Thursday, April 2, 2015

The numbers are in - MATS 2015 breaks all-time attendance record


That's the number of attendees who made it down to Louisville for this year's Mid-America Trucking Show, the largest in the event's  33-year history. The previous high for attendance was just under 81,000 at the 2012 event.

The attendees came from all 50 states and 74 countries worldwide.

The trucking show released its attendance figures via email Thursday, April 2, and several of the Land Line veterans of MATS' past will tell you that number sounds about right. Exhibit halls, lobbies, parking lots and even the highways were jammed-packed the entire time.

Along with all those people, the 1.2 million square-feet of exhibition space served as a temporary home to 1,064 vendors and exhibitors from 43 states and 14 countries.

If you weren't able to make it this year (or if you were and want to relive some of the highlights) the folks at the official MATS website put together an outstanding video playlist that's worth checking out. See for yourself below.

If you weren't one of the lucky 81,000 this year, there's plenty of time to make plans to be there for next year's show, which will take place March 31-April 2, 2016.

Monday, March 30, 2015

#FacesOfMats - End of show roundup

The amount of people attending MATS is mind-blowing enough in and of itself, but the number of those people who are also OOIDA members meant it was hard to go from Point A to Point B without having to take a slight detour to chat with (or photograph) people who were rocking their Association apparel.

The thing about our members in general, is they are some of the kindest, most professional folks you're ever going to meet anywhere. The ones I met, visited with, and in most cases, took pictures of, were all delightful. And nobody gave me a hard time about taking pictures with my tablet, either!

Life members Nathan & Elizabeth Ricks stop by the Land Line Now booth in the North Lobby.

Life Member Tom Smith taking in some of the sights in the West Wing Exhibition Hall.
Members Gina and Brian Kuhn, working the booth for Church of the Traveling Steering Wheel, a conference call church service geared for over-the-road truckers who are away from home.

OOIDA members Debbie and John Newgent at the Women In Trucking Salute on Saturday.

Life Member Aaron Stoltzfoos and his wife Esther. They've been married for 51 years.
Member Paul Daugherty, his wife Ramona, and their kids Chris and Hannah, take a break from shopping for truck parts.

Life Member David Hutchinson, and his son Blaine, age 7, were on the lookout for Peterbilts on Friday.

Life Member Russell Short,aka "White Shadow" in homage to the TV show, said this was the first time in 10 years he'd made it to Louisville for MATS.

Hey, good lookin'

It's the opening of the truck show season and what a grand opening it was. More than 80 trucks in competition, and a few more on display.  The Paul K Young Memorial Truck Championship was a jam-packed wow from the anticipation to the finish. 

Always at the top of his game, Todd Roccapriore and his remake of Disorderly Conduct, a 1999 blue and black Peterbilt 379, was not just the king of the hill. He owned it with six trophies including People's Choice, Best of Show Limited Mileage Bobtail, Best Lights, Best Paint, Best Engine and Best Interior Limited Mileage Bobtail.  Roccapriore, who has more than 6,000 hours invested in this truck, explained how he consistently comes out on top.  "I put my heart into it. And when I'm done, even though there may be things that I'd do different if I had it to do over, I know I've given it everything I've got. People may be able to put more money into it. I don't think it's all about the money. I know it's all about the heart."

Best of Show Limited Mileage Combo was awarded to Josh Reed/Lanita Specialized of Pioneer, Ohio,. He made a sizzling standout with his black and burgundy 2015 Kenworth W900L and 2015 Mac curtainside flatbed trailer.  No detail left to chance, this truck lit up the parking lot and the eyes of every truck enthusiast.

A new category this year, Limited Mileage Dump Combo brought a few hot hoppers and haulers to the fore. Best of Show was awarded to Brian Davis/Davis Bros., Owensville, Ind., and the knockout Superfreak black and blue 2005 Peterbilt 379 pulling a 2012 Wilson DHW501.  Speakers and sound round out the details as the deckplate rises and the party begins.

Mike Horst of Bethel, Pa., leaped onto center stage with his slick and shiny white and red 2006 Peterbilt 379, earning Best of Show Working Bobtail, the Jake Eilen Pride in Your Ride Award, and three other awards. His white with red accented theme carried from front to back, inside and out with a diamond tufted interior that absolutely stopped traffic.

Best of Show Working Combo and an armload of trophies went to Brad Caton/Eilen & Sons Trucking, Hampton, Minn., with their latest entry, a white black and blue 2014 Peterbilt 389 pulling a 2013 Mac tri-axle dump trailer painted to match.

While these trucks were the Best Of Show winners, every participant offered something special and every truck was someone's favorite.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

At Papa John’s Lot, it’s live music, good eats and plenty of giving back

Depending on your perspective, the highlight of any MATS show may be the spectacular product reveals, or perhaps the glitzy, glittering show trucks, or the miles and miles of free “swag” exhibitors give away in hopes of catching the attention of passersby at one of the hundreds of booths or displays.

But for a hardcore group of drivers, the highlights start and end with whatever’s going on at the Papa John’s Lot before and after the Kentucky Expo Center opens or shuts down each day.

The Papa John’s Stadium parking lot is where truckers can park their rigs and get shuttle service to and from the venue, but it’s also a hub of all sorts of activities, many of which are geared around one of truckers’ favorite pastimes – charitable giving.

Concerts included a Saturday night performance by OOIDA member Tony Justice, sponsored by OOIDA. Singer-songwriter and OOIDA member Joey Holiday also performed on both Thursday and Friday nights from his custom trailer/traveling stage.

Despite unseasonably cold temperatures on Thursday, Trucking Solutions Group hosted its annual Driver Health Walk, with TSG member and OOIDA director of regulatory affairs Scott Grenerth leading a procession of about 30 truckers on a 2.2-mile walk to Churchill Downs and back. TSG also hosted a roundtable discussion to promote Cooking In The Cab.

Several trucker charities hosted events for Thursday, Friday and Saturday. Groups involved include Jacob Russell Boulanger Memorial (JRBM) Fund and Truckers United for Charities, and the Just Because group (JBC). Trucker Charity and Operation Roger also participated.

An impromptu fundraiser was held during the Mid-America Trucking Show for the OOIDA Mary-Johnston Scholarship Fund. Spirit Captain Jon Osburn found some glow sticks from a previous show and members took off selling them on the lot. Looks like they did quite well.

The total amounts raised for various groups are still being tabulated, but early returns include more than $4,800 total raised for groups including St. Christopher Fund, the Last Ride Home, OOIDA’s Truckers for Troops, and Camp Quality Kentuckiana, which provides year-round programs and services for children with cancer and their families. Non-perishable food items were also donated to local food banks in Louisville.

Women In Trucking debut new "Image Team"

Women In Trucking Association’s annual Salute To Women Behind the Wheel featured the debut of the first-ever Women In Trucking Image Team.

The team, made up of five drivers, were chosen from a field of 25 nominees, all of whom exemplify leadership and other qualities in line with the organization’s mission, which is to promote both the employment and accomplishments of women in trucking as well as minimizing obstacles preventing them from participating in the industry.

The members of the 2015 Image Team are:

1.)    Ingrid Brown, a 35-year veteran with over 3 million safe miles. She is an OOIDA member and owner-operator who is also involved in Trucker Buddy, Special Olympics and the Pediatric Cancer Institute among other causes.
2.)    Allyson Hay, a 17-year veteran, including 12 years at Walmart, logging over 1 million safe miles. She is a past member of the Walmart Road Team.
3.)    Wyzeena Heeny, a 14-year veteran, with over 1.2 million safe miles for Covenant where she is a master driver trainer. She was also 2013 member of Tennessee’s Road Team.
4.)    Stephanie Klang, a 35-year veteran of trucking with over 3 million safe miles at Conway Truckload. Klang is also a former America’s Road Team captain.
5.)    Carol Nixon, a 24-year veteran, who also drives for Walmart. She has received numerous safe driving awards and is involved in Trucker Buddy and other community services.

The Image Team will also participate in ride-alongs with legislators, as well as speak at conferences, trade shows and other events.

Saturday’s event featured several announcements, including a fundraiser for the group’s scholarship fund, a keynote address from Marcia Taylor, CEO of Bennett International, and the “WIT Index” – an effort to measure and track the number of female drivers and women in management in private fleets, as well as the number of women who serve on the boards of publicly traded carriers.

The 2015 Women In Trucking Image Team. From left: OOIDA member Ingrid Brown, Allyson Hay, Wyzeena Heeny, Stephanie Klang, and Carol Nixon.

MATS then and now

My most vivid memory of the Mid-America Trucking Show in 2004 is a gigantic pair of woman's underpants. The bloated, billowing bloomers flew like a banner above a vendor stall in the North Wing Lobby.

No bloomers in 2015. I assume they were banned by management who realized just how tasteless, politically incorrect, and socially insensitive those bloomers were. I was glad I bought a pair in '04 when I had the chance.

Other things were different this year, too. There was more rush hour traffic outside in Louisville. Somebody built a Ferris wheel next door, and they added on to the exhibit halls. In 2004 the displays of flashy, bad-ass trucks and components seemed to go on forever. In 2015 they actually did go on forever.

The chrome was shinier this year. Door panels, saddle tanks and bumpers -- crystalline mirrors you could almost walk through -- projected the passing crowds back at themselves. 
Chrome on a Kenworth.

A lot of numbers at MATS were higher in 2015, like the fuel you were going to save and the return-on-investment you were going to enjoy. Buy this and your driver retention will go up. Other numbers were lower, like your driver turnover and how long it would take to realize that terrific ROI.

There was a lot more automation than there was in 2004. In 2015 they're not replacing drivers so much as driver functions. Computerized drive trains adjust speed for hills, and lift axles pull themselves up automatically to maximize fuel consumption.

Back in 2004, so-called collision avoidance systems warned drivers of an imminent crash. Buzzers buzzed, flashers flashed, dash screens ran horror film trailers, and maybe a little pink hammer descended from overhead to bonk the driver on the head. But that was pretty much it. Actual avoidance was still the driver's job.

The 2015 systems manage almost the entire emergency. Sure, warnings keep the driver in the loop (or at least scare the hell out of him or her). But it's all pro forma. The systems are fully prepared to slow or stop the truck. They'll do everything but steer, and they'll do that as soon as the market will bear the cost.

Back in 2004 they called them collision "avoidance" systems. In 2015 they're collision "mitigation" systems. Diminished expectations? Turning hellish catastrophes into mere disasters? You decide.

Some things at MATS haven’t changed at all the social composition, for example. The big boys pour cash on their spacious South Wing displays, and neatly clad sales people rule the aisles and carpeted plazas. Bearded drivers in denim coveralls come to check things out, of course, and the sales guys would be happy to sell them a truck. But let's face it, the suits are really on the lookout for fleet buyers, engineers who do the spec'ing, and vice presidents who make the million dollar decisions. Sure, driver, help yourself to a piece of candy and a brochure.

In the West Wing, where the ceilings are lower and smaller displays tumble over one another, the crowded aisles are more democratic. It's great to take the kids through the big halls and ogle the new trucks, but the West Wing is a different kind of adventure. Look over there, a China Pavilion, stall after stall of small manufacturers, very proper people in business attire. And look at the young women at the Hooters display! Oops. Sorry, Mama; look away, Little Buddy.
The Far East in the West Wing.

Something else between 2004 and 2015 was unchanged, at least in essence -- the shortage of drivers willing to work for fleets that ask too much and pay too little. It was front and center in 2004. It was front and center again in 2015. Every media event staged by every major manufacturer included a prominent reference to the "driver shortage."

Kenworth General Manager Preston Feight put a kind of smiley face on it when he told his audience that the current driver turnover rate of 80 percent could be considered "normalized" because it had been much higher. "It's not a crisis at all," he said. "It's OK right now."

It's OK that a 1,000 driver fleet has 800 drivers leave each year either for greener pastures or to get out of the industry? It's OK the fleet has to hire 800 new drivers just to stay in place? Or has our industry's chronic, untreated disease grown so familiar we regard the pain as normal?

In any case, drivers had to feel wanted at MATS in 2015, especially in the West Wing. Celadon, NFI, Prime, Schneider, J.B. Hunt and more were all there recruiting drivers. We want you, Mr. Road Man.

One affable recruiter told me All State Express was signing up owner-operators. When I said I wasn't an owner operator, he said their lease purchase program could make me one. When I said I didn't have a CDL, he said they would help get me one  and then make me an owner operator.

Straight from unlicensed newbie to owner-operator without ever having experienced truckload life on the road?

Sure, he said, actually smiling.

Clearly since 2004 the "shortage" that troubles our industry hasn't changed at all. Sadly, neither have some of the terrible ideas for dealing with it.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Who's 'King of the road' when it comes to model trucks?

This is Scott and Linda Levine's 13th MATS. The Levines, of Long Island, N.Y., operate a booth offering miniature and collectible model trucks, part of their shop called Toy Truck City.

Located in the West Wing at Booth 60080, the shop has a veritable smorgasbord of truck and heavy equipment models, from economically priced children's toys in the $10 range, to items in the $200 range for the serious collector or hobbyist.

So what's the most popular truck model in among the model truck community? Scott says the answer varies depending on the region.

"It's Peterbilt and Kenworth here," he said. "At the East Coast shows, they want Macks."

Friday, March 27, 2015

Because wily truckers know their tires

It’s a lot more than walking around to the kick the product. All major tire manufacturers are at MATS, and the aisles are full of tire users (in the truck world, isn’t that everybody?). Of course, we know you are on a crusade for high mileage and optimum fuel economy, but there’s more to knowing your tires. Especially in Louisville.

If you’re a tire connoisseur, you have to have a picture taken with the world’s oldest trademark, “spot the retread,” and maybe even participate in a buffalo wing-eating contest. First of all, you must scout out the new stuff from the vendors. Here's just a few examples of what serious tire users are paying attention to.
LL's Senior Editor Dave Tanner with you-know-who ...

At Peterbilt’s booth, there were the two Pete Model 359 Epiq trucks and pssstt, they were wearing Goodyear’s new Fuel Max LHD G505D and Fuel Max LHS long-haul tires. You can bet that did not go unnoticed by truck tire aficionados. Goodyear makes no bones about saying that, together the Fuel Max LHD G505D and the Fuel Max LHS make up the most fuel-efficient long-haul tire combination in North America. Peterbilt obviously agrees.

In celebration of 100 years of” innovation, experience and reliability,” General Tire launched three new highway truck tires at MATS, which has the truck tire whizzes scribbling down details. The General HS is a new long-haul steer tire featuring an enhanced tread design, fuel-efficient compounding, and an upgraded casing platform. The General HD, long-haul drive tire, features a deep 32/32nd closed shoulder tread design. The General HT, long-haul trailer, tire delivers optimal removal mileage and flexibility through an improved tread pattern.  

Yokohama Tire Corp.’s low-rolling-resistance tires were on display at MATS. The eagle-eyed trucker tire specialists sauntering the aisle will notice that Yokohama’s line includes ultra-wide base (UWB), drive, trailer and steer/all-position tires. And yes, they are SmartWay-verified.

Bridgestone Commercial officially launched its newly refreshed Dayton commercial truck tires brand at MATS. The brand refresh coincides with a new marketing campaign entitled Tires for Truckers. A new website and the introduction of eight new Dayton patterns, which doubled the product coverage of the former lineup, launched in January. Matt Loos, Director of Truck & Bus Marketing, Bridgestone Commercial says the campaign, Tires for Truckers, “gets to the heart of what we provide to these hard-working individuals – affordable tires that keep them moving.” MATS attendees found the campaign to get some attention, a buffalo wing eating contest at the show Friday.

A set of 10 Dayton commercial truck tires were awarded to the winner, a trucker named Roger Errett of Mount Pleasant, Pa. A consolation bag of prizes valued at more than $700, including a $500 truck stop gift card and $275 Speedco gift card, were awarded to each of the runners-up.

Truckers love contests to test their professional know-how. The Tire Retread Information Bureau at booth(No. 13036) is hosting a  "Spot The Retreads" contest to try to correctly identify a range of new and retreaded tires. You have to correctly identify all the tires to be entered into daily drawings for sets of eight commercial truck tires to be retreaded on the participants own casings. With seven sets of retreaded tires to be won, that’s over $10,000. Yikes!

Tires and tire technology, tire monitoring system, retread technology – it is everywhere at this show. And heads up, manufacturers – those wily trucking tire experts are taking notes on everything.

Four OOIDA members among five honorees for 2015 TA/Petro "Citizen Driver" award

Respect. Leadership. Integrity. Community involvement. These are just some of the values that TravelCenters of America is looking for in its "Citizen Drivers." And four of OOIDA's membership are among the five finalists honored at a luncheon Friday, March 27, during the Mid-America Trucking Show. The winners will have a TA or Petro stopping center of their choice named after them.

The winners and the locations of their renamed truck stops are:

  • OOIDA Life Member Richard Ash, - TA, Commerce City, Co.. - "Richard Ash Travel Center"
  • OOIDA Senior Life Member Sandy Long - TA, Oak Grove, Mo. - "Sandy Long Travel Center"
  • OOIDA Member Micheal Sheeds - Petro, San Antonio, Texas - "Micheal Sheeds Stopping Center"
  • Gary Buchs - TA, Bloomington, Ill.. - "Gary Buchs Travel Center"
  • OOIDA Member Robert Fernald - TA, Willington, Conn.. - "Robert Fernald Travel Center"

OOIDA Member Micheal Sheeds, Senior Life Member Sandy Long,  Life Member Rick Ash. Not pictured: Member Rob Fernald
A total of 19 finalists were named from a pool of 72 nominees from 25 states and Canada, with over 1,386 years of combined trucking experience, more than 100 million combined accident-free miles, and included 10 nominees who have saved others lives. The nominees all have exemplary safety records, are involved in their communities, and serve in leadership capacities in the industry and in their personal lives.

The 19 finalists were submitted to a group of eight judges, including OOIDA president Jim Johnston; ATA president and CEO Bill Graves; Women In Trucking president Ellen Voie; Target Media Partners publisher Micah Jackson; Heavy Duty Trucking magazine editor Deborah Lockridge; and radio personalities Eric Harley of Red Eye Radio; Dave Nemo of Road Dog Radio; and Steve Sommers of America's Truckin' Network, who selected the final five honorees.

All 19 finalists and their guests were treated to a banquet hosted by executives for TravelCenters, including Tom O'Brien, president and CEO.

O'Brien said the award will hopefully serve as a foundation for restoring respect for the trucking industry.

"The overall success, the image improvement, rests on all drivers, the men and women behind the wheel," he said. "It's on their shoulders that the real image of trucking is based."

What began at last year's MATS as a means of honoring truckers and restoring the "Knights of the Road" image to truckers is becoming an annual tradition. Nominations for the 2016 Citizen Driver Awards open in May. Sheeds was a finalist last year before winning this year.

OOIDA Member Matt Slovack named Trucker Buddy ambassador of the year

An OOIDA member who helped expand the Trucker Buddy program beyond the classroom has been named the organization’s ambassador of the year.

Matt Slovack of Colona, Ill., was named the Darrell Hicks Memorial Ambassador of the Year on Friday, March 27, during the Mid-America Trucking Show.

“It’s a huge blessing beyond my belief,” Slovack said in an interview with “Land Line Now” Host Mark Reddig, who is a member of the Trucker Buddy Board of Directors.

“The biggest reward is seeing the kids smile and learn stuff about our industry and see us in a positive light instead of the negative light that some people see us in,” Slovack said.

Slovack, who drives for Don Hummer Trucking, reached out to the Boy Scouts of America to expand the Trucker Buddy mission of educating students about trucks and safety.

OOIDA Member Matt Slovack, center, is Trucker Buddy's  
Darrell Hicks Memorial Ambassador of the Year. Pictured with 
Trucker Buddy Executive Director Randy Schwartzenburg, left, 
and Trucker Buddy President KC Brau, right. (Submitted photo)
Slovak got involved with Boy Scouts as a youth. Later, when he became a truck driver and discovered the Scouts had a Truck Transportation merit badge, he decided to become a merit badge counselor. He has brought local Scout troops to truck shows to work on getting their merit badges.

“We got the word out to the local Boy Scout councils, and the first class I ever did was about 75 Boy Scouts. They checked out the museum, the truck stop, got educated on the industry itself. It was a great time, and we’ve been doing it ever since,” Slovack said.

To get the badge, Scouts must complete a long list and understand how trucking “works,” he said.

Trucker Buddy International Executive Director Randy Schwartzenburg says the goal of getting the Boy Scouts involved is to help improve the image of trucking among the general public.

“Getting the Boy Scouts in here to get their Truck Transportation merit badge and their Traffic Safety merit badge is really important to the industry,” Schwartzenburg said.

The Darrell Hicks Memorial Ambassador of the Year Award is named after “Uncle Darrell” Hicks, a very well-known personality among truckers and the Trucker Buddy program. He was a lifetime member of OOIDA who began his 50-year career in trucking as a driver. When he retired in 2007, he was involved in the business side of the industry, traveling for years as an employee of Penray. Uncle Darrell passed away in July 2012.

“Darrell Hicks was an awesome, awesome person,” Schwartzenburg said. “We wanted to honor his work with Trucker Buddy so we named our Ambassador of the Year Award after him.”

Trucker Buddy continues to reach out in new ways to expand its mission.

“I think we can continue to encourage our individual trucker buddies to go to the local scouting councils in their hometowns and say, ‘I have a truck; use me,’ ” he said. “So the trucker doesn’t have to teach the merit badge. A scout leader can do that, but they can use his truck and him to help teach that award. Same with traffic safety and other awards.”

Bestpass expands coverage, offers new transponder

Bestpass Inc. has introduced the new Horizon toll transponder that works with almost  all of the non-E-ZPass highway toll authorities in the United States. Now Bestpass users can access most of the toll highways in the U.S. with no more than two transponders -- one for E-ZPass in the Northeast and the new Horizon transponder for the rest.  At the same time, Bestpass announced that toll authorities in Kansas and Florida have become part of the Bestpass system.

Bestpass, which was launched in 2003 and is still owned by the New York Motor Truck Association, provides one-stop shopping for toll payers, offering a single source for billing and customer service, and toll discounts across many diverse authorities. The company is based in Albany, NY.

According to John Andrews, President and CEO of Bestpass, the addition of the Kansas Turnpike and Florida’s Turnpike, including the range of all other SunPass tolled facilities in Florida, will result in a significant increase in toll coverage for Bestpass customers.

The Bestpass solution includes E-ZPass coverage for the group’s 26 toll agencies in 15 states and the new Horizon transponder for the bulk of the authorities outside of the E-ZPass electronic toll collection network. Bestpass also works with toll authorities that use license plate reader systems. Maximizing benefits in those states, Bestpass can provide customers with toll discounts for plate reads that are generally not otherwise available.

According to Andrews, Bestpass is treated like a customer fleet by individual toll authorities, many of which offer volume discounts. For Bestpass, those discounts are easily triggered by the large volume of Bestpass users -- each of whom receives the benefit of a volume discount. That’s the case even for one-truck Bestpass users like OOIDA member John Wieczorek of Perry, Mo. John and his wife Carol run for Mercer Transportation and have been Bestpass customers since 2003.

John was a guest of Bestpass at the press conference announcing the new Horizon transponder.

“We found that the other toll authorities are just out of reach for us. They want you to post a bond or something that just costs too much. Bestpass doesn’t do that,” John said.

John said that besides tolls, Bestpass costs him $4.50 per month, which consists of a $1 service charge plus $3.50 per truck. Toll discounts help offset the cost of the Bestpass.

Andrews explained that a new customer must also open a  Bestpass account for a minimum $250 that tolls will be drawn from. But he pointed out that if a customer’s toll account is close to depletion or depleted, Bestpass will contact the customer first before simply shutting down the account -- as often happens with other toll authorities.

At the press conference, Andrews explained Bestpass plans to have toll discount and management programs in place with 99 percent of all U.S. tolled miles, excluding only a few bridges and HOV lanes (most of which prohibit trucks in any case). Bestpass, he said, is working to bring its services to Oklahoma and Texas before the end of 2015, and anticipates adding coast-to-coast toll coverage in Canada sometime in 2016.

Highway Hero winner 'got a brother out of the deal'...

Darrell Herndon and Clinton Blackburn (Goodyear photo)
No matter what would have happened on Thursday, Darrell Herndon said trucker Clinton Blackburn was already a hero in his book. 

As it turns out, the folks behind Goodyear's Highway Hero award felt the same way, naming Blackburn the 32nd recipient of the prestigious award at a ceremony on Thursday, March 26 at MATS. 

Herndon, a Spencer County Sheriff's Deputy, was in attendance for the award and shared a few brief remarks on stage with his friend.

"All I can say is whether he'd won this or not, he's my hero," Herndon said.

Blackburn, an OOIDA member from Winchester, Ky., was driving on the Bluegrass Parkway in Nelson County, Ky., just over a year ago on March 12, 2014, when he found himself in a situation that would change not only his life, but the lives of Herndon and his family.

Herndon was transporting a juvenile prisoner, who escaped from his handcuffs and began strangling Herndon. Blackburn observed the situation from his cab, pulled over, and rushed to help him. During the struggle, the escaping prisoner managed to grab Herndon's service weapon and point it at the two men, but Blackburn continued to fight and eventually got the gun. The two men then subdued the prisoner together. 

Since that time, both Blackburn and Herndon say they have gone on to forge a friendship together, spending time deer-hunting and with each others' families. 

"We've got to be pretty good friends," Herndon said. "If it hadn't been for him and the Good Lord, I wouldn't be here. That's a fact."


During his acceptance speech, Blackburn said he "didn't expect to win" the award, adding that he'd already received something much more valuable.

"I ended up with Darrell out of the deal," he said. "I call him Brother Darrell, because that's pretty much how it feels for me."

Blackburn was one of three finalists nominated for the award. The other two drivers nominated were David Fredericksen, of Windemere, Fla., and Mack Guffey, of Gainesboro, Tenn. Fredericksen was also one of 19 finalists for TA/Petro's Citizen Driver Award. 

Fredericksen was one of several people to assist in the rescue of a woman and her granddaughter following an Aug. 11, 2014, crash in Gulfport, Miss. After witnessing a car crash, he stopped his truck, grabbed his fire extinguisher and ran to the car. Fredericksen repelled the flames enough to reach the car’s passenger side door. By this time, several spectators and his co-driver had joined him. They helped him remove the woman – who had suffered a broken leg – and her year-old grandchild from the blazing car.By the time firefighters reached the scene, the vehicle’s passenger area was completely engulfed in flames. The incident was captured by Fredericksen’s dashboard camera.

Guffey was driving near New York City when an SUV passed his truck and slammed into a guard rail, causing the front of the vehicle to burst into flames. Guffey stopped his truck, grabbed his fire extinguisher, and ran over to the SUV to fight the fire. Using his extinguisher, he smashed the SUV’s side window, grabbed the driver and carried him to safety. Fearing that other people were trapped inside the SUV, Guffey ran back to the now flame-engulfed vehicle, only to discover that nobody else was inside. Guffey’s clothes had caught fire during the rescue. He suffered several cuts and burns due to his efforts, but stayed with the vehicle’s driver until help arrived.

The Highway Hero winner receives a special ring, a $5,000 award, and a congratulatory crystal. Each of the other finalists also receives a cash prize and other items.

More #FacesOfMATS

We're back with another round of pictures of folks who are either working or hanging out here in Louisville.

Duane Donner, an OOIDA senior member from Buckeye, Ariz., drives for the Walmart Road Team. This is his third MATS overall, and second here as a member of the Road Team.

We ran into Life Member Sandy Long, an owner-operator from Marceline, Mo. This is her first time at the Big Show. 

Another OOIDA Life Member, Charles Clendaniel and Karen Brown, both of Lewes, Del., were walking around the West Wing. A 40-year trucking industry veteran, Charles said his favorite trucks are Peterbilts.

'We can't do this unless we do it right'

MATS is a wonderland of opportunity for us as the trucking media.

As I prepared to take a seat and visit for a moment with Mark Reddig at the “Land Line Now” booth, a young gentleman in an OOIDA cap walked up and looked like he wanted to talk on the radio microphone set up for interviews.

His parents, Garry and Teresa England, politely smiled at us said something to the effect of “Come on, Alex, I’m sure these people are very busy.” 

Alex England, 9, does his best Mark Reddig impersonation 
at the “Land Line Now” booth at MATS. Alex is the son of new 
OOIDA Member Garry England and wife Teresa of Cullman, Ala.
(Photo by David Tanner)

They were wearing OOIDA caps as well. Hello, opportunity.

“It’s OK,” I assured, and invited them to stick around and check out the radio booth. I asked if Alex would like to pull up a chair and talk on the mic. "Sure," he said.

Mark seized his opportunity without hesitation.

“Now, we can’t do this unless we do it right,” he said, extending a set of radio headphones to the young man.

Within seconds flat, Alex was styling, "testing, 1, 2, 3" on the mic. It was one of those fun MATS moments, and an opportunity to show what OOIDA and its media are all about – our members.

You see, Garry had signed up as a new OOIDA member just minutes before his son spotted the mic.

Thanks to that interaction, we got to meet another fantastic trucking family, and who knows? We may have discovered a future on-air talent. 

Cobra Electronics debuts new power inverter line at 2015 MATS

Cobra Electronics showed the world a new line of inverters for truckers at MATS on Thursday. The AC to CD converters, all handsomely designed, range from the Cobra CPI 190 that provides 130 watts to the  CPI 2590 that serves up 2,500 watts, enough to run a household or small business, never mind a sleeper cab. Of course, inverters are the the convenient gizmos that turn the DC power in your truck into the AC power that runs almost everything else.
 The CPI 2590 serves up 2,500 watts and lists for $299.95.

“I could watch television, make supper in the microwave, and vacuum the sleeper at the same time,” said a trucker who stopped just long enough to comment, then moved back into the crowd.

“He’s right,” said Ramon Sandoval, Cobra’s Ramon Sandoval.

Of course the new line of Cobra inverters run the gamut between those two extremes. The two smallest inverters plug into your dashboard DC power source or cigarette lighter if you prefer. The CPI 190 plugs in on one end and offers a three-prong outlet at the other. The next plug-in model up the line is the CPI 290CH, which resembles a coffee cup and is designed to sit on a coffee cup holder in your truck. It connects to the DC power through a wire and the three prong plug opening is on the top.

Cobra calls those two products its “recreational models.” The 130 watt CPI 190 lists for $39.95; the coffee-cup model, 200 watt CPI 290CH , lists for $49.95.
The 200 watt CPI 290CH coffee-cup model goes for $49.95.
The balance of the line, the “professional models,”  are built to be installed and linked to the battery. They range from the  400 Watt CPI 490 to that 2,500 watt CPI 2590 with three models in between offering 800, 1,000, and 1,500 watts of AC power respectively. They range in price from $49.95 to $299.95.

All the models are neatly designed and will look good installed even as they provide maximum convenience in the cab and sleeper.

Wreaths Across America say 'Thank You' to truckers at MATS

The folks from Wreaths Across America came to MATS, they say,  to thank the trucking industry for its support of their popular program to remember and honor America’s war dead by laying wreaths on the second Saturday in December wherever those heroes have been laid to rest.

“We want to thank the trucking companies that have helped over the years to bring wreaths to resting places across the country,” said Karen Worcester (pronounced like wooster), Executive Director of Wreaths Across America.
2005 photograph that brought WAA to national attention.

“We’re also distributing cards to drivers,” said her son, Rob, Transportation & Logistics Coordinator for the group. The cards urge drivers to “join our rolling ambassadors” and haul a “truckload of respect.”  Pictured on the card is the group’s annual convoy from Maine to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia where, last year, the group’s volunteers laid wreaths at all 227,000 graves there. Drivers are urged to sign up at the website
or by calling 877-385-9504.

The annual convoy is perhaps the most visible element of the Wreaths Across America’s 23-year-old project to honor our war dead. The official convoy consists of 12 trucks as many as authorities will allow and many escorts, including police cruisers from jurisdictions along the route. Two Maine State Police cruisers are part of the escort as are the motorcycles of the Patriot Guard, an organization that promotes “dignity and respect” at memorial services for fallen military and first responders, among other patriotic activities. The official convoy takes a winding route, stopping off to visit schools, veterans groups and civic organizations along the way.

Meanwhile, an unofficial convoy of 70 trucks carries the bulk of the wreaths that it takes to include all of the 227,000 fallen. Those truckers and many others are part of the Wreaths Across America story, according to Karen Worcester.  

That story began in 1992 when Morrill Worcester, Karen’s husband and owner of Worcester Wreath Co. of Harrington, Me., found himself with many more Christmas wreaths than he would be able to sell and it occurred to him to donate them to the national cemetery at Arlington. With the help of then-Senator Olympia Snow of Maine, he received permission to place the wreaths on graves in an older, less-frequently visited part of the vast cemetery. Somehow,he had to get the fresh wreaths from Maine to Virginia, and that’s when trucking got involved.

James Prout, owner of a local carrier, volunteered to carry the wreaths, and thus launched what would become a tradition. According to Karen Worcester, the people who went on that first wreath-laying were deeply moved by the markers they encountered in the fields of Arlington.

“When you stand at the grave of a young man, only 19, who died in Korea, you have to think about that life,” she said.

“It took only two hours to lay the wreaths we had that year,” Karen recalled. But what began as a local tribute to national heroes grew year by year as more and more people asked to join the effort. The growth took a leap in 2005 when an Air Force photographer took pictures of the wreath ceremony at Arlington. They appeared in a Pentagon publication, said Karen, “and one of those pictures went viral.”  

The resulting media attention brought inquiries from around the country. “People wanted to help recognize those who were buried, not at Arlington but at other cemeteries in all kinds of places,” Karen explained. The Worcesters responded by sending seven wreaths to each state, one for each branch of the military and the seventh for those who went missing. In 2006 simultaneous wreath-laying ceremonies were held at 150 locations.  

Rob Worcester explained that by 2007 Wreaths Across America, now established as a nonprofit organization, was sending 17,000 wreaths to locations around the country. Volunteer trucking was an increasingly important part of the effort. While James Prout had been delivering wreaths to Arlington every year, a truly national program was beyond his reach. WAA approached Barry Pottle, owner of Pottle’s Transportation, a carrier based in Hermon, Maine. Barry put WAA in touch with many other carriers.
From left, WAA founder Morrill Worcester;  Karen Worcester, Executive Director; Rob Worcester, Transportation & Logistics Coordinator;  Wayne Hanson, Chairman of the Board; Ann Hanson, Board Member; and Tobin Slaven, Social Media Coordinator   

In 2014 those carriers numbered more than 150 and included some of the biggest in the nation. Their more than 260 trucks helped distribute on a volunteer basis what has become a virtual ocean of memorial wreaths to be laid on the graves of the fallen every 2nd Saturday in December. Most of the loads are multi-stop trips undertaken by volunteer drivers who cover the country. Wreaths are now laid by more than 600,000 WAA volunteers at more than 1,000 locations in 50 U.S. states, including all national cemeteries.

It could not happen without  the vital transportation donated by America’s carriers and drivers, said Karen Worcester.

“We’re  here at MATS to say thank you,” her son Rob said.