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Passing down passion: Pennsylvania family shares a father-son love of trucking

Passing down passion: Pennsylvania family shares a father-son love of trucking
Lamar Buckwalter, left, said he inherited his love of trucks from his dad, Mark Buckwalter, right. (Photo by Lane Buckwalter)

Pretty much every driver wants a great start to a trucking career. For Lamar Buckwalter, owner of Leola, Pennsylvania-based Buckwalter Trucking, the end of a career is important, too. He’s working to make sure his father and mentor, Mark Buckwalter, finishes up his driving career in comfort and style.

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Mark’s truck is a 2005 Kenworth W900 that features a 1999 Caterpillar C15 engine, rated at 525 horsepower, and a 13-speed manual transmission. The custom color package has a gray base, accented with stripes in colors that he and his wife picked out. Of course, there’s a lot of chrome, from the visor to the 6-inch dual exhaust, stainless-steel boxes, custom light panels and more.

“I chose the Kenworth 900 for the way it rides. Other trucks just aren’t the same,” Lamar said. When he purchased his dad’s truck, Lamar was driving a Kenworth T660 that had been featured on a Cat Scale Super Trucks card. In August 2020, while pulling a brand-new trailer he had just picked up, Lamar’s truck was totaled in an accident on I-95 near Hardeeville, South Carolina. More than 30 vehicles were involved in the crash, which occurred during a heavy downpour.

Lamar wasn’t seriously injured, but the business was set back, and he and his wife started the recovery process. Their search for a replacement turned up another Kenworth W900 that he purchased, this one with a dark red paint job, a 1999 Caterpillar engine (just like his dad’s) and an 18-speed transmission.

“I replaced the exhaust system with a ‘picket style’ exhaust with 6-inch pipes, put stainless-steel boxes on both sides, (and added) a drop visor and custom light panels,” he said.

It turns out that the two W900s have VINs that are so close, they were likely to have been on the production line at the same time. The Buckwalters refer to the trucks as the “ugly sisters” — but they’re far from ugly.

“They’re both real attention getters,” Lamar remarked. “Somebody is always looking or taking pictures of them.”

Another feature common to both of the trucks, as well as the trailers they pull, are decals of the cartoon character Snoopy, Lamar’s childhood hero.

“He stuck up for the underdogs, was loyal, brought good cheer and always willing to save the day. I adopted his ways into my personal life, which carries into my business,” Lamar explained, pointing to assisting other drivers, being loyal to customers and having a positive, upbeat attitude as attributes inspired by the character.

Mark has been a huge influence on Lamar’s trucking career. Mark’s career began with a farm-equipment manufacturer, where he obtained a chauffeur’s license so he could deliver equipment.

“I always liked trucks,” Mark said. “My oldest brother was a driver, and he kind of got me started 42 years ago. I’ve hauled steel, buildings, bridge girders, concrete building sections.”

Lamar rode along on many of those trips. He and Mark remember one trip in particular, when Lamar was 8 years old, that presented a problem.

“We were hauling empty beer bottles to a brewery. We ended up spending 12 hours in the guard shack because they wouldn’t let Lamar in,” Mark recalled.

“My mom says I knew every make and model of truck before I knew my ABCs,” Lamar said. “I tease her that I was conceived in a truck and born in a truck, and I’ll probably die in a truck.”

Lamar’s trucking career was accelerated when Mark had a heart attack, leaving his truck sitting idle.

“I knew his truck wouldn’t bring in a dime while it was sitting, he said. “I started working towards getting my CDL.”

Once he obtained his CDL, he became a company driver for the same company his dad’s truck was leased to.

“I tried flatbed, because I figured there wasn’t a lot of backing, but then they put me in a reefer,” he remarked.

As a trucking rookie, Lamar had much to learn. He didn’t complete a single log page during his first trucking gig, until a manager at the company asked why he wasn’t turning them in about a month after he started work. “I had to re-create history,” he said.

Later, when Lamar asked his dad to let him drive a truck in a charity truck convoy, Mark decided to “have some fun” with the new driver. Lamar didn’t notice that his father had slid the trailer tandems all the way to the rear before handing over the keys.

“I got to the end of the convoy shaking,” Lamar said with a laugh.

These days, both Lamar and Mark pull refrigerated trailers, hauling produce and food products along with van freight when it makes business sense.

“We’re LTL (less than truckload), so we might pick up 10 pallets here and another 10 somewhere else,” Lamar explained. Portable bulkheads are carried to separate shipments when needed.

These days, Mark may officially be a company driver for Lamar, but that’s only a technicality to Lamar.

“It’s his truck. Whatever he wants, he gets,” Lamar said, adding that the pair’s working relationship is different, too.

“I don’t know what it’s like to have a ‘normal’ employee,” Lamar quipped, adding, “I know he’s coming to the end of his career, so I’m always trying to find ways to make his last years his best.”

Trucking isn’t the only passion Mark passed on to Lamar.

“I like drag racing,” Mark said. “I haven’t raced since ’69, when I had a Nova SS with a 396. The back end was jacked up and kinda gave me a legal issue,” he added.

Lamar’s racing interest leans to sprint cars.

“I’m heavily involved in the sprint car world. I sponsor some race teams,” Lamar said, noting that possibly the biggest is the World of Outlaws Jason Johnson Racing team. “He was my best friend, and we used to joke that I’d sponsor his team one day.”

Tragically, Johnson, known as the “Ragin’ Cajun” on the sprint car circuit, lost his life in 2018 in a crash at Wisconsin’s Beaver Dam Raceway. Lamar still sponsors the team, and stays in touch with Johnson’s widow and son.

Another person with whom Lamar stays in touch with is Ayden Lavertue, a cancer patient he came to know through the Make a Wish foundation. Ayden’s wish was to join a pit crew on a professional race team. After being turned down by NASCAR and IHRA, the organization contacted Lamar, who put them in touch with his contacts in the sprint car circuit. In May 2019, Ayden’s wish became reality the at the Lincoln Speedway in Abbottstown, Pennsylvania.

Lamar also has his Firefighter 1 certification and volunteers at the local fire department when he’s not on the road. He spent time as a rescue worker at ground zero after the tragic events of 9/11.

The Buckwalter children, Lane (15) and Leslie (11), are both very active at their schools, but still find ways to help their dad with the trucking business. Lamar said Lane helps with everything from sanitizing trailers to full-service oil changes and polishing the trucks. Leslie also brings her personal touch to the family business by helping with cleaning the inside of the trucks and making “TV dinners” for her dad to take on the road. Lamar said she also leaves notes for him to find while he is on the road with messages such as “I love you.” Lamar said he keeps one in his sleeper and looks at it every time he goes to bed.

Faith is important to the Buckwalters. Featured on both trucks are Bible-based statements that are important to each driver. Mark’s truck has “Walk by faith, not by sight” on the side, while Lamar’s says “Beyond Belief.” Both Lamar and Mark are active at Carpenter Community Church in Talmadge, Pennsylvania, where Lamar’s wife manages the youth ministry.

Loyalty, good cheer and willingness to stick up for the underdog are all qualities the Buckwalters — and Snoopy — can be proud of.

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.
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