ACTON, Ontario — Dan “Dusty” Porter’s life is guided by a simple philosophy: “Do what your heart tells you is right.” It’s a philosophy Porter puts into action both on and off the road. His heart tells him it’s right to help out the new drivers that need it. His heart also tells him to volunteer his time and photography skills to an industry he loves.
It’s his friendly face and heart, combined with 52 years in trucking and 3.8 million safe driving miles, that led TravelCenters of America (TA) to select Porter as one of two Citizen Drivers for 2021. Porter has been nominated for the award five times previously, but this year was his year.
“Usually, the third time’s the charm. My hope was that the fifth time is either diamonds or gold,” Porter said. “I just felt inside that this would be my year.”
Porter, a truck driver and U.S. Army veteran, felt it was “only a matter of time” before his name donned the list of awardees. Year after year, his name was placed on the list of potential awardees, moving up from the Top 10 to the Top 5, until he landed on first place.
“It was either that (feeling), or my persistence paid off,” Porter said with a deep, long laugh. His persistence in his career has certainly contributed to winning.
“I’ve been around the block a couple of times,” Porter noted.
Porter’s numerous “times around the block” started when he was young; his father worked as a truck driver for McCormick’s. When school was out, his father would take him for a ride in the truck. As each year passed, it drew closer to Porter’s time to become the driver. At 15, he started his trucking career as a helper on weekends, delivering milk to stores and unloading the truck.
Those early tasks were the beginning of more than a half-century of driving. During his career, Porter has driven for only four different companies. He has been dedicated and loyal to each company he works for. Most of his career time has been spent in cross-border trucking, where he could get traveling opportunities in both the U.S. and Canada.
Porter explained that he wanted travel opportunities across the U.S.-Canada border so he could focus on his second love — photography. While on the road, he has been able to promote local music artists, major concerts and festivals by contributing to a Canadian music magazine, Country Music News.
Between all the photography and driving, Porter managed to squeeze in writing a monthly column for Country Music News while simultaneously meeting big names in the country music industry.
“All of the outlaws,” Porter said of his favorite country music stars he’s met. “Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings, Kris Kristofferson, Hank, Jr., Willie Nelson … all of the bad boys.”
Of course, Porter’s concert adventures have led to a lot of good stories. At a Billy Ray Cyrus concert in Toronto, Cyrus’ manager asked if Porter had lots of film. Porter did — and the manager told him to go on stage and just start shooting.
Porter gave that life up 19 years ago, but he never quit taking photos; his focus simply shifted back to what he truly loves — trucking.
To others, a 52-year career may seem too long, but for Porter, it’s not enough. His younger brother, Dennis, once asked why he didn’t come off the road after all those years spent behind the wheel of 18-wheelers.
“I could do anything I wanted to, as far as occupations are concerned,” Porter said. “If I don’t know the business, show me the ropes; I can do it. I turned around and told him, ‘Why would I want to stop, when what I do, I do well?’”
Currently a company driver for Werner Enterprises, Porter said he imagines he’ll keep trucking until it’s truly time for him to retire. In the meantime, he’s set out to pay back the industry that has given him the job he loves.
“Here’s a job where I get paid for doing what I love, and I love what I’m doing,” he said. “I don’t have a normal social life for somebody who works nine to five (and is) home every weekend. But that’s the price I pay for being out here.”
Porter’s passion and persistence may have led him to winning TA’s Citizen Driver Award, so it’s no surprise that he has a kind heart, too. A “pay-it-forward” kind of guy, Porter works both on and off the road to ensure he can be a service to others.
Because helping is the epitome of Porter’s character, he found a way to combine his love of photography into trucking. As a regular attendee at the Great American Trucking Show (GATS) and the Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS), he volunteered to be the chief photographer for both.
“The truck shows become like a family reunion,” he said. “You see somebody setting up and you give them a hand, or do what you gotta do to give them a hand. Me, I don’t wait until I’m asked, but if I see that they need it, I volunteer.”
It’s gotten to the point that people at the shows know they don’t need to ask Porter for help, and if they do ask, they know he’ll say yes.
Porter believes that because the “older ones” of the trucking industry are leaving the industry or retiring, there’s no one left to help the younger ones just starting out.
“When you turn the drivers loose (from CDL training), the drivers don’t have enough knowledge about what you got to do every day out here,” he said. “You know how to drive your truck forward, but when you back up you don’t have enough experience and you get frustrated.”
As a result, Porter said he seeks opportunities on the road to spread light, encouragement and a helping hand. Recently, he got one of those opportunities. In May, he noticed a truck driver attempting to back into a parking space at a travel stop. Porter circled around, looking for another parking space for his truck. He came across the driver again, and realized the same driver was still attempting to park. He noticed the driver was oversteering, so Porter did what comes naturally to him — he helped. He gladly gave the driver guidance on what needed to be done to back into the spot.
“I got him to reposition the trailer, doing what I told him to do, and he finally got to be in the spot,” Porter said.
Once the driver was secure and set for his next steps, Porter told the driver, “You’ll be fine,” and walked back to his truck. After the driver was fully situated in the parking space, he came up to Porter, thanking him for the assistance.
“You’re welcome, but in the future, if you see somebody in the same position, pay it forward,” Porter told him. “You see, somebody else has stopped to help you — now, (when) you see somebody else in the same position you were in, just remember somebody helped you, and you’re going to help them.”
Another time, Porter spent eight hours talking with a stranger who was suicidal, because a friend of Porter’s knew he was the right person to help with the situation.
“I’ve been a people watcher all my life,” he said. “People with a troubled mind often have tunnel vision, and if you can take their mind away from their problems for five minutes, they can go back to the problem with fresh eyes.”
It’s Porter’s people-watching abilities that have transformed him into someone who looks for lighthearted moments in every situation. He often makes jokes with the hope that those he talks to will appreciate his humor and learn from it.
No matter what happens while he helps others, Porter continues to be guided by his philosophy of, “Do what your heart tells you is right.”
In continuing to follow this philosophy, Porter chose the Petro Stopping Center in Glendale, Kentucky, to be dedicated in his name, and he plans to split the $2,500 charitable donation he received as a 2021 Citizen Driver between St. Christopher Truckers Relief Fund and Truckers United for Charities.
It’s in his heart and through service to others that Porter thrives in his trucking career.
Hannah Butler is a lover of interesting people, places, photos and the written word. Butler is a former community newspaper reporter and editor for Arkansas Tech University’s student newspaper. Butler is currently finishing up her undergraduate print journalism degree and hopes to pursue higher education. Her work has been featured in at least nine different publications.