Friday, May 29, 2015

For Citizen Driver winner, having a Petro named after him is equal parts pride, humility

Even though it’s been just over a month since his favorite Petro in San Antonio got renamed in his honor, Michael Sheeds says he’s still getting used to it.

Sheeds, an OOIDA member from Bandera, Texas, is one of five professional truckers to be named the TravelCenters of America 2015 Citizen Drivers – an honor that comes with the perk of letting the winners pick their favorite truck stop to be renamed in their honor.
Michael Sheeds. Photo courtesy of TravelCenters of America.

Sheeds says he stops at his Petro “about four or five times a week” on average.

“It is really cool,” he said in a phone interview with Land Line. “It’s kind of overwhelming in a lot of ways, because I’m just a truck driver.”

Well, not just any trucker …

A former Marine, Sheeds has put in more than 3 million accident-free miles in a 25-year career in the cab. For 24 of those years, he’s been with Werner Enterprises, which he credits for “going all out” to support him as a Citizen Driver winner. He’s been honored with every safe driver award the company has to offer, he’s active in Trucker Buddy, and he even saved the lives of a car full of passengers after the vehicle burst into flames.

Outside of trucking, he’s active in his community and in charity work. He and his wife, Donna, have adopted four daughters through foster care, and he volunteers with a post-adoption support group.

At the dedication ceremony on April 22, Sheeds said TravelCenters went the extra mile to make the day special not only for him, but also for his youngest daughter, who celebrated her ninth birthday the day before. They presented her with a gift bag, her own cake, and a special birthday serenade from Lindsay Lawler.
Michael Sheeds and family. Photo courtesy of
TravelCenters of America.

“I think it shows the type of people TA and Petro are,” he said. “They went out of their way to recognize her on her birthday. Having (Lawler) sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to my 9-year-old meant every bit as much to her as her singing ‘I Drive’ to me. For them to recognize that and to go to that extreme for her, it blew me away.”

He said the funniest thing that’s happened since the Petro was rechristened is a run-in he had with a fuel attendant who didn’t know he was dealing with the store’s new namesake.

“I went to pay, and he asked if he could see my identification,” he said. “I pointed out the window and said ‘Yeah, it’s right there.’”

Sheeds said the incident has become a running joke between the two.

“It’s a lot of fun but also pretty humbling,” he said. “Just the permanence of it sinking in, day by day, it really is a neat thing.”

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The ultimate driver shortage story

The U.S. trucking industry is suffering from a crippling driver shortage. The reasons, say industry leaders, are too much regulation, an aging workforce, and a younger generation consisting entirely of lazy bums.

The situation has grown so acute there is now a Driver Shortage Clock in Times Square right next to the famous National Debt Clock. The Debt Clock says we owe about $18 trillion. The Shortage Clock says we’re missing 30,000 drivers.

The new Driver Shortage Clock was installed recently by Donald Trump after a load of particle board truss beams from Somalia failed to show up at a Park Avenue job site. When he learned that all three drivers at his selected port trucker, Abject Drayage, had quit, Trump commissioned the clock. “Actually, it’s not a clock,” Mr. Trump commented. “It’s more like a taxi meter.”

The driver shortage extends far beyond the East Coast ports.

“If we don’t get more people behind those wheels,” said U.S. Trucking Amalgamation President Robert “Bob” Roberts, “a lot of stuff isn’t going to show up.”

According to Roberts, 30,000 empty driver seats means 30,000 undelivered loads that could include Apple iWatches, Yoplait Yogurt, Kaytee Forti-Diet Hamster Food, Mr. Clean Magic Eraser Bath Scrubber, Mr. Coffee 12-Cup Programmable Coffeemakers, Mr. Dudley Peppermills, Miss Jessie’s Super Slip Sudsy Shampoo, Mrs. Paul’s Crunchy Popcorn Fish, Hanson Aerospace Solid Rivets, Thunder Group Rubber Plungers, 80 tons of #67 Gravel, and Jiffy Pop.

“This is serious,” he said.

Why is there such a shortage of truck drivers?

One problem, said Roberts, is that the average age of drivers today is 82.

“As you might imagine, drivers are leaving the profession at a rapid rate,” said Roberts. “Current projections are that without an infusion of young blood, the average age of truckers in 2020 will be 95.”

However, driver recruiters report that 20- and 30-somethings have no interest in trucking.

“They’re a bunch of spoiled brats,” Roberts noted. “What do you expect of kids who went straight from SpongeBob SquarePants to Sex in the City?”

That’s one of the reasons the USTA is recommending the minimum age for interstate drivers be lowered to 14. “They’re certainly big enough by then,” Roberts explained, “and they’re out of that awkward ‘tween’ stage.”

In fact, 14-year-old drivers are now behind the wheel – though not in interstate commerce – in a Midwest test project.

“It’s kind of an afterschool program,” Roberts explained. “And so far, we’re pleased with the results. They can reach the pedals, see to drive, and just a few of them would bring that average driver age down to 70 or even lower!”

The USTA hasn’t put all its eggs in the young driver basket. The organization is also looking to recruit drivers from untapped sources.

“Potential drivers are everywhere,” Roberts said, citing examples like “prisons, rehab programs, and refugee camps around the world.” 

Roberts also sees great potential in driverless trucks, though he expressed concern about a Shippers League program to develop truckless freight and self-delivering products.

“That’s going entirely too far,” he said.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Hat’s off to you, Mouse

TravelCenters of America’s second annual Citizen Driver Award recognizes professional drivers who help bring respect to the truck driving profession. One of this year’s Citizen Drivers is Robert “Mouse” Fernald – a darned fine example of good citizenship, safety and community involvement.

An OOIDA Life Member from Westbrook, Maine, he’s a driver for Walmart’s fleet and has been behind the wheel for more than 21 years and 2.5 million miles.

OOIDA Life Member  Rob Fernald, center, at the renaming
ceremony with OOIDA Life Members Laurie and Buz Scutt
Rob has received multiple driving and safety awards during his career. He participates in the Maine State Truck Driving Championships, an annual event he enjoys.

In mid-May, he placed second in the three-axle class, which was cool, but for Rob – that was not the most fun.

Rob says what makes this year’s state event unique is the inclusion of high school students enrolled in commercial truck driving classes at four vocational schools across the state. For the first time, top ranking students from those schools were invited to compete alongside the pros at the state event.

“I am much more proud to have worked with the group of students from my hometown – which one of them took third place,” he told me last week.

That from Rob is quite a compliment. He’s a four-time State Champion in multiple classes of competition.

If you attended the Mid-America Trucking Show in March and spent any time at Papa John’s parking lot, you may have enjoyed some of Rob’s cooking. He and a group of other trucks set up a parking lot kitchen café tent for attendees well known for its menu – the “Because We Can Café.”

Rob supports a number of charities, including New England Truck Drivers’ Charity Challenge, Maine Trucking for Kids Charity, Special Olympics Convoy, Pull a Plane for Wounded Warriors, and Wreaths Across America. He is a former Trucker Buddy, too.

As one of the 2015 Citizen Drivers, Rob got to pick his favorite TA or Petro Stopping Center location, and the TA in Willington, Conn., is now the Robert Fernald Travel Center.

Congratulations, Mouse. Your commitment to professionalism sets much-appreciated high standards for the driver industry.