Christmas Eve is a time when families traditionally gather and share plenty of laughter, joy, love, fun and food.
However, the holiday season can be very different for the nation’s essential workers — especially over-the-road truck drivers. In fact, I’ll bet the only thing on many truck drivers’ Christmas list is to be home for the holidays, celebrating with their family and friends.
Most of us are familiar with the phrase, “Not all heroes wear capes.” In truth, many modern-day heroes wear ball caps and spend their days (and nights) behind the wheel of a big rig.
One of those heroes is Rock Haynes, a former truck driver. During his time on the road, he says, one Christmas season in particular stands out in his memory.
This is his story, as shared with The Trucker.
The year was 2006, and Haynes was driving for Lester Coggins Transportation (LCT), a refrigerated carrier based in Okahumpka, Florida.
Less than two weeks before Christmas, on Dec. 15, he was dispatched to pick up a load from Omaha, Nebraska, and deliver it to a terminal in Salt Lake City — a 20-hour drive. Haynes easily made the trip out to Omaha, was loaded and conducted his pre-trip inspections before heading out for Salt Lake City around 8:30 a.m.
Three hours into the drive, Haynes stopped at a rest area near Maxwell, Nebraska, before hitting the road in earnest. The following day, Dec. 16, he ran into trouble.
“I was making progress until I ran into bad weather — a blizzard around Laramie, Wyoming,” Haynes said. “Snow was falling rapidly, and within minutes, interstate 80 was completely submerged in snow. Visibility was reduced to nothing. Total darkness. Traveling was reduced to a crawl.”
As many of you drivers out there know all too well, driving a tractor-trailer with a load can be tricky. When you factor in hauling that load through a zero-visibility blizzard, the task becomes even more complicated. In addition to their own vehicles, truck drivers must also take responsibility for the safety of other motorists — who don’t always take safety into consideration when traveling in bad weather.
“What made it more dangerous was the motorists driving too fast past me. I knew my only option was to get to a safe haven as soon as possible. I remembered my training and took my time, driving at a slow speed I could handle,” Haynes said, describing what it was like driving in the first blizzard of his trucking career. “The whole time, I was praying to God to guide me and keep me safe, and he did.”
Haynes was able to make it to a rest area just west of Laramie at 1:15 a.m. Great minds obviously think alike, because vehicles were packed into that rest area tighter than sardines in a can!
“I remember the rest area was full of trucks and four-wheelers — it was packed! There was a small building that was packed with travelers just trying to keep warm,” Haynes said, still shaking his head in disbelief at how packed it was. “I was stuck there for 11 hours. I just stayed in my truck and kept myself and the truck warm so the pipes wouldn’t freeze.”
The next day, Dec. 17, he was able to head back out on the road, and he made it safely to Salt Lake City. However, at the terminal, he was greeted with complaints about the load arriving behind schedule.
“I thought to myself, ‘Better that I be late delivering due to bad weather rather than take chances and risking my life needlessly,’” Haynes said. “I meant that. Being on time for a delivery is never worth my life.”
That was Haynes’ first experience with a Wyoming blizzard — but it certainly wouldn’t be his last.
When sharing his story with The Trucker, he noted that, interestingly, becoming a truck driver wasn’t his original career choice. Then again, it seems that often the paths you never thought about following become a vital part of your life’s passion.
“Becoming a truck driver was not on my to-do list when I was younger. What got me into trucking was this: I was in my 30s and had just moved to Jacksonville, Florida, from Columbus, Georgia, on a suggestion from a friend living there,” Haynes said. “I was struggling. I was working multiple part-time jobs to make ends meet.”
There had to be more to life than working and struggling, he thought. As part of his journey to improving his way of life, Haynes enrolled at Roadmaster Drivers School in Jacksonville to earn his CDL. Speed bumps continued to pop up as Haynes started on his path to becoming a professional driver, but he persevered.
“When I enrolled in Roadmaster, I was unprepared and had to pay for school out of pocket,” Haynes shared. “I ended up having to drop two classes due to schedule conflicts and tuition costs.”
These setbacks didn’t stop him from succeeding. He studied and worked hard to earn his CDL, taking care to learn the correct information about trucking.
Jumping forward from those days in school to December 2006, Haynes realized just how much his training had prepared him for this very moment.
Upon successfully (and safely) delivering his load to Salt Lake City, on Dec. 18 he was dispatched to deliver a load of potatoes from Idaho Falls, Idaho, to Zebulon, North Carolina. Christmas was still a week away, he thought to himself, so this might not be a problem. It just might be possible to deliver this load and make it home in time for Christmas — if he could arrange for the time off.
“LCT contacted me and informed me that I could have Christmas off to spend time with my family. I got to the shipper in Idaho around 11:15 p.m. on Dec. 18th and stayed the night before heading out later that afternoon. I left at 1:30 p.m. and drove past midnight,” he recalled.
With only six days until Christmas, Haynes hatched a travel plan. Although the odds were not in his favor, he still hoped to make it home in time.
He drove three hours to Idaho Falls, arriving at the terminal at 11:15 p.m. Dec. 19. He stayed the night in Idaho Falls to catch up on his rest and hit the road again around 1:30 p.m. the next day, driving most of the night to reach Fort Bridger, Wyoming.
“My plan was to get to Columbus, Georgia, to spend the holiday with my parents and my aunt and uncle,” he said. “But, with Christmas only six days away, I knew I had to make some headway on the journey.”
But the state of Wyoming — or at least its weather — was not an ally. Mother Nature sure does have a sense of humor.
As soon as Haynes reached Cheyenne, Wyoming, on the evening of Dec. 20, a second blizzard forced the closure of all surrounding interstates and roads … and, of course, every truck stop was filled to capacity.
“Fortunately, I found a rest area. They usually didn’t allow trucks to park there, but they made an exception (because of the weather),” said Haynes. “So, I stayed in Cheyenne. I was stuck there for 35 hours. I finally departed at 5:30 a.m. on Dec. 22.”
By now, Christmas was just three days away — and Haynes faced many hours of driving to reach his goal of spending the holiday with his family. His hopes were dwindling. However, even though the odds were not in his favor, Haynes says he knew that faith can bring miracles.
“I admit, I was worried about not making it to Columbus in time. So, I planned an alternate route by taking Nebraska Highway 2 east from Lincoln, Nebraska, crossing into Missouri, and taking Interstate 29 south to Kansas City, Missouri,” he said. “Then I took Interstate 70 east to St Louis, Missouri, where I took Interstate 55 south to West Memphis, Arkansas.”
Haynes arrived in West Memphis on Christmas Eve — almost home, but still not quite there.
“On Christmas day, I left West Memphis and crossed the Mississippi River into Memphis, Tennessee, where I took U.S. 72 into Mississippi, all the way to Birmingham, Alabama,” Haynes recalled, as he flipped through an old log to refresh his memory. “From there, I took U.S. 280 to Opelika, Alabama, and eventually to Columbus.”
He arrived in Columbus shortly before 6 p.m. on Christmas Day. He might have arrived earlier, he says, but the Alabama Department of Transportation pulled him over for an inspection (which he passed, by the way).
“That trip took most of the day. I got a hotel for the night; then my parents picked me up and we spent the rest of Christmas at my aunt and uncle’s house,” Haynes said. “I told them I would have made it sooner, but Mother Nature had to have her way.”
That year, against all odds, Haynes made it home just in time to celebrate Christmas with his family before hitting the road again the following morning.
“But I made that Christmas Day the best. I was glad to be home for Christmas,” he said.
“I hope there are truckers who can relate to my story,” he added. “The best reward for being a trucker is being home for the holidays.”
These days, Haynes is living life off the road. Just two years after that fateful Christmas journey of 2006, he had to temporarily retire from trucking because of health issues. Unfortunately, after all his hard work, he also gave up his CDL.
Nearly two decades later, Haynes says he’s not going to let his health (or age) get in the way of returning to the road.
“For now, I’m working part-time and looking to take on another job. I’m also working on getting my health to a reasonable level and maintaining it because I want to get back out there,” he said. “I want to get my CDL again and get back on the road.
In my experience as a truck driver, I had times I could not make it for the holidays, especially Christmas,” he continued. “It’s the best time of the year — and the busiest time, for there are a lot of truckers out on the road, just making a living and hoping to make it home for Christmas to be with their families and friends.”
Born and raised in Little Rock, AR, Erica N. Guy decided to stay in her hometown to begin her professional career in journalism. Since obtaining her bachelor’s degree from UAPB, Erica has professionally written for several publications about several topics ranging from lifestyle, tech, culture, and entertainment, just to name a few. Continuing her love for her hometown, she joined our team in June 2023, where she is currently a staff writer. Her career goals include continuing storytelling through her writing by being the best professional writer she can be. In her spare time, Erica enjoys trying new foods, cozying up with a good book, spending time with family and friends, and establishing herself as a future businesswoman.