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ATA’s National Driver of the Year David Boyer has been living his childhood dream for 45 years

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Honors and awards are nothing new to David Boyer. When you’ve racked up a driving record like his, recognition is bound to catch up with you, and in the last few years the accolades have been piling up.

Boyer, of Wytheville, Virginia, has been a professional driver for 45 years, the last 40 as a less-than-truckload driver with ABF Freight. In that time, he’s earned the 30-year Safe Driving Ring, the 35-Year Safe Driving Plaque, the 1-million Mile Safe Driving Award and the 2 Million Mile Safe Driving Award.

He’s been a member of the ABF Freight Road Team twice within the last 10 years, as well as an America’s Road Team Captain. In 2016, he was honored with the Virginia Governor’s Transportation Safety Award, and earlier this year, Boyer was named the Virginia Truck Driver of the Year.

The icing on the cake came October 30 in Austin, Texas, during the American Trucking Associations’ annual Management Conference & Exhibition, where Boyer was named ATA’s National Driver of the Year.

“It’s overwhelming,” Boyer said a few days after the awards luncheon where he received the honor. “There’s a lot of great drivers out there. I never dreamed I’d get selected out of all the top drivers that we got. It’s quite an honor.”

Even though it’s called a “driver of the year” award, it can be seen as something of a lifetime achievement honor. As far as Boyer’s concerned, the honor has been all his.

“You’re talking to someone who got to live out his childhood dream,” Boyer said. “All I wanted to do was be a truck driver. From the time I was 11 years old and I drove a truck behind an old corn chopper, I never wanted to do anything else.

“If the Good Lord said, ‘David, you can go back to being an 18-year-old and you can be anything you wanted to be,’ I’d say, ‘I want to be a truck driver.’ I love it.”

Things have changed a lot in trucking since Boyer started driving, not the least of which are the trucks themselves, he said. Back when he started, “Those old trucks used to burn as much oil as they did fuel,” he said. They didn’t have air conditioning or power steering or air ride suspension.

In some ways the job has gotten a lot easier than it used to be, Boyer said. But the real key to his success and longevity has been in being lucky enough to have had the right people in his life.

“Without having someone behind you, helping you, you can’t do it,” Boyer said. “I’ve been married to my lovely wife Pam 48 years. We have three kids, nine grandchildren. And my wife’s done a good job raising them. I was gone 90 percent of the time, and she done a great job.”

On the road, he got lucky early on, he said, when he went to work for a company called Blue Ridge Transfer and found a mentor in a veteran driver by the name of Henry Jenkins.

“He was a hardworking man, fond of saying, ‘we don’t have time to get involved in an accident,’” Boyer recalled. “He said, ‘we’re going to have to fill out paperwork, and we’re not making no money when we’re sitting still.’

Boyer said Jenkins taught him that to be a good driver one of the most important qualities to have on the road is patience.

“He never got excited,” Boyer said. “He never badmouthed the traffic. When we’d get in a backup, he’d wave to people.” Jenkins’ style became his, and he’s never let it go.

“I don’t get upset at the traffic,” he said. “We’re all out here sharing the road together and trying to make a living.  The way I see it, if you pass me, you’re my family, I want you to get home safe to your family just like I want to get home to mine.”

Boyer also attributes much of his success and satisfaction with finding the right company to drive for. Yes, it’s pretty amazing to be with the same carrier for 40 years, Boyer said, but you also have to consider that it also means ABF has been around that long. That shows this is a company that does something right.

“They don’t harass you, or stay on your back,” he said. He said when he was hired, they told him they expect drivers to use their intelligence and skill and discipline to get the job done. In return, he said, they’ve shown him the respect he earned.

Boyer is a strong believer life gives back what you put into it. He participates annually in the Mid-Atlantic Charity Fun Drive benefiting the Make-a-Wish Foundation and is a member of the Mid-Atlantic Professional Truck Drivers Association and of God’s Pit Crew, a program that provides aid during disaster relief efforts.

“I couldn’t have done it without working for a company like ABF that helped me do the things that I’ve been able to do,” he said. “They’ve stood by me 199 percent.”

He is particularly proud of the work he’s done as a road team captain, especially going to schools and educating teen drivers. He loves letting them climb up into a cab so they can see from a driver’s perspective when he explains things like blind spots and braking distance.

One of his favorite exercises is to have the teens get behind the wheel and pretend they’re driving 55 mph. He’ll tell them hit the brakes, then he’ll point to a stop sign set up 363 feet ahead and explain that’s where the truck would come to a full stop.

“You know you got them when you see their eyebrows raise up or their eyes get bigger or they say ‘wow,’ and that’s the best feeling in the world,” Boyer said, “to know you just showed that young driver something they’ll carry with them from now on.

“Someday, something will happen out on the road, and these kids will say, ‘that old man Boyer knew what he was talking about.’ And you’ll never know that, but you plant that seed and hope it grows.”

Receiving such a prestigious award would make it a natural time to reflect after 45 years behind the wheel, and possibly start pondering what’s next.

Funny thing, Boyer said, as a matter of fact, he’s been doing just that.

“I thought the other day, ‘you know, I think I’m going to make a career out of this.’”

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2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Andrea Hansen

    November 18, 2018 at 6:56 pm

    I am so proud of my big brother. To think we started out as kids driving around the hills on the farm. As a teenager, David, had cows he milked and sold the milk to Kraft Foods. I guess he realized early on that it is a lot easier to drive a truck than to milk a bunch of cows. Although David says Pam did most of the raising of the kids, and she did, when he was home and able to attend ball games, it was a great treat. His attendance was anticipated by the friends of his kids almost as much as the kids themselves. You could always hear David’s voice encouraging the kids whether in football, basketball, or baseball. He was a proud dad and his kids were proud of him. We have always been proud of him and he is finally getting the recognition he has always deserved.

  2. Carla Norman

    November 19, 2018 at 6:18 pm

    CongratulationsDavid!!!You have always been a truck driver for a long time. I’m glad that you had a job that you liked and enjoyed so you could support your family.The Lord blessed you all the years that you were out on the roads.

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The Nation

Bill to prevent shutdown has benefits for USDOT

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The legislative deal passed to prevent a government shutdown contains $45.3 billion for highways honoring FAST Act funding levels for 2019, plus $3.25 billion in supplemental funding out of the general fund. (AASHTO Journal)

WASHINGTON — As part of bicameral legislative deal to prevent a second partial federal government shutdown while providing monies to build a wall along parts of the southern U.S. border, a total of $26.5 billion in discretionary funds and $60 billion from Highway and Airport and Airway Trust Funds will be provided to the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to an article in the Journal, a publication of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

The legislative deal passed both the Senate and the House by wide margins.

This legislation also contains final funding for a series of fiscal year 2019 appropriations bills for nine federal departments and related agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce, Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Some of the USDOT appropriations measure include:

  • $45.3 billion for highways honoring FAST Act funding levels for 2019, plus $3.25 billion in supplemental funding out of the general fund.
  • Of that $3.25 billion in supplemental highway funding from the general fund, roughly $2.7 billion will be apportioned to the states as if it were Surface Transportation Block Grant Program funding, while $475 million will be for a Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement program.
  • $900 million for Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development or BUILD discretionary grant program grants, divided evenly between rural and urban projects.
  • $2.55 billion for the Capital Investment Grant program, including $1.27 billion for “new starts,” $635 million for “core capacity” and $527 million for “small starts.”

“This legislation makes a significant down payment on the border wall and provides a bipartisan path forward to complete the remaining FY19 spending bills,” Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.

“Our bipartisan efforts have been essential in securing the passage of this bill and completing the FY19 appropriations process,” he said. “It is my hope that we will all continue to work together as we turn to the FY20 appropriations bills.”

“This is not the agreement I would have reached on my own [as] there are things in this bill that I support, and things that I disagree with – but that is the nature of a negotiation,” said Ranking Member Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. “This agreement funds nine federal departments and their related agencies. Everyone had to give something to reach a bipartisan compromise.”

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The Nation

Driver Ronald Feimster hopes to take the freedom of the road to the next level in 2019  

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Ronald Feimster tried working in other kinds of jobs, but he found he likes the freedom and independence truck driving offers. His goal for 2019 is to get his own truck and become an owner-operator. (The Trucker: KLINT LOWRY)

You don’t head out on the road without an intended destination, and the vast majority of the time you have a route planned out. And it’s not a bad idea to approach life goals the same way.

Ronald Feimster has begun 2019 with a clear idea of where he wants to get to within the next year.

“My goal is to be an owner-operator and to drive for Oakley Trucking,” he said.

Feimster was finishing breakfast at the Iron Skillet at the TravelCenters of America/Petro truck stop at I-40, exit 161, just outside Little Rock, Arkansas. He’d struck up a conversation with a fellow driver, Tim Plubell, who’s been an owner-operator for nearly 20 years (A story about Plubell can be found in the XXX edition of The Trucker), so Feimster’s career goals were at the front of his mind when The Trucker caught up with him.

He’s done his homework, he said. He knows a lot goes into being an owner-operator.

“I drove for a lease operator before,” Feimster said. “He was the owner-operator. And I loved it. I loved the freedom of it. I know you have to pay for your own maintenance, but a lot of these companies nowadays, they help you with the maintenance, so that cuts that in half. Then you have that fuel surcharge, so that cuts that in half.”

Feimster, who hails from Rogers, Arkansas, has also done his homework on Oakley Trucking, a subsidiary of Bruce Oakley Inc., a commodity trading, distribution and transportation company based in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Oakley Trucking specializes dry bulk transportation throughout the Lower 48 and Canada.

“And Oakley, they pay excellent, but the catch is you have to own your own truck,” Feimster said. “Pull their trailers, but you own your own truck. That’s my goal.”

Long-term, he said, at 47, if all goes as he’s envisioning it, if he gets in at Oakley, it could be the kind of situation where he could spend the rest of his career there.

Not that he’s unhappy where he’s at. Feimster drives for Southern Refrigerated Transport, popularly known as SRT.

“They’re a good company,” Feimster said. “I’d recommend them to anybody.”

He runs a dedicated route pulling reefer for Tyson Foods. His route keeps him within the neighboring states of Arkansas. But, as he explained, he generally gets home about every three weeks.

“I could get home every weekend, but you don’t make any money like that,” he said. “You have to stay out here for a little while. Unless I were an owner-operator. Then I would do it differently.”

Feimster first got into trucking in 1998. Before that, he said, “I wasn’t really doing nothing.” In other words, he had jobs, but he didn’t have a career. “I was doing factory work. It wasn’t that good. So, I got into trucking, basically, to start making more money. I went ahead and got my CDL.”

He started out hauling logs. Since then he’s “been around,” he said, gaining experience working for Panther 2, Swift Transportation and Covenant Transport, which owns SRT.

At one point, he tried to get out of trucking. “I was over-the-road, and I was tired of going through those snowy mountains” in Colorado, he said. The job wasn’t worth risking his life.

“I said, ‘I have got to get out of this,’ because I had just gotten married, and then we had our first child. I’ve got to go home and be a dad,” Feimster said.

He went back to warehouse work and even became a supervisor. But he came to realize that he just wasn’t a company-culture kind of guy. One of the best things about truck driving, Feimster said, is there’s “no one breathing over your back.” Even after having been the one doing the breathing, he hates that kind of work environment.

He said he didn’t want to publicly describe the straw that broke the camel’s back and sent him to trucking. The short version of the story is he was told to fire an employee that he firmly believed didn’t deserve it.

“I said, ‘you know what? This is not a good way to treat people,’” he said. “That was enough for me. I talked to my old lady. I said, ‘I’m going to go back to truck driving.’ She said ‘OK, that’s what you want to do?’ I said I was going to be away from home, but our kids are grown. Everything’s fine. She said go for it. Here I am.”

Trucking may not be perfect, but he needs to feel that independence.

Sure, there are a few ways the job could be better. “We would like more pay,” he said, then quickly added, “who wouldn’t?”

It also bothers him that society in general doesn’t value what truckers do.

“If trucks stopped delivering for just a couple days, the country would come to a standstill,” he said. “Why isn’t the profession held in higher regard?”

Well, there isn’t a whole lot he can do about that. He appreciates what the profession means to him, and he intends to make the most of it.

 

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A driver for 45 years, a husband for 44, Tim Plubell’s life is cruising comfortably along

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Tim Plubell started driving a log truck when he was 18, and for nearly 20 of the 45 years he’s been a professional truck driver, he’s been an owner-operator. The freedom and independence are what make it the perfect profession for him. (The Trucker: KLINT LOWRY)

One of the most accurate measures of how much a fellow’s age has distilled into wisdom is the degree to which he has learned to make life easy on himself. It can be in the way he does his job, knowing the best routes to take, the best places to stop. And it can show itself in the way he takes in the world.

At the age of 63 and with 45 years on the road, Tim Plubell has a personality as mellow as if it had been aged in an oak cask. On January 2, he was having breakfast at the Iron Skillet at the Petro Stopping Center off Interstate 40, exit 161, The Trucker’s favorite haunt for meeting drivers.

Plubell was a bit amused.  He said he’d read something on the internet about someone trying to organize a truckers’ shutdown for one reason or another.

“I thought, I do that every few weeks,” he said. “Whenever I go home I shut down for a week. I’m able to do that now.”

Home for Plubell is Frenchville, a little community of about 500 in central Pennsylvania. He was headed back east after dropping off a load in Oklahoma City. That’s about as far west as he goes anymore, he said. In 2019, he’ll have been an owner-operator for 20 years, and he wouldn’t have it any other way.

“I work for myself, I do what I want to when I want to,” he said. “Mainly I just like being out by myself. I’m kind of a loner person.” But as he sees it, that’s one of the qualities that makes a person suited for trucking. It’s suited him his entire working life.

“I’ve been driving since I was 18,” Plubell said. “I started driving a log truck for my uncle.” He continued doing that until his uncle retired and closed his business. From there, Plubell became a company driver until 1999, when he was able to buy a truck and go out on his own.

He’s always liked the driving life, but it’s best as an owner-operator. “I got nobody breathing down my back; I got nobody forcing me to do anything I don’t want to do. That’s what I like about it.”

The only down side, as he sees it, is the amount of time he has to spend away from home to make the money he wants to make. Take this past week, for example. He was home for Christmas, but then he left the day after, and he and his wife wound up spending New Year’s Eve apart.

But even that cloud has a silver lining, he explained. A lot of relationships might be strained from spending so much time apart. Not so for Plubell and his wife, who got married about a year after he started driving for his uncle.

“When I started driving it was good for a while,” he said, referring to married life. “I was home every night. But then … being we got married young, we began fighting about a lot of stuff.” Money was the most frequent topic of conflict, as he recalls, as the young couple struggled to adapt to adult responsibilities.

“So, then I got the opportunity to go over-the-road,” he said. After that, “everything got a whole lot better. The money issues went away, and then we got along better.”

It wasn’t just the money, he said. The time apart made them value the time together even more.

Plubell said he tries to get home every weekend, though it doesn’t always pan out. That’s why he doesn’t venture any farther west than Oklahoma City. And except to get home to Frenchville, he pretty much confines his driving to the Southeast this time of year. Driving in northern winter weather isn’t worth the hassle.

It’s not that he doesn’t trust his own ability. It’s the other drivers out there, the amateurs. “Ninety percent of them that pass you are on this,” he said, holding up his cellphone.

After 45 years, he has a spotless accident record, and he’d just as soon keep it that way.

Aside from sharing the road with drivers who seem to be getting more distracted and discourteous as the years go by, the one other thing that Plubell thinks has gotten worse over the years has been all the regulations truckers have to contend with now.

“I mean, there’s a lot of pros and cons about this ELD that’s come out,” he said. “Me, I don’t mind it. It doesn’t bother me, I can work with it.” But like with a vast majority of drivers, the problem is the rigidity of the rules the ELD is there to log.

For example, a couple of months ago he was making his way home and he hit one construction zone after another. As a result, his clock ran out about 15 minutes from home. Now, in the old days, a driver could say, what the heck, drive the extra 15 minutes, massage the log entry, and who did it hurt, really?

Instead, he had to park the truck, call his son to come get him, and then go back the next morning and get his truck. What sense does that make?

Plubell doesn’t know if he’ll ever fully retire. He has a friend who’s little older than he is who has become a little choosier about how far and how often he drives, and he figures he might follow that example.

Trucking isn’t for everyone, he said, but when it is, it’s tough to imagine not ever doing it.

“I love it,” he said. “If I didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it.”

 

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