Couple Share Their Love for the Road and Each Other
Safety is always on the minds of Jim and Shelby Burnett.
So that’s why, when they switch driving duties, they give each other a kiss and most of all, tell each other, “drive safe and take care of us.”
“That’s as much romance that we’re going to share with the readers of this story,” says Shelby, who has been with her driving partner, Jim, for more than 26 years.
The married couple, who are parents to six grown children, began driving together about 19 years ago when Shelby decided that she was ready to hang up her dispatching duties and give driving a try.
“Our kids were grown and out of high school and I just wanted to be with him more,” says Shelby.
“So one day,” chimes in Jim, “after Shelby had received her permit, she got behind the wheel and she’s been driving with me ever since.”
The owner-operators, who live in Dunnellon, Florida, a small town located on the Gulf Coast side of Florida, have been driving with Transport America for two years. Jim started driving back in the 1970s after he was discharged from the U.S. Army after serving in Vietnam.
“I always wanted to be a professional truck driver,” says Jim, who grew up on Army bases as a kid, and attended driving school in Alabama. “My dad used to drive a feed truck, and when I was in the military, I had the opportunity to drive trucks. I guess it’s something in the blood.”
While Shelby doesn’t recall having any family members in trucking, managing a gasoline station and convenience store put her in contact with other truck drivers.
“I remember the first truck I rode in,” she says, “when I was younger, in my 20s, my car broke down on the side of the highway. A nice truck driver pulled over and gave me a ride to the nearest gas station. I remember sitting up there in the cab thinking, ‘Well, this is interesting.’ Little did I know that I would one day be driving a truck as my career.”
Today the couple criss-cross the country with their three dogs, Abbie, a yorkie, and Daisy and Mandy, both morkies. In the summertime, they will deliver pretty much anywhere in the lower 48.
“I grew up in Iowa,” says Shelby, “we like heading up north during the summer, when Florida is dreadfully hot, but neither of us are big fans of the cold and snow.”
The couple tend to stay out on the road for five to six weeks at a time and then take a break of between seven to ten days.
“We’ve found that it’s really hard to get anything done around the house in a weekend, or to simply take time and enjoy ourselves and relax. That’s why we take that much time off. It’s more efficient,” says Jim.
When they’re at home Jim and Shelby enjoy dinners and playing cards with their neighbors, taking bike rides and practicing their trapshooting. Because they live in a 55+ development, they don’t need to worry about caring for their lawn.
And whenever they can, they visit their children, who are scattered across the country, as well as Shelby’s parents, who live in Iowa.
So what’s their secret to success? What advice would they give to other couples that are considering driving together?
To make a decent living, Jim says, “You should both know how to drive.” The couple keep their truck moving throughout the day with Shelby driving during the day time hours and Jim taking the nighttime shift. Their “together” time usually occurs around 1 to 2 p.m. each day when they eat together and catch up on the day’s schedule.
“We also have a rule to wake up each other whenever we need a spotter, or when driving conditions call for an extra set of eyes,” says Jim. “We want to be as safe as possible. That’s why neither of us minds being woken up to navigate a loading dock or a truck stop.”
The next piece of advice offered by Shelby comes down to chemistry. “I think you really need to get along together. This is our home away from home. It’s a small space. Fortunately, we really like to be together.” This has worked for us because all of our kids were out of high school when we decided to start driving together.”
Both admit that they get upset with each other at times (“That’s what the curtain is for!” says Jim), but those moments are short lived because they both say “we are each other’s best friend.”
“We show our love for each other by doing little things for each other, like filling up coffee mugs or making the other a meal,” says Jim, “and by protecting each other.”
They also note that managing their business today with all of the technology at their disposal allows them to concentrate on driving first.
“Here’s one tip I’d give to a couple – get a good accountant,” says Shelby. The couple uses ATBS, a service provided through Transport America for its owner-operator drivers.
“Taking care of the paperwork was a full-time job,” Shelby says, “with ATBS, we send them all of our information electronically and they take care of our taxes and maintain our books.”
As the couple thinks about retirement some day, they both say that working with Transport America has been one of the best decisions of their driving careers.
“We have an excellent team behind us,” says Jim. “Ty, our fleet leader, and everyone at Birmingham, they’re helping us live our dream.”
“And you know what,” Shelby adds, “It’s been a good living. We’ve seen some of the most incredible places in our country (western Utah is their favorite), we get all the miles we can handle, and we get paid well.”
“And best of all, we’ve got each other,” says Jim.