Why was Darrell Hicks such a special guy? Land Line Senior Technical Editor Paul Abelson speaks for our staff and our industry with the tribute he wrote today. It’s one we wanted to share. Here’s Paul:
“It’s a beautiful day above the clouds.”
That’s how “Uncle Darrell” Hicks began his personal telephone voice mail message. It was more than a cute opening. It reflected his belief in God and the afterlife he had confidence in. Darrell’s faith was how he lived his life, in his desire to help others wherever and whenever he could.
“Get involved!” They weren’t quite the first words Darrell said to me at my first TMC meeting, but it was certainly the theme of his greeting. I later found that the words went beyond just encouragement. They were words that Darrell lived by.
Darrell started trucking early in life, riding along with a friend and his father delivering trailers to dealers. He was only 12 years old, but his travels sparked a love of trucking that lasted a lifetime. As a college student, he earned tuition driving for a contractor building I-96 in Michigan. He later hauled boats to Chicago and New England.
He is a Lifetime Member of OOIDA and has earned every accolade the Technology and Maintenance Council (TMC) could bestow on an associate (industry supplier) member.
It was in February 1984 when I first met Darrell. I had just joined TMC, and Darrell was on his way up the leadership ladder. He was already recognized as an authority on truck cooling systems and coolant chemistry, having worked for Union Carbide (Prestone) then Nalco Chemical. Nalco spun off its trucking operations to Penray, and that included Darrell. He remained with Penray until his retirement in 2007, helping fleets, truck builders and engine makers troubleshoot their most difficult problems. After retiring, he still did consulting for suppliers.
In late 1984, the industry was facing a crisis. New truck engines were overheating, warping cylinder heads and blowing gaskets. An emergency task force was created at TMC to identify and solve the problem. Darrell was a member, representing coolant suppliers. The task force found that high silicate coolants were causing silicate dropout, forming a green “goo” that hardened when cooled. It plugged radiator cores, especially behind fans.
By mid-1985, a solution was found: the recommendation to use low silicate coolants in heavy duty engines. In June, Darrell helped present the solution to TMC. As he often said, TMC members had the problem solved before most of the industry knew there was a problem.
His efforts at TMC went beyond just coolants. True to his advice about getting involved, Darrell helped organize technical sessions and was often a presenter. He was always there to solve problems, and was concerned with the needs of those around him. He volunteered as a meeting mechanic in the pre-PowerPoint days, making sure slide presentations were properly organized and helping study group chairmen by making sure meetings ran smoothly.
He also served as a study group secretary, keeping minutes of meetings. Because of his efforts, he was named a Recognized Associate in 1989. As such, he was eligible to participate in TMC Associates’ leadership and was eventually elected Vice Chairman of the Associates Advisory Group and Secretary of the Recognized Associates.
In 1992, Darrell was awarded TMC’s highest honor, the Silver Spark Plug for his many contributions in advancing truck maintenance.
Darrell’s efforts weren’t confined to TMC. In 1993, at the Iowa 80 Truckers Jamboree, he first met Gary King, founder of the Trucker Buddy program. It teamed truckers with elementary school classes using picture post cards to show students bits of America. The pen-pal program later expanded internationally.
Darrell had experience as a trucker and traveled extensively with his job. Upon learning about Trucker Buddy, he volunteered to become one, and was accepted. He remembered his school days when a supplies salesman who called himself “Uncle Dudley” was popular with students at his high school. He adapted the title and became “Uncle Darrell.” It caught on, and he adopted the entire trucking industry as his nieces and nephews.
When Trucker Buddy grew too large for the King family to run, Darrell was asked join the Board of Advisors, which soon became the Board of Directors. By the start of the 21st Century, he had become president of Trucker Buddy, a post he held for four years.
His interest in truck shows and show trucks brought Darrell to the National Association of Show Trucks, where he again “got involved.” In 2000, he was elected to NAST’s Board of Directors.
He supported local trucking organizations whenever he could. When living in the Chicago area, Darrell was an active member of the Midwest Parts and Service Association, a local trucking educational group. When he moved to Arkansas, he helped the Arkansas Truck Association’s Maintenance Committee organize the technicians’ competition that became part of TMC Super Tech.
TMC was close to Darrell’s heart. He became just the second recipient of TMC's Gerri Murphy Award, named for its first Director of Member Services.
He promoted both TMC and OOIDA wherever he could, recruiting fleet maintenance directors, shop managers and even owner-operators to become members of TMC, and drivers and owner-operators to join OOIDA.
In 2009, Darrell was one of the most respected senior leaders of TMC. He was still seen welcoming new members to the meeting with the same words he used to greet me 25 years earlier. “If you want to get the most out of this organization and make a name for yourself in our industry, get involved!”
Sadly, that was to be Darrell’s last meeting. He developed pulmonary fibrosis, a progressively debilitating lung disease. When he could no longer fly nor drive long distances, a friend from Illinois drove to Darrell’s home in Tulare, CA, to get him and take him to the TMC meeting. It would have marked his 30th anniversary with the Council. Unfortunately, he was unable to handle the high altitudes crossing the mountains and the duo had to turn back. But the effort demonstrates the esteem in which Darrell was held in the industry.
Darrell’s last job was driving a bus taking elderly outpatients to the Veterans Administration Hospital in Fresno.
“The pay wasn’t much (volunteer work), but I enjoyed the free lunch I got at the hospital and the company of the veterans,” Darrell said.
When he could no longer drive, he rode as a helper as long as he could. That’s the kind of guy Uncle Darrell was, always thinking of others first.
Although his illness was progressively debilitating, Uncle Darrell never lost his cheerful spirit and desire to help others, even solving former customers’ problems when they called for advice. That was Uncle Darrell. He was here to get involved.
He left us peacefully on July 10.