If you ask Marcus Kurtz what he hauls, he’ll probably say he drives fresh and frozen food to the Midwest for Brent Miller Trucking of Allenwood, Pennsylvania, but that’s only part of his load. He also carries 25 years of industry experience. He often carries his wife and four children — but not all at the same time. And he carries on a family tradition that began in 1884.
That’s when Kurtz’s great-grandfather started a feed mill in Akron, Pennsylvania, and launched the family’s trucking legacy with feed-related loads. He passed on the business to his son, who left it to Kurtz’s father and uncles.
Kurtz was born in 1979. In 1987, his father moved to upstate New York and started a second mill, which became independent in 1991. Kurtz’s brothers now own the mill, as well as a farm where they raise dairy cows and cash crops.
“When I was a kid, all I wanted to do was farm,” he said, adding that he still helps plant and harvest. “I wanted to drive a truck, too, so I decided to get into trucking, and it just kind of stuck.”
Trucks were a part of Kurtz’s daily life growing up. He said he started driving equipment around the mill when he was 12 or 13, and he drove his first semi down the road when he was 16. He drove straight trucks for his father, earning his Class B commercial driver’s license at 18 and his Class A at 21.
The family only drove locally, and their farthest runs were three hours away.
“Back then, that was a very big deal to be gone all day on the truck with my dad,” he said. “Now my kids think the same way.”
When Kurtz was 23, he married his wife, Julia, and began driving for her family’s company, Black Bear Trucking, of Mifflintown, Pennsylvania. The pair are now parents to Sharla Joelle, 17; Leslie DeShawn, 15; Sheryl Janae, 13; and Shannon Jewel, 8.
Kurtz usually leaves on Sundays and returns on Fridays, a schedule he said his children have grown to accept.
“It makes it difficult, especially for me, when they get to go do family functions and I’m here, working a thousand miles from home,” he said. “It does pull hard on the heart, but at the same time, when I get home, they’re always the first ones out to the truck to meet me.”
Kurtz’s father-in-law sold him his first truck — a 2000 Kenworth — in 2004. In 2007, Kurtz dozed off at the wheel and rolled the truck down a 20-foot embankment.
“If it would have been a minute earlier, I would have went down a 200-foot ravine; and if it had been a minute later, I would have run head-on into a rock wall,” he said. “I’m very thankful to be alive today.”
He bought a second truck, which he sold in 2011. He said he looked for a day job at that time, but the lack of good-paying work in his area soon put him back on the road. He added that he enjoys the family-centered environment at Brent Miller Trucking, where he has worked since October 2018.
“They actually bought this truck for me,” he said of the 1995 Kenworth W900L he now drives. “Growing up, this was always one of my dream trucks to drive, and they actually bought it and surprised me with it.”
The rig is equipped with a Kenworth Aerodyne Sleeper and a 2016 Great Dane 54-foot trailer. The company purchased the truck in May 2019, and Kurtz took it on the road that fall. He carries a toolbox with him so he can complete minor repairs on the go. One of the perks of using older equipment is that it is relatively easy and inexpensive to work on, he said.
He is happy to rattle off the details of the truck — 550-34-60 cab, 18-speed transmission, 3.36 rears, 295-inch wheelbase — as well as the work his company put into it. Their shop rebuilt or upgraded everything from the engine, drivetrain, suspension and brakes to the wiring, dash panels and carpet. Most of the interior is original, Kurtz said, and he still plans to work on the rears.
“I run it as if I own it,” he said. “Between me and the shop, we keep this truck running in tip-top shape. That’s the kind of person I’ve always been. I always take care of my truck, because it’s how I make my bread and butter.”
The truck has 3.3 million miles on it, and Kurtz has covered his fair share of ground. He’s driven the truck as far as Texas, Tennessee, Washington and Connecticut. Last winter he fulfilled a long-standing dream by driving across the Rocky Mountains.
Trucking is not easy work, he said, adding that he wishes more people could see drivers’ daily lives so they would show more consideration when it comes to giving drivers room to maneuver or places to park.
“It would be really nice if people could understand more of what we do and more of what we go through to put food on the shelves for them,” he said. “It’s the way we support our families, but also, it’s the way we support our country.”
Kurtz has also received his share of appreciation. He said twice other diners have anonymously paid for his meals when he was on the road, and he also enjoys the bonds forged between drivers.
“There’s people that are out here simply for the paycheck. I’m out here because it’s my livelihood,” he said. “It’s a passion of mine. It was always something that I wanted to do, and I guess you could say that I’m fulfilling one of my dreams.”
Kurtz says he might have passed the trucking gene on to his son, who hopes Kurtz will buy another truck and give it to him when he turns 21. Whether that happens depends on the economy, Kurtz said, and he has a different goal to look forward to — farming.
“I keep saying that I don’t want to drive trucks all my life, but so far, it seems like that’s about how it’s working out,” he said. “I would hope someday, maybe in the next 10 or 15 years, to slow down and buy a small farm anyway, and do a little bit of hobby farming with my kids.”
Sarah DeClerk is a multiskilled journalist who specializes in features writing. She has written articles for The Trucker, The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Arkansas Flag and Banner’s Brave magazine and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock Forum. She earned her bachelor’s degree in mass communication from UA-Little Rock in 2013. She has been a board member of the Arkansas Society of Professional Journalists since 2017 and currently serves as chapter president. Her interests include hiking, traveling and the arts.