Growing up in Bullfrog Valley, Arkansas, Jimmy Reddell would sit around with his uncle, Clayton Reddell, and talk about trucks.
“My uncle was a truck driver. He started driving in the ’60s — about ’64, I think,” Jimmy Reddell said.
“He said, ‘About the only thing I ever made any money at was driving them old trucks. And it was work back then.’ He talked about no air conditioning, being in the little cigarette pack in the back bouncing around. He said, ‘Them old trucks would beat you to death.’” Reddell recalled.
“I said, ‘How’d you find stuff?’” he continued. “He said, ‘Well, we had rolls of dimes, and we spent most of the time lost, running around in circles, getting directions from people.’”
Such conversations were a big part of how Reddell eventually wound up behind the wheel himself. It would take a while — Reddell hired on with Texas-based Stevens Transport in 2020 following a military career that ran almost uninterrupted from 1983 to 2019 — but once there, 55-year-old Reddell wasted no time making a name for himself.
“I like driving, like seeing the country. Your boss is never around,” he said with a chuckle. “There’s just a lot of pluses to driving. I enjoy it so far. I just stayed behind the wheel, kept the greasy side down, shiny side up.’”
On Dec. 20, Reddell received the “Transition Trucking: Driving for Excellence” award, denoting the nation’s top rookie military veteran. The annual award, presented in Washington, D.C., recognizes the military veteran who most successfully transitioned from active duty to driving for a commercial fleet.
Reddell topped an elite field of drivers for the award, which included a brand-new Kenworth T680 as the grand prize. Equipped with a 76-inch sleeper, the rig features the complete PACCAR powertrain with a PACCAR MX-13 engine, PACCAR TX-12 automated transmission and PACCAR DX-40 tandem rear axles.
“This is certainly a special moment for me. I’m very honored to receive the 2021 Transition Trucking award out of all the deserving veterans nominated,” said Reddell in a press release announcing his win. “Thanks to Stevens Transport and Angela Horowitz [Stevens’ vice president of administration and driver resources] for nominating me.
“Also, special thanks to Hiring Our Heroes, FASTPORT and Kenworth for their support of veterans making the transition into the trucking industry,” he continued. “I can’t wait to get the Kenworth T680 out on the road.”
Reddell entered the Army Reserve just 33 days after his 17th birthday, serving a six-year hitch that was largely classified as “inactive.” He left the armed forces between 1989 and 1993, but then returned to active duty and served in the Army from 1993 to 2002. Then, from 2002 until 2019, he spent time in the Army National Guard and Army Reserve.
While in the service, Reddell held several different jobs, including truck driver, field artillery, air defense artillery, computer training, civil affairs, recruiting and logistics. When he got out for good, Uncle Clayton’s stories still rang in his head.
“I was at a place in my life where I’d just come back from Qatar from a civilian contract with the military and COVID had hit, so everything was in a slump,” he said. “I had been taking it easy for a few months; then I was thinking, ‘What am I going to do next?’
“Truck driving was something I always wanted to do,” he shared. “I like the freedom of it. I don’t have a wife or kids or a house or anything, so I was in a position in my life to where I had the opportunity to do it with no strings attached. It was kind of a no-brainer.”
Reddell racked up an estimated 110,000 to 120,000 miles during his rookie campaign, hauling for Stevens to destinations all over the country. When asked about the biggest “learning curve” he discovered out on the road, he said the constant problem-solving was a challenge from the very start.
“The freedom of the open road and seeing new places, that was exactly as I had imagined,” he said. “What I didn’t grasp was (that during) the first 30 days it was like, there was a problem, then there was another problem, then there was another problem. To me, they were big problems that I really couldn’t solve.
“Then, after that month, I realized that trucking was just problem-solving, and I accepted the fact that there’s going to be problem after problem after problem,” he continued. “It was little stuff, you know, just crazy stuff. You’ve got a big piece of equipment that you can’t park just anywhere. You can’t stop and eat just anywhere. You can’t take off fast and you can’t stop fast.”
“Once I settled into that, they started not really being problems,” he said. “It’s just another day at work. That was really the big eye-opener.”
It should be noted that Reddell overcame all obstacles he encountered with flying colors. He recently became an independent contractor through Stevens Transport Contractor Division. He had been leasing a truck — something he now no longer has to do, thanks to the Transition Trucking award.
“I go all over, although now as a business owner, I’m starting to stay away from the Northeast,” he said. “I just think there’s more unknown business costs associated with the Northeast, it seems like. And there’s more to driving out west for me anyway.”
As for Reddell’s childhood hero, he and Uncle Clayton still talk nearly every day when the younger Reddell is out on the road. This time, it’s the 88-year-old elder Reddell who’s living through the experiences of another.
“He really, really wants to be out here driving,” Jimmy Reddell said. “He calls me almost every day when I’m driving. He’ll see where I’m at and talk to me and ask me what happened. He might not talk very long, but he wants to know where I’m at, what I’ve done, what kind of problems I’ve had. He’s like, ‘Yeah, they need to fix that. Yeah, it’s been that way for 50 years. You’d think they’d do something about that.’”
When asked about his plans for the future, Reddell said he’s content doing what he’s doing, even if he did get a later start than most.
“I had an old man tell me, ‘Get out of it now, because once it gets in your blood, you’ll never be happy unless you’re driving,’” he said.
Reddell says that’s fine with him.
Dwain Hebda is a freelance journalist, author, editor and storyteller in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to The Trucker, his work appears in more than 35 publications across multiple states each year. Hebda’s writing has been awarded by the Society of Professional Journalists and a Finalist in Best Of Arkansas rankings by AY Magazine. He is president of Ya!Mule Wordsmiths, which provides editorial services to publications and companies.