Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Third-generation freehand artist turns to trucking


Friday, January 29, 2010
by BARB KAMPBELL

Les Vickers hand paints more as a hobby now than a job and painted “My God Walks on Water,” and other things on his truck. (The Trucker: BARB KAMPBELL)
Les Vickers hand paints more as a hobby now than a job and painted “My God Walks on Water,” and other things on his truck. (The Trucker: BARB KAMPBELL)

Vickers file
Owner-operator
Leased to: Western Sky
Lives in: Shepherd, Mich.
Drives: 2006 International Eagle
Hauls: Dry freight

NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Les Vickers, better known as “The Wizard,” still paints signs occasionally. He even painted his truck, but the hand-painting business has been taken over by computers, so third-generation freehander Vickers drives trucks full-time.

He said his grandfather taught him the freehander art. And trucking’s been a part of his life for many years as well.

“I grew up with [trucking],” Vickers said. “I had my farm-boy chauffeur license at 15 [years old].”

Vickers spent six years in the military from 1976 until 1983. He became a disable veteran after an accident that injured his leg in Norway while training with the British.

Now he drives his own International Eagle and hauls freight everywhere around the country except for the northeast because he said he can’t get any paying freight out of there.

When The Trucker met Vickers he’d just helped out a young man in need and he explained why to us.

“I’m a very Christian person,” he said. “I believe what goes around come around. This young man looked like he needed help. I’m a pretty good judge of character — if he’s a day over 18 I’d be surprised.”

While growing up Vickers’ dad was a farm-to-farm tanker driver so that’s what Vickers did. They hauled milk tankers.

“I stayed in it because it’s a living — sometimes,” Vickers said. “It’s a job you love to hate. When I was running my own authority I was at the mercy of the brokers. Those are the ones I truly dislike. They take 60 percent of the gross and we take the rest. How is that fair?

“[Driving] gets in your blood; it gets under your skin. I’ve been a nomad all my life. Once it’s in your blood and under your skin it’s kinda hard to walk away from. Me and my lovely wife own property in the middle of Michigan. You’d think I’d never want to leave, but I have to earn a living.”

Vickers wife of 17 years, Jude, used to do all of his dispatch, but now he said she mostly does church work for an Assembly of God church in Oil City, Mich.

“I go to church, my wife does most for the church, we’re both very spiritual people but I just don’t have the time [to do things for the church],” he said. “I’m a biker sergeant of arms for a club, a Harley group. I’ve got a collection of Harley’s, four of them. I buy wrecks and fix them up.”

Before the computer industry put him out of the sign painting business he did that and drove a truck.

Vickers said he used to love trucking because of the freedom, but “it’s not that much any more now that I’m self-employed. I was a company man. You’re a slave to a system. People try to put me under their thumb, that’s unacceptable. I like driving to see the countryside, change of seasons, the people you get so see out here. There are good folks. We’re all different; if we were all the same it would be boring.”

He likes to drive from Michigan to Washington State or Southern California, but that’s not his most favorite route.

“The Southwest is definitely my favorite,” Vickers said. “The desert — you’ve never seen something so breathtaking as seeing the sun come up or go down in the desert. I used to carry a camera but I’d spend money and never look at them again. When my wife used to ride with me we did that. Then we got two parrots and two dogs and her involvement with the church put an end to that. I’m one of the blessed out here with a happy marriage.”

He’s got a daughter and two grandchildren in Tacoma, Wash., and gets to see them as often as he can find a load that way.

“I don’t put chains on — I’m too arthritic,” Vickers said, explaining that he doesn’t go to Tacoma much in the winter. “I don’t do drop deck or step deck. The folks at Western Sky keep me loaded pretty good, I don’t generally get stuck. If I want to stay in a particular place to take my restart they are pretty good about it. Otherwise my wheels are turning. I have more freedom than the average bear. I know I’m blessed.”

Vickers had three requirements for getting remarried: “(1) Own her own Harley; (2) Had to be as hard-headed as me; and (3) Must be able to cook and clean.”

Jude fit all the requirements he mentioned and currently rides a 1971 Sportster that he put a kit on so she could manage it since she had an accident.

“She got knocked off her bike and lost her leg,” Vickers explained. “She said she saw God that night. She’s got a very strong testimony. She saw the face of God and two angels. At our church everybody knows her testimony. We’re borderline holy-rollers.”

Vickers found out about the accident when his wife didn’t show up to meet him after work.

When his daughter called and said the State Police were at their house he knew something was wrong.

“I found out she got knocked off her bike and lost her leg on impact,” he said. “She lost it six inches above the knee and now has a computerized prosthetic. Ninety-nine percent of the time you can’t tell she lost her leg. A car ran into her on her Harley. It was his fault. The attorney was supposed to be a biker attorney, but he turned out to be a crook. She should have gotten a lot more money. I’m a little bitter over the attorney. I’m grateful to God she’s still here with me.

“I’m a blessed person. I’m not doing the best but I manage to keep my head above water.”

As for the sign painting business, it’s more of a hobby now, he added. He used to paint everything from mailboxes to billboards and owned a shop you could drive a truck right through. But now everything is done by computer, he said.

When home he mostly relaxes by first taking a bath and then gets back outside to work on the truck. The couple owns 10 acres with a ramp from the house to the pond. He keeps the driveway clear and she takes care of the lawn on a riding mower.

“I like to think I’m a happy trucker,” he said in conclusion. “We all have our own list of problems if we were all the same it would be a dull world.”

Barb Kampbell of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at barbkampbell@thetrucker.com.

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