It’s hard to explain the bond a trucker feels with his or her rig to those who have never been over-the-road drivers. A rig is a means for making a living, yes — but more than that, a trucker’s semi is home away from home, and the mechanical companion in a life spent away from loved ones.
For drivers who own their own truck — often the manifestation of a long-held dream — the bond runs even deeper. Such is the case with Robert and Kathy Cass of Crocker, Missouri, who recently attained their goal of truck ownership, the capstone to a trucking career that stretches back more than two decades.
“Before we bought her, we were knocked down by companies and people who said we would never own our own truck,” Robert said with a ring of pride in his voice. “Well, we proved them all wrong. We worked and sacrificed more than anyone will ever know. That makes you feel good in the long run, to know what it took to get here.”
Both Robert and Kathy have a long connection to the trucking business. Robert started in trucking pulling tankers before serving in the military. Then, after his hitch was up, he signed on with a string of trucking companies pulling refrigerated trailers, dry vans and tankers.
Kathy was exposed to the trucking industry early in life, thanks to her father.
“I have been around semis since I was a baby,” she said. “My dad used to be a truck driver, and my mom knew lots of drivers who would come visit and spoil us as kids. Trucking has always been in my blood, and I’ve always had a passion for trucks.”
The desire to be an owner-operator was always part of the couple’s larger dream in trucking, but it was a process that suffered a couple of false starts.
“One of the companies I worked for had a pretty good program where you could lease to own a company truck,” Robert said. “We got to a point in life where we thought it was something we wanted to do, so we gave it a good shot. Some personal things came up and we couldn’t do that any more, so we went back to a company. But that gave me the bug.”
Another employer, Indiana-based CMT, had a similar driver-lease program that the couple tried. While it didn’t work out, it stoked Robert’s ambition to one day drive his own truck. Once the decision was made to start actively looking for a rig, the couple was all in.
Kathy said being in agreement was an important part of the process, something she recommends to anyone else in the same situation.
“If you’re married, you definitely want to make sure your spouse is involved, not just say, ‘I’m buying a truck,’ and go do your thing. It affects the whole family,” she said. “Make sure you have your spouse’s support. I’d go out with Robert every chance I got; we both have a good time, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But not all wives feel the same way, so if a guy wants to buy a truck, he better talk to his wife about it first.”
Gaining that agreement was only the first step in a long process of evaluating potential rigs, a process that finally came to a head in 2015.
“We looked at Peterbilts, Kenworth, Freightliners,” Robert said. “I looked at so many, I could have had three fleets. It finally came down to the Kenworth and the Peterbilt. It was a hard thing, you know. You just want to make the two trucks one. Both of them have more of the old-school, classic truck feel, so you just have to take what your heart feels, more than anything else.”
“The one we got just popped up one day and he said, ‘I’m gonna give it a try.’ Next thing we know they called and said we’re approved and we got a truck,” added Kathy.
“I don’t know, it was one of those things like you go to the car lot, see that one and that’s it,” Robert explained. “That’s what I base this on; you search and search and then one jumps out, says. ‘Here I am,’ and it all falls together.”
The couple brought home a 2006 Peterbilt 379 with an 18-speed transmission and a 280-inch wheelbase. The rig needed a little work, such as rebuilding the C15 CAT 625 engine and adding a new 14-inch bowtie visor, 8-inch straight stacks and a 22-inch bumper. Robert and Kathy’s goal was to make the ride, which they both agree has a feminine persona, as pretty as it was powerful.
“I put chrome all around the gauges and inside,” Kathy said, delight evident in her voice. “I’m addicted to chrome! I’m worse in the chrome shop than he is. I can go in there and drop money like you wouldn’t believe. If I see it, I like it, so why not?”
The finishing touch for the ruby-red girl was her name. They decided on Sweet Satisfaction, which described how the couple felt to have finally reached their goal.
“I named her, and the name has a personal meaning to me,” Kathy said. “It took us five years and a lot of hard work, blood, sweat and tears to get her paid off. We sacrificed a lot — gave up family vacations and all kinds of things so we could get our own business going. But we did it. We built something we are proud of, and it gives us ‘sweet satisfaction’ to show people we could do it.”
After paying off the note, the couple formed RKM transportation and put “Sweet” to work. Given that the rig is also a looker, the couple has entered her in numerous truck show where, Kathy notes with pride, she’s won a Best of Show and several first-place trophies in her class. Sweet is also a popular sight at the couple’s charity activities, which include Special Olympics and St. Christopher Truckers Relief Fund.
Looking back on the experience of finding the perfect truck and starting a business has left Robert philosophical when it comes to giving advice.
“If you’ve got something in mind, keep it in mind, and keep your focus on what you’re doing,” he said. “Don’t get discouraged (about) the bad things that happen out there. That’s the biggest thing. If you’ve got a dream, stay with it. If your dream is there to make, it will be made. Don’t get to a point in your life where you don’t dream anymore.”
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.