Completing a trip with no accidents, no citations and no violations added to a CSA score is the goal of every professional driver. Repeating this performance — year after year and with the same company for more than 40 years — is a record achieved by very few.
Duane Dornath, who drives for Nashville, Tennessee-based Western Express, is one of those few.
Dornath began his remarkable run in 1979 with Smithway Motor Express, running flatbed out of the company’s Fort Dodge, Iowa, home terminal. Nearly three decades later, in 2007, Smithway was acquired by Western Express; the two companies were integrated into one operation under the Western Express name in 2009.
Western retained parts of the Fort Dodge facility, which still home base for Dornath.
“When I started with Smithway, I ran over the road for them for seven or eight years,” he said. “I went all over. The only two states I never got to were Washington and Oregon.”
Running the road was easier for Dornath back then.
“I wasn’t married at the time, and so it was a good way to see lots of different parts of the country that I’d never seen before,” he said. “Once we got married and started a family, I wanted to be around them.”
About that time, Smithway started up dedicated lanes in the Midwest region, which provided more home time for Dornath.
“And then Western Express bought out Smithway and said I can do the same thing I’d already been doing, so I kept doing the same job,” he said. “They have treated me very well.”
He’s currently driving a nearly-new International ProStar tractor.
Along the way, Duane got involved with the Iowa Motor Truck Association (IMTA), earning a berth on the state’s Road Team as well as participating with the Iowa State Patrol Ride-Along program.
“There’s plenty of negative stuff out there about the trucking industry, and I think that anything we can do to promote a better picture is good for everybody,” he said.
As a member of IMTA’s Road Team, Dornath met with members of the Iowa legislature to discuss trucking issues.
“We wore suits, and they said we didn’t look like truck drivers,” he recalled. The group discussed issues facing the trucking industry, highway safety and other topics.
Dornath rode with members of the Iowa State Patrol to get a better idea of the law enforcement’s perspective of the trucking industry. In turn, troopers rode along with him to observe firsthand the hazards of driving a commercial motor vehicle.
In 2020, Dornath was selected for the prestigious International Driver Excellence Award by the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance (CVSA). He has also participated in the annual IMTA truck driving championships, winning the flatbed division seven times and placing in the Top 3 at nationals three times.
Because of his record of over 4 million safe miles and his longevity at Western, Dornath has been approached several times about becoming a trainer.
“I’ve never been interested in doing that,” he said. However, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t take every opportunity to mentor newer drivers he meets at customer locations or company terminals.
“I help out whenever I can,” he said. “I’ve been doing this for a long time, so I have experience I can share with drivers who are learning.”
When he’s not hauling sheetrock, lumber or shingles around the upper Midwest, Dornath likes spending time with his family. He and wife Mary have raised four children, none of whom chose a career in trucking.
“I’m a little surprised by that, but I’m glad they’re doing what they want,” he said.
There are three grandchildren in the family, too, “all pretty girls,” he said. The couple’s first grandson was born as this story was being prepared for press. Duane and Mary baby sit often, and stay involved with the family. “They keep things interesting,” he quipped.
These days, many of his runs get him home during the week and on weekends. He credits Mary for the success of the family.
“She was raising the kids when I wasn’t there. She did a great job,” he said.
Baseball is a passion of Dornath’s, and he’s a fan of the Minnesota Twins.
“Going back and forth to Minnesota, I can keep a close eye on them and see what’s going on,” he said. He also enjoys the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings.
Much of his spare time is devoted to working at the church the family attends.
“I help out where I’m needed,” he said. “I help out with events, deliver food boxes, whatever is needed when I’m available.”
Even when Dornath isn’t at church, his faith goes with him.
“I grew up in a faith-based family,” he said. “I give God thanks and praise every morning for all he has done for me and the family.”
Like any driver with millions of safe miles under his belt, Dornath has some advice for his fellow drivers.
“I don’t care how many safe miles you’ve driven, how many plaques and awards you have — it doesn’t guarantee anything for the next mile coming up,” he said. “Safety comes a mile at a time.
“You’ve got to have short-term memory loss,” he continued. “You’re going to have drivers who cut you off, sometimes even truck drivers. You can’t carry that with you and let it mess up your driving. Let it go.”
Although he’ll soon be 66, Dornath isn’t thinking of retirement yet.
“I get a lot of people asking when I’ll retire,” he said. “I guess I know the places where I pick up and deliver, I know the people real well. I don’t even have to use a GPS to find them, I’ve been there so many times.
“I think retirement might be overrated, but maybe I’ll feel different when winter gets here,” he added.
Whether he’s making another run, spending time with family or at church or just working around the home, Duane Dornath is enjoying life — safely.
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.