Clark has certainly seen his share of potholes, storms and layoffs in the last 33 years, during which time the 63-year-old driver has steered 18-wheelers over more than 3 million miles — accident-free.
Clark is one of only two active drivers at Michigan-based Holland to pass 3 million miles, the equivalent of driving to the moon and back half a dozen times.
He’s enjoyed the sunny days and flat highways, but life’s little imperfections are what keep things interesting, he said Thursday at a ceremony in Ringgold, Ga.
“I look forward to adverse weather,” Clark said. “Anybody can drive a truck on a flat road with sunny skies, but it takes a good driver to get through snow.”
Driving for 3 million miles with nary a fender bender is rare enough that Mike Naatz, president of the Holland trucking company, flew down from the company’s Michigan headquarters to recognize Clark.
“It’s absolutely remarkable,” Naatz said. “In an industry where safety is so important, we couldn’t be more proud of you.”
Other former drivers who have driven between 1 million and 2 million miles said that becoming a 3 million miler is made more difficult through new regulations and technology that reduce the amount of time drivers can spend in motion.
“Back in the old days,m you ran eight days per week,” said Earl Green, now a union official. “Most of the time without lying on the logs, we were doing 4,000 miles per week.”
Holland has been running flat out over the last few years as holding company YRC Worldwide went through multiple rounds of pay and benefit cuts in the midst of a restructuring.
“We’re a heavy fixed-asset business, so adjusting to downturns can be difficult,” Naatz said. “Employees have had to make a lot of sacrifices.”
The recession saw consumers pinch pennies at the cash register, and the resulting drop in demand for goods left truckers waiting at the depot for work that often didn’t come, Clark said after receiving his commemorative 3 million-mile ring, leather jacket and plaque.
“I’ve seen a lot less traffic on the road, especially truck traffic,” the former Navy man said. “We had a lot of employees laid off due to lack of work, but things are starting to pick up again. It’s not there yet, but it’s picking up.”
The 8,000-employee company has “seen some upside” in the market through the end of 2011, said Scott Ware, vice president of operations.
“With the weather being good in the beginning of the year, it’s been extremely favorable,” he said.
Of course, truckers are still feeling the effects of rising fuel costs, and spring is still a slow time of year as the consumer hangover from holiday purchases reduces demand for goods.
But the company, which boasts 53 facilities in the U.S., is slowly starting to return to growth mode, its president says.
“We’re seeing what most people are seeing in terms of some mild, general improvement in the economy,” Naatz said.
That’s good news for Clark’s wife, Denise, who isn’t anxious for him to retire just yet.
“I’m very proud of him,” she said. “I want him to go for 4 million.”
Clark isn’t against the idea of driving another million miles, even at age 63. Like Holland, he doesn’t even consider the idea of taking it easy for a while, even after the president of his company cuts him a piece of cake.
“I’ve got two more days to work this week, and that’s what I’m going to do,” he said. “The day you think you know everything about driving is the day to quit, and I’m still learning.”SOURCE: