DES MOINES, Iowa — On Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, Iowa trucker Russ Allen returned his keys to TMC Transportation for the final time, ending a 33-and-a-half-year career of driving for the company.
Allen, who grew up on a farm, says he remembers watching the big trucks in the field as he raised cattle. He recalls that farming got tough in the 1980s, and that transitioning from part-time driver for a local sale barn to a full-time trucker in 1985 was a decision of necessity. After two years of driving over the road, Allen was hired by the late Walt Annett, who was then TMC’s vice president of maintenance, to drive for TMC in May 1987.
“I had a good friend who drove for TMC. I thought that the shiny black trucks were a lot nicer than the cabovers I had been driving,” he explained.
After more than three decades of driving at TMC, Allen says the most rewarding part of his job has been parking a shiny Kenworth or Peterbilt in front of his house on the weekends. Another high point, he noted, is the flexibility that comes with hauling flatbed freight.
“With flatbeds, you get exercise, which makes staying in shape easier than shutting the doors on a box trailer,” Allen said.
“I enjoyed taking my kids with me several times. My daughter, Alicia, had never seen a mountain before,” he continued. “Being able to share those special moments with family, exploring new sights made it all worth it.”
Since Allen entered trucking, there have been numerous changes in the industry — especially regarding technology. In the 1980s there were no cellphones or GPS.
According to Allen, the biggest obstacle he had to overcome in those days was “going into any big city, trying to find where to go unload. Over time it got easier, but it was a challenge.”
Winter driving was an obstacle as well. “It takes time getting to know what the truck can or can’t do,” he noted, adding that slowing down when the roads got bad was key to his safe driving record.
When asked about what advice he would give to a new driver, Allen shared, “The pay is good if you work for it.”
While being a truck driver isn’t always easy, it can be a rewarding career.
“Every day has different challenges,” he said. “The work can be hard, but when you get that special load that looks cool on the trailer, it makes the extra work worthwhile. If you stay long enough to get on the specialized or boat division, it can be rewarding. As an ex-farmer, parking a shiny new piece of machinery at my house can be impressive.”
Allen also shared some advice for young or inexperienced drivers.
“I would say, ‘Be really careful when loading and unloading,’” he said.
“I got in a hurry several times and fell off trailers or had a tarp roll off insulation and hit my head (I used to be taller),” he continued. “Things like that, you shake it off and keep going, but years later you look back and think, ‘Why did I let that happen?’”
His second piece of advice: “Tie the loads down and tarp right the first time. Then, you do not have to stop and redo anything. The load stays on the trailer.”
Now that he’s retired, Allen says he plans to work on the farm and spend time with his four grandsons. His son, Jed, farms in addition to running an agriculture machinery repair business. In addition, Allen and his wife, Molly, plan to do some traveling.
“I made lifelong friends here at TMC. I was always treated well by people in the shops, the fleet managers, all the way up to (TMC CEO) Harrold Annett. I will always be thankful for Walt Annett hiring me. He is the reason I stayed for over 33 years,” Allen said, noting that he enjoyed working the entire team, including fleet manager Glenda Miller, operations manager Chad Reece and Mike Duffy, who became TMC’s vice president of maintenance two years ago.
“I cannot believe I am over 70 years old and spent nearly half my life at TMC,” Allen said. “I want to thank everyone who I worked with here, and Todd Bunting (vice president of safety). Thankfully, I stayed on the good side of Todd — most of the time.”
While Duffy is sad to see Allen retire, “he’s earned it, and I’m excited for him,” Duffy said.
“I think everybody has a short list of individuals who they know that can be counted on to do the right thing and do it to the best of their ability every time,” Duffy continued. “Russ is definitely on my list, and I’m sure many others. His work ethic is unbelievable as is his attention to detail.”