There are quite a few things that separate fighter jet pilots from truck drivers — extreme speed, height and having high-powered weapons attached to the vehicle, just to name a few.
The fighter jet wins all those categories.
But to a group of kids in Georgia just a few years ago, career truck driver Billy Stone looked every bit the part of Tom Cruise, who played hotshot fighter pilot “Maverick” in the 1980s blockbuster “Top Gun” as well as in the recent 2022 sequel. In the original movie, Cruise blasted through the sky with his afterburners blazing red-hot plumes behind him, showboating and laughing in the face of danger against Russian MiGs.
Instead of jet engines, Stone’s “jet” had double stacks that rolled coal and made the earth rumble as he went by. Stone wasn’t fighting Russians, either. Instead, he was delivering goods across millions of miles to help keep the nation’s economy rolling.
Billy Stone’s son, Reed Stone, recalls the minute his dad made that big-time impression. The group of kids included Billy’s nephew, Josh White, who later become a truck driver himself.
“Dad came into the driveway; he was coming in hot,” Reed Stone said. “He pulled that rig in there like ‘Top Gun,’ slammed it in reverse and backed straight in, then stopped and got out. Josh said, ‘Whatever he is, I wanna be one!”
But don’t mistake the cool persona just described as someone who’s flippant about safety behind the wheel. Now retired after a stellar 52-year career as a professional truck driver, Billy Stone can brag that he never once had an accident. He logged more than 4 million miles over the years. That equates to more than eight round trips to the moon, or more than 160 times circling the Earth’s equator.
He’s traveled far and wide across the entire North American continent, including Canada and Mexico. In fact, the only American state he has yet to visit is North Dakota — a bucket-list item he plans to check off this year with his son.
As a young boy, Stone developed an interest in the trucking industry; both his father and uncle were over-the-road drivers.
In 1963, while working as a mechanic, he met and married Barbara Stone, his wife of 58 years. Barbara had family in the trucking industry as well, and when she spotted an ad for truck driving in the newspaper, she knew her new husband would be thrilled at the opportunity.
Breaking into the trucking industry in 1966, Stone began his career at Whitaker Oil where, after just six weeks of training, he hit the road. After that, he never looked back, driving straight through until his retirement in 2018.
For the next 10 years, Stone hauled everything from chemicals to exotic furniture before joining the team at Conyers Air Products & Chemicals in 1977. There, he quickly established himself as one of the company’s most admired drivers.
“Mr. Stone is one of the most professional drivers I have had the pleasure to work with over the years,” said Conyers Site Manager John Hardy. “His commitment and dedication to safety has positively impacted generations of new drivers at the company.”
With safety always at the forefront of his mind, after 35 years with Air Products & Chemicals, Stone reached a major milestone in 2012: He eclipsed 3 million miles without incident. That means no accidents, fender benders or even so much as a broken taillight.
Stone says he cherishes the relationships he built with the variety of partners he had while hauling hazardous gases and chemicals. However, closest to his heart is the inspiration he invoked in his nephew. Under Stone’s mentorship, White has also become a truck driver.
Along with safe driving, Stone holds time with family as one of the most important things in his life. He says being on the road for long stretches of time was difficult for the family, and before the age of cell phones, finding ways to keep in contact with his family was a top priority. Though he sacrificed many weekends and holidays away from them, Stone always tried to be a part of as many big and small family moments as possible.
Barbara Stone explained, “It was just a way of life that we adapted to, and actually, it was exciting because it was different than other people’s way. But we enjoyed it.”
A true family man both on the road and off, Billy Stone always made the most of his time at home.
“My dad was gone for a while, you know, on the road. Then he would come back home and we’d spend a lot of time with him,” said Reed Stone. “Whenever Dad would bring his truck home, we would become ‘famous,’ because everybody in my neighborhood would see the truck parked in front of the house. It’d be a special time, a great time.”
Though Billy Stone credits the raising of his children to his wife, he never wasted a minute of the time he spent with them. It’s clear by the pride and admiration with which they speak of him that Stone made a huge impact on their lives and was never far from their hearts or minds.
This year, Stone was honored with induction into the Howes Hall of Fame. Though he has accumulated numerous other awards, he says that recent honor is his most cherished.
“Billy typifies what it means to be a truck driver – hard working, dedicated, conscientious and driven by strong family values,” said Rob Howes, executive vice president at Howes Products.
“We built this Hall of Fame to make sure the stories and values of drivers everywhere are represented through people like Billy,” Howes continued. “As a truck driver, he’s part of a group that we are most proud of and shows how rewarding a career in driving can be. His mentorship and lead-by-example efforts help others realize that they too can achieve great heights in the trucking industry.”
Erika Howes, vice president of business development at Howes, noted that Stone is the first Hall of Fame inductee of 2022 — and he’s the first nominated by the public.
“The Howes Hall of Fame has gained a lot of momentum since we opened it in 2020, but this induction is extra special to us,” she said.
“Billy is the driver we all know is out there, who goes unnoticed or underappreciated but still works hard to make sure we all have what we need in our daily lives. He is the type of person we want to hear about from people in the field, someone who inspires others, who goes above and beyond. Billy, and others like him, know they’re special to their family and friends, but we’ve developed this platform to let them know they’re special to all of us as well. It’s extremely important to us that people head over to the Hall of Fame and get nominating, so we can fill it with amazing inductees like Billy.”
As for Stone, even though he’s officially retired, he can’t quite let go of trucking. He’s applied to work a small route near his Georgia home, something to keep him busy doing a job he loves.
“I’ve been proud to do all these years and all these miles,” he said. “But being recognized for it — that’s a big deal. It’s a feeling I can’t get over.”
Born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and raised in East Texas, John Worthen returned to his home state to attend college in 1998 and decided to make his life in The Natural State. Worthen is a 20-year veteran of the journalism industry and has covered just about every topic there is. He has a passion for writing and telling stories. He has worked as a beat reporter and bureau chief for a statewide newspaper and as managing editor of a regional newspaper in Arkansas. Additionally, Worthen has been a prolific freelance journalist for two decades, and has been published in several travel magazines and on travel websites.