WAPAKONETA, Ohio — Geographically, Buckland, Ohio, and Columbus, Ohio are only a stone’s throw apart, 93 miles by road, less if you turn loose that proverbial crow.
But it’s doubtful that as he sat outside his home during the summer watching trucks go back and forth to a nearby gravel pit ever, a young Carl Krites ever dreamed that Columbus would one day be the site of probably his greatest professional honor
“My parents told me that when I was growing up, I would spend my summers in the lawn chair watching the gravel trucks go by,” Krites said in a recent interview. I’ve always been interested in trucks. My dad said that was all I talked about from the time he could remember. Driving a truck was something I’d always wanted to do.”
You then could easily say that his passion for trucking, a lifetime on the road and a sterling driving record was the catalyst for Krites becoming the Grand Champion at the American Trucking Associations’ National Truck Driving Championship in competition held last month at Columbus.
Six months out of high school in 1980, Krites, who turned 50 this year, went to work for a small trucking company in Lima, Ohio, called Otis Wright and Sons.
“My father-in-law drove for them at the time. When I interviewed, they asked if I had any experience and I said ‘yeah,’ but the only experience I’d had was in a straight truck. They had my father-in-law give me my road test and two days later I went to work and pretty much that’s what I’ve been doing ever since and thoroughly enjoy it. When I’m out there it’s like I’m in my element and the comfort level goes up and that’s where I really like to be.”
Krites ran primarily local routes until one day a broker came in with an extra load the company couldn’t cover with existing over-the-road drivers.
“I was told ‘get ready, you’re going to Chicago’ (the land of low underpasses),” Krites recalled. “I survived that trip and was told I was being transferred from the city board to the road board.
“I ran throughout Indiana, Ohio and Illinois. We also ran into Memphis and up into Syracuse and the Buffalo area. Those were the good old days with the 9500 GMC day cab. It’s pretty humbling to look today and see what we drive and then look back then and I’m not even that old. But what we had to drive back then and what we have now it’s just amazing.”
Krites went to work for Con-way in August 1998.
He’s driven 3 million miles without a chargeable accident.
He spent the first eight years running nighttime line haul.
Then about three years ago, his wife was diagnosed with early stage three cervical cancer and Krites moved into city operations at Con-way base in Sidney, Ohio, so he could be at home nights.
His wife has been in remission for about 30 months.
“They say five years is the key to long-term recovery,” he said. “She’s really doing well.”
Today, Krites’ daily route takes him between 150-180 miles through St. Mary’s and Celina, which puts him on the road about six to seven hours day.
The rest of the time he spends at the terminal.
“At Con-way we work our own freight so we go back to the hub and work there for a couple or three hours until we get our line-haul operation loaded up and then call it a day,” he said.
For nine years, he’s competed for the national truck driving title.
He said the competition has made him a better driver.
“To qualify for the state competition you have to be accident free. You can’t even throw a mud flap. It would be a disqualifying incident and you couldn’t compete,” he said. “The qualifications are really stringent. It makes me a better driver because I try to be safe anyway, but by doing this and after nine years I thoroughly enjoy it and I don’t want to take a chance of not being able to go.”
He won this year competing in the tanker competition since the nine years prior to going to work at Con-way he’d pulled tankers, “so that was where my comfort level was with the competition.”
What’s most thrilling about being a trucker?
“To me it’s the travel, getting to see things you otherwise would not get to see. I would describe it like this: instead of a truck driver, you’re a paid tourist,” he said. “And, it’s the people you meet. I guess I’ve been told I’m a people person. When I was growing up my grandmother, I’ll never forget it, I was 14 years old and she said ‘you’ll never meet a stranger. You could walk up to anybody and start a conversation.’ For lack of a better word, she used to call it the gift of gab. I like meeting new people and making new friends.”
Of long concern has been the overall view of the trucking industry.
“For years, it was the public saying truck drivers were a bunch of pill poppers and coffee drinking, women chasing people,” he said. “But it’s finally coming around and we’re getting a little more credit and recognition as being professionals in what we do. That’s a good thing. The public is starting to understand that it’s hard to sit there and complain about a truck driver when you realize that if it wasn’t for us you wouldn’t have anything. I’ve had real good friends who say ‘you just drive a truck all day.’ When I was driving over the road, I’d look at them and say ‘tell you what, you go with me for a week and see if all I do is sit on my butt and drive a truck.’”
Lyndon Finney of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at email@example.com.
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