Owner-operator Rusty Norris, of Quitman, Texas, was inside the truck stop taking care of business while his dog, Gretta, a beautiful seven-and-a-half year old rottweiler, sat in the driver’s seat of his truck in the fuel island and barked whenever anyone got near it.
However, it seems that Gretta wouldn’t hurt a flea, according to Norris, who said she only barks when someone approaches the truck, but otherwise she’s a sweetheart.
“She goes everywhere I go,” he explained. “If I get on the tractor at home that’s the only time she’s not with me. I tell everyone ‘she doesn’t leave home without me.’”
While Gretta is a constant companion of Norris, it was easy to see that the real apples of his eye are his 22-year-old daughter, Stephanie, who is a college student at Texas A&M at Commerce where she is studying criminal justice, and his 13-year-old son, Hill, who lives with his mother. And not to be forgotten is Norris’s girlfriend, Gail.
Hill hasn’t decided what he wants to do when he grows up.
“He was riding horses and now he’s into girls and football,” Norris said. While he doesn’t live with his dad, they do live in the same town and get to see one another plenty.
Stephanie has had eight surgeries in her short life for congenital heart disease, Norris explained. And she recently had what was her last scheduled surgery.
“She’s the only one in the world with her anatomy,” Norris said doctors told him.
She was born with transposition of the vessels, meaning her heart was flipped left to right, right to left, he said. There are other issues but the details are rather technical. She had five different conditions at birth, Norris added.
“When she was born I didn’t have insurance,” he said. “She spent one month in the hospital after birth on Dec. 1, 1987, but a state program covered her all of this time.”
The doctor told them long ago that she is limited by “what she can do,” so if she’s tired she rests.
“She couldn’t do sports, but she was a cheerleader,” Norris said. “She was in the color guard in the band and showed horses.”
Besides his job as a trucker leased to Oakley Trucking Inc., where he hauls fracture sand for natural gas drilling in Arkansas, Norris is a hay and cattle farmer. In fact, his dad drove part-time and he bought his first truck while his dad was still trucking.
“It’s a good compliment to the farm,” he said. “Before 1982 (when he became an owner-operator with a CDL) I had a pickup and hauled a goose-neck trailer when I was too young to get my CDL. I grew up in Dallas. We hauled our hay to Dallas.”
Norris has a dedicated run in Arkansas, but before that he did long-haul tanker runs for Oakley, where he’s been leased for five years. He will return to the long-haul runs once the natural gas drilling ends in Arkansas, which is projected to last three or four more years.
Norris has always been an owner-operator and never a company driver.
“Being an owner-operator since day one I like my independence,” Norris said, “but I’ve seen a lot of drivers that aren’t qualified who are driving. I have family, too, that shares the road.”
His typical schedule keeps Norris on the road three to four weeks at a time, then home for three to four days to a week, depending on what needs to be done at the farm. He’s only four hours away from home when he’s working in Arkansas.
Norris has a farmhand who takes care of most of his business back home while he’s away. His mother and father also live on the same farm.
He’s got 100 heads of cattle and runs what he said is called a cow-calf operation.
“You have one bull for every 20 cows,” he explained. “Each cow will have one calf per year and 90 to 95 percent of them will survive. The older cows are retired and sent to slaughter and replaced with the calves.”
Norris worries for the safety of people on the roads, including his own family members.
“There are too many guys who didn’t get the training,” he said. “To me, it’s a profession and I’ve always wanted to be safe and take care of those around me. I see truckers and four-wheelers drive badly. I don’t know what needs to be done.
“They do need to work on the roads, the infrastructure. There’s too much insecurity about the condition of the bridges.”
Barb Kampbell of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at email@example.com.
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