A truck driver, a little weary from the miles and heat and with a long road ahead, looks to his teenage son.
“Think you can take it for a while?”
The boy, from his usual place on the doghouse, shrugs — he never said much, at least compared to his younger brothers who were always pestering, always wanting to sit on their father’s lap and hold the wheel — then nods, “Okay.”
The man didn’t expect much, and was unsure about putting the kid on the spot that first time, but there ain’t any practice like doing.
But, goodness, he sure didn’t expect the boy to work the pedals that way, running up the RPMs, hitting the shifts just right. Yet there he was — there they were — rolling down the highway, pretty as you please.
“Where’d you learn to do that, son?”
“Watchin’ you, Daddy,” he said, eyes on the road now, sparkling and set ahead serious, even as he grabs another gear. “I’ve been watchin’ you a long a time.”
The dateline for this story is Texas, more or less. It’s a story about a father and sons and trucks, hard work, and staying together mile after mile.
The Davis boys
Richard Davis, 73, started driving trucks when he was 17.
Of course, even 40 years ago, cross-country trucking was tough on a marriage.
As a long-haul driver, after splitting up with the boys’ mother, Davis said the opportunities to spend much time with his five sons were limited. So he’d take the boys on the road, one or two at a time. Though every now and again, a trip would be considerably more cozy.
“Their mother would say, ‘you’ve got to come get these kids,’ and I’d come get them kids and put them all on the truck.” Richard told The Trucker, speaking the day before Father’s Day.
So it was that Richard Dean Jr., Roland Duane, Ronald David, Russell Dale, and Robert Daniel all would climb into the Kenworth cabover.
“I don’t know that the company owner I was working for back then knew everything I was doing, or really cared — as long as I made him a hand,” Richard said with a laugh, referring to his days hauling seafood and produce from Georgia to the West Coast and back.
“You didn’t have television; I don’t even think we had a CB. It was just the radio, and we’d sit and talk and look at things. Maybe go to a movie on a layover. It was just a way of life with me, and I guess they knew it,” he said. “Nighttimes, we’d be going down the road and the kids would be sleeping. We’d stop during the daytime to eat, and I’d take a little nap here and there, and down the road we’d go again. For the most part, they all enjoyed it. We were together.”
And, every now and then, a son might be asked to help to keep a load moving.
“I probably shouldn’t have done it,” Richard said. “I’m fortunate that none of them ever put it in the ditch.”
Still, the father won’t take credit for his sons choosing trucking, and being successful. “But I didn’t discourage them, I guarantee you that,” Richard said.
Rick, 53 and the oldest, has been driving 30 years. He’d gone into the Marine Corps at 17, and went right into trucking when he got out.
From the early years with his father, the memory of the first leg of a two-week western tour stands out.
“We left Atlanta and made it to San Diego in 52 hours,” Rick said. “The boss man said he didn’t think we could make it, and my dad said, ‘you watch.’ And sure enough, we made it.”
He never thought spending summers on the road was unusual, calling himself “a daddy’s boy.”
“I just wanted to be on the truck,” Rick said. “Wherever he went, I wanted to go.”
More than the memories, Rick recalled his dad’s simple advice for making a good living as a trucker.
“He said, ‘son, keep your driving record clean, and you can work for anybody,’ ” Rick recalled. “And he said to always haul food products because people are always going to eat, so that’s the job that will always be there. That’s what I’ve done, and I’ve been able to work anywhere I’ve wanted to — because I always do a good job. That’s based on how our Daddy raised us. He’s been a No. 1 trucker anywhere’s he’s ever been.”
Dad admitted he always set ambitious goals for himself — because that’s how a trucker takes care of his family.
“If $100,000 could be made, I wanted to make it,” he said
For Roland, 51, who had little interest in school, trucking was the only thing Richard knew to pass on — and sharing a truck renewed a relationship that had become strained.
“I said, ‘son, I failed you,’ ” he explained. “ ‘I didn’t see to it that you got an education that amounts to anything. I can teach you how to drive and that’ll make you a living.’ ”
And it turns out Roland is the brother that’s taken his trucking ambitions the farthest, owning several trucks and passing trucking on to the next generation of Davises, with Roland Jr., now running one of his dad’s trucks.
Beginning in his 40s, Richard worked as a car-hauler, but after 20 years the physical demands were more than he wanted to put his 65-year-old body through. He retired from “working for the other fellow” to go into business for himself.
“All those years, I thought I sure would like to own my own truck,” he said. “So I bought one.”
He helped Rick (Richard Jr.) get one as well. And with Roland and Russell already in the business, Dad suggested that if Ronnie was willing “to pay his dues” and get a year under his belt, he’d help him get a truck, too. So Ronnie signed on with a good carrier for his training and early over-the-road miles.
“He did a terrific job of doing what he needed to do,” Richard said. Ronnie, now 49, has been an owner-operator ever since.
And so, thanks to technology, the family still rides together.
“Every once and a while I’ll get a cell phone call, and they’ll all be there — they’ve got a conference call going,” Richard said. “One of us could be in California, one in Louisiana, North Dakota, Georgia — and here we are, talking to each other, going down the road.”
Which is quite an improvement from having to stop at pay phones to make calls, points out Russell, 47.
He went to college and got a degree in construction, but didn’t really care for it.
“We grew up in a truck,” Russell said. “So the background of being on the road is really what got me into trucking. We’re all blessed he gave us that career opportunity. It’s an awesome career.”
Among the on-road memories, he recalls his dad leaning out the cab window, looking down toward the pavement, but he wouldn’t tell the boys what he was looking at.
“So I leaned over real quick to see,” Russell said. “I see a girl, with a little mini skirt. Woo-hoo, dad! From that point on, oh yeah, I wanted to be a trucker. I love being out here on the open road, being in the big rig. I do all of my mechanic work on the truck. Who wouldn’t want to travel around the countryside and get paid for it?”
Away from home
The only Davis brother not in trucking is Robert, 45, who is a school teacher and football coach.
As do the others, he has fond memories of the roadside picnics they’d share.
“Dad would get a couple of big cans of ravioli and wire them to the engine, letting the engine heat it up,” Robert said. “After a few hundred miles or so, he pulled over and opened it up. Got the bread out and fed us.”
Robert also recalls a trip without the other boys, in which a load of live chickens had escaped in a slaughterhouse parking lot. He got out of the truck to help round them up — but he took the ones he caught to a back alley “to set them free.”
“I don’t know what happened to them, but I was thinking I was doing my duty,” he said of that boyhood adventure.
Though there were plenty of good times when the boys were with their father, Robert said he remembers the times when a trucking dad just couldn’t be around. And while Richard did manage to coach his youngest son’s youth football team one season, there were plenty of events he had to miss.
“I still talk to him about it, it’s always been an issue,” Robert admitted. “I’m not bitter, and I love him dearly, but I go out of my way to make sure I’m there for my kids.”
Russell likewise remembers the pain of his father’s absence, yet found himself divorced soon after the birth of his third child — who then spent her pre-school years in his rig.
“She knows everything there is to be a truck driver; it’s just not her goal,” Russell said.
The recent high school grad just picked up an athletic scholarship to play soccer.
“Because I know what it was like to not have my dad around, I didn’t miss her games,” Russell said. “I made sure I was home for that.”
As for industry improvements over the last few decades, father and sons all admire the new equipment: roomier, quieter trucks and air-conditioning that works.
Government regulations that are making trucking more expensive and less profitable don’t get the same high marks, however, nor do the trucking companies that don’t appreciate their drivers.
More disappointingly, drivers themselves don’t show the respect they should for each other, or for the job.
“The truck drivers of today are nothing compared to what they were 50 years ago,” Richard said. “There was a bond.”
The sons of Richard D. Davis never expected trucking to be easy — they knew better. So trucking for them has worked out about as expected.
And they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Kevin Jones of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at email@example.com.
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