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Trucking’s Top Rookie for 2018 found new career after 27 years in Navy, Marine Corps



Which is better, youthful drive or age and experience? Clearly, the best case would be for someone to have both qualities – someone who has left a trail of accomplishments in his wake and still takes on new challenges with persistent discipline, confidence and a personal commitment to excellence.

Qualities like that would be appreciated anywhere, but in an industry like trucking that is facing an acute labor shortage, they need to be celebrated when they come along.

That was the idea back in 2010 when Mike O’Connell, the former executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association (CVTA), came up with an idea for an event that would recognize the industry’s top newcomers. The result was the award that bears his name, the Mike O’Connell Trucking’s Top Rookie award.

The contest is open each year to any CDL holder who has graduated from a Professional Truck Driver Institute (PTDI)-certified training school or a CVTA- or National association of Publicly Funded Truck Driving Schools-member training school within the previous year and has been employed by a trucking company for less than one year.

Entrants are evaluated on criteria that include availability for loads, on-time delivery, highway safety performance, customer relations, work record and nonjob-related activities.

The annual announcement of Trucking’s Top Rookie has become one of the highlights of the Great American Trucking Show (GATS).

The word “rookie” conjures up images of someone barely acquainted with adulthood, someone fresh-faced and eager. But on August 24, the second day of the 2018 edition of GATS, as Seth Becker, director of media sales for show sponsor Randall-Reilly, introduced the nine finalists for this year’s award and their names and photos appeared on two large screens, it didn’t look likely that any of any of these rookies has had to flash an ID to prove they’re over 21 any time recently.

At 58, his closely cropped hair more salt than pepper, Mordaunt “Platt” Brabner looks more like the wise old mentor who would take the wide-eyed rookie under his wing.

Nonetheless, after Becker got a brief, improvised drumroll from the large crowd that had gathered around the GATS America Strong Stage, it was Brabner’s name that was called as this year’s top rookie.

According to the introduction given at the award presentation, Brabner, who drives flatbed for TMC Transportation, logged 120,000 miles in his rookie year. That pales in comparison to the long road that brought him to trucking.

Born and raised in Alabama, Brabner enlisted in the Marine Corps in his 20s. He began his military career as an advanced electronics technician, and while serving earned bachelor’s degrees in professional aeronautics and electronic engineering.

Determined to fly, his commanding officer allowed him to test for the Navy’s flight program, where he excelled. During assignments in Southeast Asia, he carried out aircraft carrier combat operations, performing over 650 carrier landings.

During his military career, he also served in the Middle East, Germany and Africa. In 2003, he was promoted to the rank of Navy Commander.

Brabner’s wife, Vonda, was fully supportive of his career. But he had been at it 27 years, and he felt she needed the opportunity to fully pursue her career as an embryologist. In 2006, he retired from the military. The couple live in Coupland, Texas,  a rural community east of Austin.

Brabner found trucking after earning a master’s degree in business but then bumping into age discrimination. He gave farming a brief try, but decided that wasn’t for him, either. He found his fit in trucking, where he applies his business knowledge and military discipline to the job.

“My goal is to become an owner-operator and to start my own business,” he said.

His trip to GATS this year took him a lot closer to that goal. Being named Trucking’s Top Rookie comes with a $10,000 cash prize, along with a slew of other gifts.

The other Trucking’s Top Rookie finalists, along with their home towns and companies, were:

James Bell: Stevensville, Montana; Jim Palmer Trucking

Adam Cobb: Deltona, Florida; Celadon Trucking

Matthew Donahue: Weedsport, New York; H.O. Wolding

David Drummond: Philadelphia; Melton Truck Lines

Terrence Goodau: Springfield, Missouri; Tri-State Motor Transit

Larry Maser: McKinney, Texas; Stevens Transport

Darrell Philpott: Martinsville, Virginia; Epes Transportation Systems

Quinton Ward: Westville, Florida; Werner Enterprises

Earlier that same day, Brabner also found out he is a finalist in the annual Transition in Trucking: Driving for Excellence award, presented by the Fastport Trucking Track Mentoring Program, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Hiring Our Heroes Program and Kenworth. The award honors the top rookie military veteran who has made a successful transition from active duty to a commercial fleet.

As one of the four finalists, Brabner is guaranteed to be taking home at least another $5,000. The winner, who will be announced at a ceremony December 14 at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Hall of Flags in Washington, D.C., will win a fully-loaded Kenworth T680 with a 76-inch sleeper and Paccar MX-13 engine, valued at $155,000.


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The Nation

OOIDA Foundation issues information it says debunks driver shortage ‘myth’



Most carriers with high turnover do so by design, says OOIDA President Todd Spencer. “They could deal with driver turnover by offering better wages and benefits and improved working conditions,” he said.

GRAIN VALLEY, Mo. — The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association’s research foundation published two new documents it says debunks the driver shortage “myth.”

A fact sheet explains how the industry isn’t afflicted with a shortage of drivers, but is actually plagued with overcapacity and driver retention, the foundation reported.

A second, accompanying document talks about how wages have decreased for truck drivers at large carriers and many have moved toward smaller fleets.

Last year, the association also created a short video that explains why there is high turnover as opposed to a shortage.

“We are concerned about the perpetuation of a myth of driver shortage,” said Todd Spencer, OOIDA President. “This misinformation is used to push agendas that are harmful to the industry and highway safety.”

To address the supposed driver “shortage,” some organizations have suggested that the age requirement to obtain a commercial driver’s license should be lowered from 21 to 18.

“If safety is the top priority when considering a change to a regulation, when it comes to age, the number should be raised, not lowered.” Spencer said.

OOIDA also contends that any issue with retention could be mitigated with other solutions that would be safer for all highway users.

For example, compensation has been shown to be tied directly to highway safety, as revealed in studies that suggest there is a strong correlation between driver pay and highway safety, Spencer said.

“Most carriers with high turnover do so by design,” he said. “They could deal with driver turnover by offering better wages and benefits and improved working conditions. But putting younger drivers behind the wheel of a truck isn’t the solution because it does nothing to address the underlying issues that push drivers out of the industry. It merely exacerbates the churn.”

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is the largest national trade association representing the interests of small-business trucking professionals and professional truck drivers. The association currently has more than 160,000 members nationwide. OOIDA was established in 1973 and is headquartered in the greater Kansas City, Missouri, area.




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The Nation

Bill to prevent shutdown has benefits for USDOT



The legislative deal passed to prevent a government shutdown contains $45.3 billion for highways honoring FAST Act funding levels for 2019, plus $3.25 billion in supplemental funding out of the general fund. (AASHTO Journal)

WASHINGTON — As part of bicameral legislative deal to prevent a second partial federal government shutdown while providing monies to build a wall along parts of the southern U.S. border, a total of $26.5 billion in discretionary funds and $60 billion from Highway and Airport and Airway Trust Funds will be provided to the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to an article in the Journal, a publication of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

The legislative deal passed both the Senate and the House by wide margins.

This legislation also contains final funding for a series of fiscal year 2019 appropriations bills for nine federal departments and related agencies, including the Department of Homeland Security, Department of Commerce, Department of Justice, the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Some of the USDOT appropriations measure include:

  • $45.3 billion for highways honoring FAST Act funding levels for 2019, plus $3.25 billion in supplemental funding out of the general fund.
  • Of that $3.25 billion in supplemental highway funding from the general fund, roughly $2.7 billion will be apportioned to the states as if it were Surface Transportation Block Grant Program funding, while $475 million will be for a Bridge Rehabilitation and Replacement program.
  • $900 million for Better Utilizing Investments to Leverage Development or BUILD discretionary grant program grants, divided evenly between rural and urban projects.
  • $2.55 billion for the Capital Investment Grant program, including $1.27 billion for “new starts,” $635 million for “core capacity” and $527 million for “small starts.”

“This legislation makes a significant down payment on the border wall and provides a bipartisan path forward to complete the remaining FY19 spending bills,” Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said in a statement.

“Our bipartisan efforts have been essential in securing the passage of this bill and completing the FY19 appropriations process,” he said. “It is my hope that we will all continue to work together as we turn to the FY20 appropriations bills.”

“This is not the agreement I would have reached on my own [as] there are things in this bill that I support, and things that I disagree with – but that is the nature of a negotiation,” said Ranking Member Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. “This agreement funds nine federal departments and their related agencies. Everyone had to give something to reach a bipartisan compromise.”

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The Nation

Driver Ronald Feimster hopes to take the freedom of the road to the next level in 2019  



Ronald Feimster tried working in other kinds of jobs, but he found he likes the freedom and independence truck driving offers. His goal for 2019 is to get his own truck and become an owner-operator. (The Trucker: KLINT LOWRY)

You don’t head out on the road without an intended destination, and the vast majority of the time you have a route planned out. And it’s not a bad idea to approach life goals the same way.

Ronald Feimster has begun 2019 with a clear idea of where he wants to get to within the next year.

“My goal is to be an owner-operator and to drive for Oakley Trucking,” he said.

Feimster was finishing breakfast at the Iron Skillet at the TravelCenters of America/Petro truck stop at I-40, exit 161, just outside Little Rock, Arkansas. He’d struck up a conversation with a fellow driver, Tim Plubell, who’s been an owner-operator for nearly 20 years (A story about Plubell can be found in the XXX edition of The Trucker), so Feimster’s career goals were at the front of his mind when The Trucker caught up with him.

He’s done his homework, he said. He knows a lot goes into being an owner-operator.

“I drove for a lease operator before,” Feimster said. “He was the owner-operator. And I loved it. I loved the freedom of it. I know you have to pay for your own maintenance, but a lot of these companies nowadays, they help you with the maintenance, so that cuts that in half. Then you have that fuel surcharge, so that cuts that in half.”

Feimster, who hails from Rogers, Arkansas, has also done his homework on Oakley Trucking, a subsidiary of Bruce Oakley Inc., a commodity trading, distribution and transportation company based in North Little Rock, Arkansas. Oakley Trucking specializes dry bulk transportation throughout the Lower 48 and Canada.

“And Oakley, they pay excellent, but the catch is you have to own your own truck,” Feimster said. “Pull their trailers, but you own your own truck. That’s my goal.”

Long-term, he said, at 47, if all goes as he’s envisioning it, if he gets in at Oakley, it could be the kind of situation where he could spend the rest of his career there.

Not that he’s unhappy where he’s at. Feimster drives for Southern Refrigerated Transport, popularly known as SRT.

“They’re a good company,” Feimster said. “I’d recommend them to anybody.”

He runs a dedicated route pulling reefer for Tyson Foods. His route keeps him within the neighboring states of Arkansas. But, as he explained, he generally gets home about every three weeks.

“I could get home every weekend, but you don’t make any money like that,” he said. “You have to stay out here for a little while. Unless I were an owner-operator. Then I would do it differently.”

Feimster first got into trucking in 1998. Before that, he said, “I wasn’t really doing nothing.” In other words, he had jobs, but he didn’t have a career. “I was doing factory work. It wasn’t that good. So, I got into trucking, basically, to start making more money. I went ahead and got my CDL.”

He started out hauling logs. Since then he’s “been around,” he said, gaining experience working for Panther 2, Swift Transportation and Covenant Transport, which owns SRT.

At one point, he tried to get out of trucking. “I was over-the-road, and I was tired of going through those snowy mountains” in Colorado, he said. The job wasn’t worth risking his life.

“I said, ‘I have got to get out of this,’ because I had just gotten married, and then we had our first child. I’ve got to go home and be a dad,” Feimster said.

He went back to warehouse work and even became a supervisor. But he came to realize that he just wasn’t a company-culture kind of guy. One of the best things about truck driving, Feimster said, is there’s “no one breathing over your back.” Even after having been the one doing the breathing, he hates that kind of work environment.

He said he didn’t want to publicly describe the straw that broke the camel’s back and sent him to trucking. The short version of the story is he was told to fire an employee that he firmly believed didn’t deserve it.

“I said, ‘you know what? This is not a good way to treat people,’” he said. “That was enough for me. I talked to my old lady. I said, ‘I’m going to go back to truck driving.’ She said ‘OK, that’s what you want to do?’ I said I was going to be away from home, but our kids are grown. Everything’s fine. She said go for it. Here I am.”

Trucking may not be perfect, but he needs to feel that independence.

Sure, there are a few ways the job could be better. “We would like more pay,” he said, then quickly added, “who wouldn’t?”

It also bothers him that society in general doesn’t value what truckers do.

“If trucks stopped delivering for just a couple days, the country would come to a standstill,” he said. “Why isn’t the profession held in higher regard?”

Well, there isn’t a whole lot he can do about that. He appreciates what the profession means to him, and he intends to make the most of it.


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