On a recent stopover in New Mexico, longtime driver Frank Wehmeyer was walking out of a store with a bag of groceries when another driver approached him.
“Hey, we’ve never met,” said the stranger with a big grin. “I know your dogs, though.”
The genial Wehmeyer laughed and moved along. This wasn’t the first time the trucker with 20-plus years behind the wheel played second fiddle to his pooches in popularity. For 12 years, he readily admits, his furry companion Lucy was much more famous than he was.
“One time back with Lucy, we were at a rest area. I was towards the end of the rest area where the good green grass was. A truck was leaving, and a lady stuck her head out the window screaming, ‘There’s Lucy!’” he said. “She’d seen her on (the) Trucking Fur Babies (Facebook page). I love that site. I like taking pictures anyway, and taking pictures of my dogs is fun.”
Wehmeyer’s habit of taking pets on the road started almost accidentally. He and his then-wife were both going to be out of town, and she suggested he take her dog, J.J., along instead of boarding it.
“We took a short trip to Chicago and back, and I really liked it — and I thought, ‘I want J.J. to go more often.’ She goes, ‘No, you’re going to have to get your own,’” he recalled. “So, I went and bought my first Corgi, Lucy, and she rode with me for the better part of 12 years.”
Lucy’s tenure was overlapped by Bear, a Pekingese-dachshund mix who spent the first five years of life at home. When Wehmeyer finally brought him along for the ride, the trio instantly formed an inseparable team, with Lucy’s sweetness balancing Bear’s “salty” personality to create the perfect yin and yang.
“(Bear’s) grouchy. He’s perfect for a truck-driving dog,” Wehmeyer said with a laugh. “He doesn’t like much of anybody. He just sits up there, and he’s been with me for 14 years.”
The team faced a dilemma five years ago when Lucy died, and filling the void was something Wehmeyer approached cautiously.
“When Lucy passed away, I went six more months before I got Okie, the new redhead,” he said. “They look just alike, and she’s going on five years old. She doesn’t know anything but the truck; I never left her at a kennel when I went on the road.
“At first, I didn’t trust Bear (with Okie) because he’s very aggressive towards other dogs,” he continued. “But with Okie, she was crate trained, so whenever I got out of the truck she would always go in the crate. Then she got old enough where she could kind of fight him off. She just aggravated him, and he didn’t want anything to do with her. He loved his Lucy; they were best friends. He just tolerates Okie.”
Together, Wehmeyer and his pups have enjoyed many adventures. They’ve seen all of the lower 48 states, most of the Canadian provinces and, in the past 17 months alone, have made multiple runs to Alaska.
“For 14 years, I couldn’t buy a load up there,” he said. “Then last year I did two back to back. This year it didn’t fall into place to get anything. I was at my dad’s house planting bushes one day at the end of September and I got this phone call that said, ‘Hey, we got a load from Florida going to Alaska.’ It’s always military freight, and it paid enough to go up there and come home empty. There’s never any freight coming back.”
Wehmeyer, who drives for Mercer Transportation, said he likes the country’s wilder mountainous regions, naming Wyoming and Canada’s Yukon as two particular favorites. Alaska also fits that bill, although there are substantial hazards that come with the state’s abundant natural beauty.
“It’s treacherous. I was up there the last week of September, and you could tell there was an urgency of everybody getting their supplies, getting their straw, their wood hauled,” he said. “One month later to the day, I was checking the temperature and the high (up there) was still below zero and snowing every day. So, there’s definitely an on/off switch for when winter hits, and it’ll be that way till the middle of May.”
Longer runs such as these also highlight the value of having a fur baby along, Wehmeyer said.
“It’s exercise. I get out of that truck at least four or five times extra a day. I plan their stops. I know where the best grass is,” he said. “I think it’s good for my mental health mainly, getting outside the truck. I think that’s the hardest part for a truck driver — you get so cooped up in this truck that you’ve got to come up with more reasons to get out and interact with the world outside.”
Bear and Okie are also good alarms for letting Wehmeyer know when someone approaches the truck … that is, as long as the intruder appears during daylight hours.
“They will bark. When I’m on the back of the truck working or if I’m on the right side of the truck they’ll bark at anybody that comes up on the left,” he said. “Now as far as at night, they both sleep sounder than me. They’re no help at night. They’re useless at night.”
Wehmeyer said he’s noticed a lot more drivers with their pets now than 10 years ago. He said the industry has paid attention to that trend as well, with more trucking centers providing better amenities for dogs to stretch their legs. And, between the miles he’s logged and the photos he’s posted, Bear and Okie have continued the family tradition of being furry celebrities.
“I talk to a lot of different people, chatting here and there, that have got pets. We’ve got some customers who get used to seeing them,” Wehmeyer said. “Twelve years ago, we used to run a dedicated deal up to Quebec. When I would cross over the border between Detroit and Windsor, Ontario, I would always get in the one lane, because there was a lady that worked there, and she knew them.
“The dogs love it because they love barking at everybody. We do job sites and most of the places I go to are like that,” he said. “They love the action.”
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.