TT: Hi James, congratulations on being named TOTAL’s Driver of the Year! That’s quite an accomplishment.
JM: Well, thank you.
TT: I guess first off, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from?
JM: I'm from Illinois, Peoria, Illinois, and I live down here in southwest Florida with my wonderful wife, Dorothy.
TT: How long have you been driving trucks?
JM: I've been driving for 21 years now, maybe over 22 years? I'm going on 11 years with TOTAL.
TT: What kind of work did you do before becoming a truck driver?
JM: I was a cook for about 15 years before getting into trucking, but since I was 16 years old, I'd always wanted to drive a truck.
TT: What made you decide to finally switch from cooking to driving a truck?
JM: Watching the movie “Convoy?”
TT: Haha. Seriously? That’s great! What do you like about trucking?
JM: Absolutely! It gives me the freedom to be myself. I'm not an owner operator, but I can grow my hair long or have a beard or earring if I wanted. No one says anything as long as you get the job done.
TT: How many other companies have you worked for before you joined TOTAL?
JM: I think about five. I started out with Stevens Transport for two and a half years. And back in February of 2003. I was Driver Of The Month, which was a big honor back then, because there were like 2500 trucks in the fleet. I stayed there for two and a half years and then I ended up getting married. I had a house down here so I ended up quitting there and pursued other trucking opportunities.
TT: What was it that made you decide to come to TOTAL over other options?
JM: Well, because of where I live there were only three companies that would hire me. I went with TOTAL because they said they could get freight down to Florida to be able to get me home.
TT: What do you feel makes TOTAL different from other trucking companies?
JM: One of the things I like is that they're consistent on our safety and their training, which is a good thing. They keep pushing us to be safe drivers and they don’t just give the keys to somebody and say here, just go drive the truck. You know, listen to your trainer, watch the safety videos, and anytime you can pick up information, take it, especially from someone who’s been around like me. When my truck is in the shop for maintenance or an oil change, I’ll keep an eye out for any rookies out there. I’ll introduce myself and say hi, I’ll ask them how things are going. If they want advice I'm going to give it to them. Hopefully, they’ll be able use it correctly and make their job a little easier.
TT: How do you feel about TOTAL’s equipment?
JM: I love our equipment. Anytime I need a new truck I just call Tony Wallace. That guy loves to make money for the company. He and Chris Stomps love me and I’ve got both their cell phone numbers. I’ve gone through 4 trucks in my time here. This truck that I have now is a Freightliner Cascadia, I got it with 17 miles on in July three years ago. It's a really good truck, strong. I'm coming up on 400,000 Miles already in that truck. So when it’s time to get a new truck all I’ve got to do is make a phone call. Because if the wheels aren't turning, I'm not making money. That's the golden rule out there.
TT: What do you like most about working with TOTAL?
JM: I get respect. Why I mentioned that is, when I'm coming into Mississippi, when I'm going into Jackson, I let them know. And they let me pick my loads. So I always get good loads coming out of Jackson or Mill Haven, the graphic packaging loads. Depending on what time of the year it is, whether it's winter or summer, they always give me good loads. So if it's summertime, I'm always looking for the Newark, New Jersey loads, New Hampshire loads. Sometimes I'll do a Milwaukee. There are only certain loads I won’t do; St. Louis. Williamsburg, Virginia. I have reasons for those. But I’ll do a Baldwinsville in the dead of winter. That's right outside of Syracuse. They always give me the miles. They know I'm coming into their area and they let me choose what loads are available.
TT: Any tips for a good relationship with your fleet manager.
JM: I think the biggest key is communication. You have to communicate. A lot of the drivers that I talk to laugh when I make that comment. They don't realize when say you're going to drop a load and you've got seven hours left on your shift, (That's what I call them as a shift) and you don't communicate that to your fleet manager… How do you know that you drop that load? Say there are five other trucks in that area looking for a load? I have no idea what's what or what else is going on in that area. So my biggest thing is to communicate. I let my fleet manager know when I'm going to be there, how many hours I'm going to have left, whether I'm going to get an empty trailer or not, because sometimes it's a 50/50 shot on the two trailers. And I give them a two-day notice when a 35 is coming up. And all I ask is let me do my break in peace. Let me get it over with and then I’ll get back on the road and make more money. I don't like riding on recap hours, I do 35’s And I'm averaging 3800 to 3900 miles a week.
TT: What do you think that takes to become TOTAL’s Driver of the Year?
JM: I’d say doing your job well and being aware. if you're not bringing your A game, when you get behind the wheel or after you've done your pre-trip, you ain't gonna make it. A lot of people just get there, you know, they wake up and they don't even go outside. Check your seals, your tires, your lights, make sure you know everything is as it should be. When you parked that truck the night before, how do you know you didn't run over a piece of glass or a nail? Do your pre and post trip inspections or, you could be rolling down the road with a flat tire and might not even know it. It all comes down to being prepared, you’ve got to predict the unpredictable. I've never had an accident in my 22 years and I'm driving around knocking on wood. You’ve got to bring your A-game to survive out here.
TT: That's quite an accomplishment to be accident-free after that many years. Congratulations.
JM: I just got my 750,000 mile certificate and my watch. John Stomps gave me that watch and now I'm closing in on my million miles. So that's my next goal is a million safe miles because I went that diamond ring! I’m looking forward to getting a plaque that says Driver of The Year because it's going to go on the wall next to my Driver of the Month for February 2003 For Stevens Transport.
TT: Do you have any advice to help brand new drivers to be successful?
JM: The best thing I could tell them is to stay with a company at least two years and do your job. Watch your mirrors when you're making turns. Pay attention out on the road. Don't watch videos while driving! I've seen drivers going down the road watching videos. Again, stay at least two years. My wife has had a friend that just went from job to job to job to job. After a while, no one would hire him because he wasn’t worth a bus ticket, hotel, food, or the cost of the drug tests. If you stay with a company for at least two years accident-free you’re gold, anybody will hire you.
TT: Is there anything that you feel you could still work on?
JM: Well, totally, like blindsiding. I don't like blindside backing (haha), or chaining tires. if I absolutely have to do it, I can. It’s funny how the tire chaining videos were shot on sunny summer days. It’s a bit different when you're trying to put on chains with frozen fingers on the side of a mountain road in the dark when it’s snowing.
TT: Is there anything else you’d like to tell other drivers or motorists?
JM: Just say something. If you feel there's an impaired driver, whether it's a four-wheeler, another trucker, or even God forbid a TOTAL truck. If you see someone, swerving back and forth on the roads call 911. Don't get caught up in their accidents. If you see something that's not right call 911. That's what those signs are out there for, trying to save lives. That driver you report could have gone out and killed himself. He could have killed a family of four. Yes, they may get fired. I didn't want to get them fired, but they put themselves in that position.
TT: James, I want to again, congratulate you on becoming our Driver of the Year. And we thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
JM It was my pleasure.