After 11 years in the trucking game, John Williams finally realized his dream of becoming an owner-operator with the purchase of his own rig last September. And while that milestone may have been more than a decade in coming, he’s more than made up for lost time. Everywhere he goes, people recognize the Superman-style design of his truck.
“The Superman logo was on the truck when I bought it,” Williams admits of the 2005 9900 IX International he purchased off of an acquaintance. “Somebody at the dealership decided to put it on there. It wasn’t an idea of mine.”
The paint job may not have been his doing, but the identity has quickly stuck to the Louisiana native.
“Mercer Transportation, the company I lease my truck to, is based out of Kentucky. They have over 2,000 drivers,” Williams said. “When I was in orientation with them, during COVID, they were only doing 10 people at a time. Those guys see me now, they always say, ‘Hey Superman!’ That’s what everybody called me.
“Now, don’t matter where I go, doesn’t matter what state I’m in, they see the Superman logo and everybody calls me Superman,” he continued. “And I work out, you know, so I’m kind of a big guy. I’m not a scrawny guy. I’m a little muscular, so it just goes with it.”
All of that makes a charming story — but Williams’ life on the road has demonstrated that his “Man of Steel” mettle goes much deeper than a coat of paint. If ever there was a guy who started at the very bottom in an industry it is he.
“Since I was young, I always knew I wanted to drive trucks. It’s not a family thing. It just always intrigued me, ever since I could remember,” he said. “After I got my license, I was 19 years old, and me being so young, nobody wanted to hire me. So, I kind of asked around, asked a few of my friends (about job leads). A cop that stayed down the street from us, one of his buddies owned a sanitation business, like portalets.
“I stayed there for three years and got me some experience; started out with a Class B truck with a tanker on the back, pumping out portalets,” he recalls. “Once I did that, I moved up to the Class A, and I started driving in the oil fields. And then I started driving big trucks, big tractor-trailers.”
Williams reveled in the open road, just as he had dreamed. In addition, he said, he felt a sense of pride for his ability to support his family, which now includes two boys and a girl, ranging in ages from 1 to 12. He was also fulfilling the core values his mother, Constance, instilled in him early in life.
“Man, she always told me, even when my dad wasn’t there and it was only my mom and my siblings, ‘My kids, when they get big, they won’t depend on anybody, and they’re going to have their own,’” he said. “She said, ‘You ain’t going to depend on the government or anything. You’re going to go out there and you’re going to work, and you’re going to strive to support you and your family.’”
So, when the oil fields suffered a downturn and Williams’ income plummeted, he never had any option but keep pushing onward. A friend recruited Williams for some job opportunities outside of trucking in West Texas and, despite being separated from his family, Williams did what he had to do.
“Trucking just wasn’t in it for me at that time. I was looking for an alternative to support my family,” Williams said. “Turns out I needed my CDL, because I had to drive the crane trucks and all the rest of the equipment. I got my crane certification with them. I got my craning license.
“I stayed with the company for two years, working 28 days on and 14 days off. I saved up my money until it was time for me to come back home,” he continued. “I made really good money, but I just got tired of being away from my family all the time.”
The experience helped Williams get a leg up on his next goal, one that had been hatched while still trucking in the oil fields.
“When I started, I wanted my CDL so bad. I really wasn’t thinking about owning my own truck. Getting my CDL was the only thing on my mind,” he said. “In the oil fields, there’s a lot of owner-operators, and they all told me, ‘If you ever have the opportunity to buy your own truck, that’s the way to go.’
“When I came home from Texas, I knew for a fact that I was going to buy me a truck,” he explained. “They have this Facebook group for truckers back home and I put on there, ‘Hey, if anybody has a truck for sale, I’m interested in buying one.’ All these people hit me up, saying they had a truck for sale for this price, that price. There just wasn’t anything that caught my eye to where I had to have it.”
As word got around, Williams’ friend eventually approached him about buying his truck, Superman logo and all. Making that deal, Williams had come full circle, not only with his career, but with that particular piece of equipment.
“Actually, this truck here is the very first 18-wheeler I drove when I first started driving,” Williams said. “When I moved up to the 18-wheelers, this was my very first truck.”
Williams said the life of an owner-operator has fit him to a T, providing the chance to earn while doing what he loves, and on a schedule that helps him minimize time away from home or missing his kids’ events and activities. And it’s already sparked his next goal.
“I want to own at least two more big trucks. I would love to help out somebody that’s in the same shoes that I was in, where nobody really wants to give them a shot,” he said.
“But you have to have the same mindset as me. I want somebody that’s on the same level as me, that’s going to respect my truck, that’s going to respect the business and respect themselves. You know what I mean? Have the decency to respect another man’s craft. That’s how I’m providing for my family, as well as you, the driver. Simple as that,” he continued.
“I’m never going to put just anybody in my truck that’s going to go out there and is going to total my truck or hit somebody else, kill a family, or that’s going to disregard anything that’s going on with the truck,” Williams concluded. “I want somebody that wants to be there, that actually loves trucking and sees it the way I see it. If they’ve driven, I’ll give anybody a shot. I don’t care who you are.”
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.