WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Val Fears, a veteran truck driver for Old Dominion Freight Line, couldn’t help but feel a sense of pride during one of his hauls last week.
For the most part, Fears doesn’t concern himself with what’s on board as he and his driving partner, Greensboro’s Michael Greene, take their 18-wheeler up and down the East Coast. In this instance, however, he found out he had valuable protective masks that needed to be taken to Charlotte.
“It felt good to know we were helping out folks, especially when you hear the masks are needed all around the country,” Fears said by phone from his home in Yadkinville.
Fears and his wife, Erica, along with daughter, Neveah, an eighth grader, all realize that during the coronavirus pandemic, the role of a truck driver keeping supplies coming is even more important.
“He did feel like a hero when he found out he was delivering masks,” Erica said, “but to us he’s always been a hero.”
Fears, 45, has been a truck driver for 18 years, and for the last two years his normal route has been Greensboro to Brooklyn. He took that route again on April 8, a route that has been less strenuous.
“The traffic is basically non-existent because everybody is at home and everybody is trying to do the right thing and stay safe,” said Fears, who has been sharing driving duties with Greene for about three years. “We can get to Brooklyn in about eight hours, which is a far cry from how long it took us a few weeks ago.”
Old Dominion Freight Line, one of the biggest trucking companies in the United States with nearly 22,000 employees, is based in Thomasville. The company has nearly 6,000 trucks and owns nearly 23,000 trailers in the United States.
Fears said that, for the most part, he has remained busy.
“It’s slowed down a little but not much,” Fears said. “The other day we had a trip canceled, but that’s been about it as far as my team.”
Fears said that at transfer stations for loading or unloading, most workers are wearing gloves and masks. While New York City has been hit hard with the pandemic, Fears said they don’t linger in Brooklyn.
“We do what we need to do there at the transfer station, and then get back out on the road so we don’t come in contact with many folks,” Fears said.
On April 6, Fears picked up a homemade mask from Laura Diaz, an LPGA Tour golfer who lives in Winston-Salem. Diaz, an All-America at Wake Forest, is a family friend and has turned her sewing machine into a mask-making machine.
Diaz, who has family in New York, and her daughter, Lily, a fourth grader, have given out plenty of masks to family and friends. Diaz also sent a mask to a relative, Lisa Heese, a nurse at Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco, N.Y., about an hour north of New York City. Diaz also sent one to her sister, Kim Hesse, a nurse in upstate New York.
This isn’t Fears’ first time working through a traumatic time in the United States. After Hurricane Katrina came ashore in 2005, Fears hauled gas and took his rig to the New Orleans area.
“We filled up our trucks in the Charleston area then drove to New Orleans to help with the shortage,” Fears said. “When we showed up, people were applauding us as we unloaded the gas. That was a tough time for everybody when Hurricane Katrina hit.”
Fears says his job has always been important to him, but he understands how it’s more important these days.
“We are just trying to do our part,” he said.