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Highway to heaven: Rodney Crouch and pup Sammi travel the road in a rolling tribute to rock ’n’ roll

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Highway to heaven: Rodney Crouch and pup Sammi travel the road in a rolling tribute to rock ’n’ roll
Rodney Crouch, who owns and operates Indiana-based Dangerfield Trucking, enjoys life on the road with Sammi, a rescue dog found wandering at a truck stop by a friend. (Courtesy: Rodney Crouch)

The life story of Rodney Crouch, owner and operator of Indiana-based Dangerfield Trucking, is a biography you don’t realize you need in your life until you hear it. His is a life full of highs and lows, happiness and sadness — but ultimately, one of triumph and peace. Rather than being on the “Highway to Hell,” you could say he’s on the highway to heaven.

One of 11 children, Crouch was born in Munson, Indiana. While he currently lives in Indianapolis, he counts his truck as true home, which houses both him and his faithful travel partner, a lively pup named Sammi.

“I’m basically married to my truck,” Crouch said with a laugh that immediately makes you feel like you’re talking with an old friend.

Crouch didn’t start out in the trucking industry. It was a ride-along with his cousin Angela, a trucker, that sparked his interest in setting his sights on a career as a driver.

“After that trip I went back home, where I was working two restaurant jobs and working 80 hours a week and still not being able to make ends meet,” he said. “I knew I had to make a change. I applied to trucking school and that was it.”

Crouch said he most enjoys the people he gets to meet along the way, as well as the places he gets to see while driving. He started out driving for other companies, but says he wasn’t making the money he needed to support himself and his children. Eventually, he made the dive into his own business.

The story of Dangerfield Trucking itself and how it got its name is the stuff of legend. Named after legendary comedian Rodney “I get no respect” Dangerfield, Crouch says the moniker was inspired by a very dear friend, Herman, who has since passed away.

“He was a man who went to our church, and I remember watching him throughout the years. He was an inspiration. I saw him go from only having a pick-up truck to owning his own business,” Crouch said.

“He was really close to our family and every time he saw me, he would shout out, ‘Dangerfield!’” he continued. “It became my nickname, and when he passed away … well, I had always wanted to start my own business, and when I was thinking of names, it just came to me. It was just meant to be.”

The name isn’t the only part of Crouch’s business that has deep personal meaning. His truck, a 2016 Western Star, is a moving work of art that pays homage to some of his favorite musicians.

He had saved money make a down payment on a different truck, but when his son had an accident falling off a cliff, those plans were quickly scrapped. Crouch said the seller understood his circumstances and even refunded the money he had paid.

Then, just 30 days later, he received a call from the same seller, telling him they had found the perfect truck that required a smaller down payment — the Western Star he drives today.

“When I went to pick up the truck, there were vinyl graphics already on the side from the previous owner,” Crouch said, adding that the truck had belonged to a Vietnam veteran. “It was mostly POW stuff, which I thought was so cool. Now it includes all my favorites bands. I probably have 40 bands on each side.”

The graphics feature a veritable “who’s who” of musical icons, including Eddie Van Halen, Johnny Cash, Ozzy Osbourne, Jimmy Page and Pantera. A particular hero of Crouch’s is the late former guitarist of Pantera, Darrell Abbott, better known as Dimebag Darrell. In 2004, Abbott was killed onstage in Ohio while performing with the band Damageplan.

During Crouch’s travels, he says he was fortunate enough to meet Abbott’s brother, Vinnie Paul, at a truck stop. He had a picture made with Paul and Chad Grey, another musician Paul played with at the time. That picture also adorns Crouch’s truck.

Paul isn’t the only musical hero Crouch has gotten to know.

“I went to visit Dimebag’s gravesite in Arlington, Texas” Crouch said. “I took some flowers and said hello to him.”

Crouch had always wanted a tattoo of Pantera’s first album, “Cowboys From Hell,” and he says he “just got a feeling” while in Arlington that he should go to a certain tattoo parlor. The business accepted walk-ins, so Crouch showed up and told the staff what he wanted and why.

“The whole place got silent, just dead silent. Everyone just turned around and looked at me. I thought I had said something wrong,” Crouch said, adding that they agreed to do the design for him.

After he got his tattoo, the artist asked Crouch to step outside for a chat. He asked Crouch if he recognized another artist who was working in the Parlor. Crouch said he thought the guy looked familiar but couldn’t place him. It turns out that the artist in question was Bob Zilla, the bass player for Damageplan — who had been playing onstage with Abbott the night he was murdered. Crouch and Zilla quickly developed a friendship, one that continues to this day. In addition to several tattoos by Zilla, Crouch has some of his artwork on his truck.

Of course, Crouch counts his dog, Sammi, as one of his best friends in life. She was found running around a truck stop in Indianapolis by a friend of Crouch’s. She wasn’t microchipped, and when no one claimed her, Crouch jumped at the chance to claim Sammi as his trucking buddy.

“She’s been with me ever since,” he said. “I don’t know her breed, but she’s a “Nosy Nellie” and a “Dora the Explorer” to me. She has longer legs, but kind of a dachshund face. She’s crazy, and under two years old.”

In addition to providing companionship, Sammi has proven to be a lifeline of sorts for Crouch.

Following a near-death experience — before Sammi came into his life — Crouch realized he needed to make some big changes in his life. While grieving the loss of his beloved grandmother, Crouch had made several decisions that were not healthy either physically or mentally. When he made the choice to fight literally for his life, his world began to change for the better. Those changes are still going on to this day, he says, adding that Sammi helps him remain grounded while on the road.

“She helps me learn how to play again,” Crouch said. “She helps me get out and explore. Sometimes I am so focused on work, work, work, and Sammi reminds me to be a kid. Work is something we have to do, but she teaches me to be a kid again, to have fun and be free.”

In addition, Crouch says his faith in Christ and his spirituality are a core part of who he is today. After nearly losing his life, Crouch rededicated himself and was baptized.

“God has definitely changed me,” Crouch said. “I’ve had wonderful God experiences where he has done things for me that I couldn’t do for myself. [That near-death experience] is what it took to wake me up.”

Crouch is also considering the possibility of one day creating a church that caters to the trucking community. With most church parking lots banning truck parking, he says, there are not a lot of places those in the industry can go to worship if they wish to do so.

“God is good, and he is taking care of me. I hope that I can help somebody else when I’m on the road who is struggling,” Crouch said.

“That’s what I look for with connections with people on the road. How can I be of service, and how can I be a help to other drivers?” he explained. “Some days it’s all about me, and I’ve got to get out of myself, so every day I try to do something for another driver.”

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