Some drivers come to trucking because that’s what their father or another family member did. Chris Slindee came to trucking to honor his father’s memory.
“He loved the Peterbilts,” Slindee said of his dad. “He drove a couple with the aero packages, but he always loved going back to the long-nosed trucks.”
The elder Slindee never reached his goal of traveling to all 48 continental states during his 38-year driving career.
“That’s why I made it my goal. I want to visit all 48 in his memory,” Chris said.
Driving isn’t the only thing he and his dad had in common. Before becoming a driver, his father worked as a diesel mechanic.
Slindee joined the U.S. Army at age 18 with a specialty of Light Wheel Vehicle Mechanic. Technically, that meant working on smaller vehicles, such as the Humvee that replaced the iconic Jeep. When Slindee got to his first duty station, however, he was assigned to work on heavy equipment.
“It didn’t bother me, because I grew up working on farm equipment and heavy equipment with my dad and grandpa,” he remarked. A short time later (“21 years, six months and eight days, but who’s counting?” he quips), Slindee retired from the Army with the rank of Master Sergeant.
Initially, he planned to continue in the field of diesel repair in the civilian world. Knowing he’d need a CDL to transport and test the vehicles he’d be working on, he enrolled at the Fort Bliss, Texas, campus of Phoenix Truck Driving School. As part of the Soldier for Life Transition Assistance Program, he was able to use his Army benefits to pay for school and maintain his income while learning.
Slindee planned to continue his training, once he got his CDL, at the Universal Technical Institute (UTI) in Phoenix to begin his career as a diesel mechanic. Unfortunately, his father passed away before that happened.
“I just decided that I was going to continue trucking in his honor,” Slindee explained.
He’s reached 46 of the 48 contiguous states in his quest to achieve his father’s dream, lacking only North Dakota and Minnesota. As a driver for Knight Transportation, he’s been offered loads to Minnesota, but he wants the state to be the last one on the list for a special reason: He plans to visit his father’s grave and tell him about his accomplishment.
Slindee’s work at Knight and his determination to honor his father earned him a nomination for the “Transition Trucking: Driving for Excellence” award that honors America’s drivers who have made a successful transition from active military service to commercial driver.
The contest, co-sponsored by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s “Hiring our Heroes Program,” the FASTPORT Trucking Track Mentoring Program and Kenworth Trucks, awards a new T680 with a 76-inch sleeper to the overall winner.
As one of three finalists, Slindee was provided a tour of the MHC Kenworth facility in Ohio and a seat at the Wreaths Across America 30th anniversary dinner.
“I’m glad I was a part of it, and I’m grateful for the entire event, everything we got to experience —and we got to do a lot,” he said.
Although he wasn’t chosen as the overall winner, Slindee relishes the experience. He was a bit disappointed, however, because winning the truck would have helped him achieve another of his father’s unfulfilled goals.
“He never owned his own truck,” Slindee explained. “So, I want to own my own truck, and I will. The question now is, ‘Do I go traditional style, or do I go aero cab?’”
He doesn’t really have a preference, except that his father would appreciate the traditional long hood.
“When Dad drove for his last company, he drove a Volvo, but whenever it was due for service they’d put him in an old long-nosed Pete until his truck was done,” Slindee explained. “He really made it hard for them to get their truck back.”
While he may be debating the style of truck, Slindee is settled on a few things.
“I really want a manual transmission,” he said. “I want twin stacks, and I want to use my Jake brakes. And I’ve gotta have all the chicken lights,” he concluded.
As far as where Slindee will work once he has his own truck, that’s undecided.
“I’d like to stay with Knight, but it would really depend on what the pay is like,” he said. “There’s a lot of safety and security in staying, and I won’t be worrying about getting loads.”
On the other hand, Slindee has a friend who owns a small refrigerated business and wants to recruit him.
“He’s a military friend of mine, and I’d like to help him get his company going,” he commented. “So, I need to weigh my options as far as whether I want the security of staying with Knight or jumping over there.”
One decision Slindee has already made is changing the status of his partner from “girlfriend” to “fiancée.”
“She doesn’t know yet,” he confided to The Trucker, “but it’s okay if you put it in the story.”
The couple recently moved from Texas to a new home in Denver.
“It was one of the most random, spontaneous decisions that I’ve ever made, along with my fiancée,” he said. “I was kind of depressed in El Paso and didn’t realize it. We moved to Denver, and within the first two days of being there, I just felt like a whole new person.”
Slindee like to spend his off hours riding his Harley Davidson Road Glide motorcycle. These days, his fiancée often rides along.
“Before I met her, I rode from El Paso to Minnesota, met up with my dad and we rode to Sturgis together. Then it was New York, then Virginia. The trip came out to 7,500 miles,” Slindee shared.
Wherever his career leads, Slindee plans to continue honoring his father and the traditions of the past as he rides confidently into the future.
Cliff Abbott is an experienced commercial vehicle driver and owner-operator who still holds a CDL in his home state of Alabama. In nearly 40 years in trucking, he’s been an instructor and trainer and has managed safety and recruiting operations for several carriers. Having never lost his love of the road, Cliff has written a book and hundreds of songs and has been writing for The Trucker for more than a decade.