Not Retiring Anytime Soon, This Driver is on a Mission
When others his age are looking to slow down and kick back after a life of working, to Bill Wilcox, a Transport America truck driver for the past 11 years, there’s still plenty of work to do and fun to be had.
After a long career on the road, which has included playing in several rock bands and serving in the pit crew for legendary NASCAR driver Bobby Allison, at 66 years old, Wilcox says he’s just getting warmed up for what’s ahead. As a seasoned solo over-the-road driver, Wilcox has seen nearly the entire continental U.S., and has even delivered loads in five Canadian provinces.
“I’ve been working since I was 12 years old,” said Wilcox, “and I probably won’t retire anytime soon. In fact, truck driving is my idea of retirement.”
A native of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (he now lives in Milton, Wis., near Janesville), Wilcox graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee where he studied biology, chemistry and conservation. After he graduated, he became a mechanic and even played in several rock bands for a while. During the 1970s and 80’s, Wilcox shifted to a new line of pursuit – working in the pit crews of professional stock car drivers as well as driving drag cars that reached speeds of 200 mph.
He even helped his son pursue a career in racing, as well.
“It takes lots of guts to put your only son into a race car,” said Wilcox. “But, I let him do it.”
The thread that ties all of these different experiences together is that of safety.
Clearly, safety was on Wilcox’s mind even before he thought about joining the Transport America team.
“To me, it felt like a natural evolution to go from a mechanic to racecar crew member to truck driver,” Wilcox said. “My decision just felt right.”
After he obtained his CDL, he decided to look for a company that matched his values for hard work and safety.
“I tried to get smarter, so I called all of the recruiters of companies that were hiring drivers in order to compare them to one another. I found that they all paid within a penny of each other, so I decided on the company with the best safety rating,” said Wilcox.
Turns out, according to Wilcox’ research, that company was Transport America.
“Through this whole comparison process, I learned that drivers will embellish here and there to get their referral bonuses,” he said. “But with Transport America it was different. There’s no embellishment needed.”
“I was treated [at Transport America] with respect and treated fairly from the very start,” said Wilcox. “I’m glad I did my homework.”
A Sense of Purpose
Wilcox drives every day with a strictly business attitude. He expects excellence from himself in order to keep other drivers safe.
“I just try to do a good job,” he said. “I consider myself a professional. I say a little prayer every time I get into the truck. I want to keep people safe.”
“Once,” he continued, “I found myself driving on I-80 in the southern region of the Pennsylvania Wilds in the middle of the night. During my drive, I came across two young women with a flat tire. I remember just being glad I could help them be safe. It was pitch dark. They easily could have been hit by someone who was not paying attention or was drunk.”
Wilcox feels supported by Transport America in his personal mission to keep America’s roads safer.
“Transport America walks the talk on safety,” he said, “When I have concerns, the company usually responds well to how I think I could do my job better.”
“For example, I made a suggestion on four or five things that the company could improve upon, and they made changes on three of my suggestions,” Wilcox said. “It shows that they listen and care about hard-working truck drivers like me.”
Four Lessons from the Road
In his many years on the road, Wilcox has certainly learned a few things.
Lesson one is “always be prepared.” As a man of the road, having traveled extensively with his rock bands, as a pit crew member, and as a truck driver, Wilcox can’t emphasize enough how important it is to prepare for the worst. He’s continuously checking weather reports and is prepared to pull over if the weather conditions make the road unsafe.
He recalls one moment in particular. Several years ago, he was listening to the NOAA weather alerts channel through his CB, where he learned that he was driving into a tornado warning area. As he listened, he realized, that there was a tornado on the ground and he was directly heading into its path.
“Growing up in Wisconsin with its cold winters, I respect the weather,” said Wilcox, who always carries emergency supplies, including a week’s worth of food with him.
Lesson two: “give back.”
The thing for which Wilcox is most proud is hauling some special loads, such as carrying a load of supplies for FEMA in support of Hurricane Sandy victims. Or, the loads he has hauled for Toys for Tots, for which he dons a Santa hat.
Lesson three in Wilcox’ book of wisdom is school can teach you many things, but it’s no substitute for experience. Wilcox believes: truck driving professionals need to be independent (be the captains of their own ships); they must follow the rules — knowing that the freedom of trucking also means big responsibility; and good drivers make safety their highest priority.
And lesson four:
“Truck driving can be a huge stressor on family, that’s the biggest thing I’ve learned. But driving also affords so many opportunities and bonding experiences,” said Wilcox. “Having the support of your family is critical to your success.”
Which only goes to show that it’s not how old you are, but how young your mindset is in approaching your career in trucking.