Starting now, you’ll notice a change in my attitude. I still intend to call attention to – and encourage change regarding – some of the foolish habits that exist within this industry, particularly relating to large-small carrier relations, driver pay, and freight rates. I’ll just be a lot less militant and snarky about it.
On Nov. 17, my priorities and attitudes were drastically changed. At 6:50 p.m. that day, I had arrived at my next-day delivery point near Ann Arbor Mich., and hadn’t even shut the truck off yet when I received the phone call we all dread.
Our 18-year-old son had been involved in a devastating single-car accident. Since he’s stubborn, cocky, lead-footed and invincible (like me at that age), he wasn’t wearing a seatbelt, and was ejected from the car as it rolled. They were preparing to airlift him to Victoria Hospital in London, Ont. when I got the call. Despite the severity of the situation, he suffered only somewhat minor skull fractures – not requiring surgery – and a major concussion, including a minor brain bleed. His nurses and neurologist have all told him how lucky he is; that any prior patients who’ve been through his experience either didn’t survive to see the trauma unit or were paralyzed.
He’s the first patient any of them recall that will walk out of that facility with no permanent damage. The abrasions on his face and limbs are commonly referred to as “road rash.” I prefer to think of them as chafing, caused by the rapid beating of his guardian angel’s wings. I now have a different perception of what really matters enough to justify my outrage.
I never delve into family issues in this column; I’m doing it now simply to explain the mood change you may notice in future columns, but there’s still an industry connection here.
First, for those who still don’t wear a seatbelt, wake up. Enough of this crap about seatbelt use being an infringement of your personal rights. Your personal rights don’t include causing nightmares for rescue workers and family members who are left to deal with the serious ramifications of your actions.
Second, some of you with family should consider switching to shorter trips. I was less than 200 miles from the trauma unit. I can’t imagine how long-haulers handle these situations.
My third point helps explain my mood swing. I complain a lot, mostly to myself, about my failure to grow our company as I initially planned. I now see what an advantage small size can be. Not yet thinking straight, obviously, my first plan was to leave the load unstrapped and the truck parked in a corner of the property, somehow get to the hospital and retrieve the truck later.
My first phone call was to John Bults, owner of Diamond Transport. Coincidentally he would be passing by in two hours. The passenger seat was mine, right to the car rental desk at the Windsor airport. John was also one of the many people making concerned calls and texts the following day.
My next call was to Larry Calhoun, owner of Foghollow Express, who I knew had the phone number I needed. Less than five minutes later, I had it. That number belonged to Pat Campbell, owner of Campbell Transportation, who, despite trying to load several of her own trucks home in the worst freight month any of us remember of late, immediately added our currently undispatched owner/operator to the list, a gentleman who seemed less concerned with the upheaval of his schedule than of the condition of our son.
By the time those arrangements were all in place, I was slightly more clear-headed. I found the supervisor of the skeleton night crew working at the lumber facility, who aren’t supposed to leave the confines of the building. After hearing my story, within 10 minutes two huge Hyster lifts were beside me. Fifteen minutes later, my trains were empty. I experienced the same compassion from other customers who were later informed of the situation and who became more concerned with our son’s condition than the status of their delayed shipments.
My point is, would any of this happen within large companies? Could I still reach people by phone at 8:30 p.m. who would willingly absorb my problems as their own, and even if I could, would they be more concerned with the well-being of a teenager some had never met than with the added burden on their operation? I seriously doubt it.
I’ve learned, through nearly catastrophic circumstances, that despite the general degradation of society, I am fortunate to know – and do business with – some very compassionate, terrific people.
There’s often a great deal of name-calling in this industry, usually involving influential people frowning upon people like me. The phrase ‘competitive advantage’ is used a lot, usually as it relates to the use of older equipment and lower overhead. Accusations of shoddy maintenance practices, hours-of-service abuse, or of our refusal to join national associations are frequent. Well, I have a competitive advantage, and I didn’t join any organization to get it.
My competitive advantage is something as simple as the great people we do business with and associate with, all people that we know on a first-name basis.
That’s a competitive advantage that nobody can legislate away from me and an advantage that I’m proud to have.
Bill Cameron and his wife Nancy own and operate Parks Transportation, a small flatdeck trucking company. Bill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.