevin Newsome of Kevin Newsome Farms out of King, NC for the use of his property (and the use of the restroom in the shop). Dale said he is a great man and a great customer, as he and Josh haul for him during the harvest season.
Special thanks from Dale to his dad for the upbringing, knowledge, and the lessons that kept him going to continue following in his footsteps, and to his son Josh, for helping Dale keep his joy in trucking. Thanks also to his son Jeremy for always being available to help (he is good at turning a wrench), and to all his family for the continued support through both the good and bad times.
I would like to thank Dale and Josh for having both trucks on point for the photo shoot, and also for the time, the communication, and for the opportunity to tell your story. It is very refreshing to meet and feature great families within the trucking industry, and even cooler when their pride in generations is strong. As always, to all the drivers out there doing the deal, truck safe.