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Doug Day has driven big-rig trucks for nearly 6 million miles. That’s about 1,100 round-trip journeys between New York and Los Angeles. Or 757 times around Earth’s equator. Or 12 times to the moon and back.
On a recent Friday afternoon, he took some time out to reflect upon his 76-year life, which began in Kentucky’s coal country. He had just spent a week in Columbus, a rare occasion, before he was to haul a truckload of Home Depot parts to Oklahoma City.
He sat behind the steering wheel of his new Western Star truck, which he acquired just before December. He already has racked up more than 65,000 miles on it. Day said he bought the truck from a friend. A plaque on the dashboard reads, “Custom engineered for Doug Day.” The truck, powered by a Cummins ISX, has 18 gears and 16 gauges, measuring everything from engine oil pressure to freight weight.
Day, who drives for Hoosier Air Transport in Taylorsville, which he founded in 1992, said that, once he gets into the high gears on the interstates, the 18 gears are a breeze.
The Doug Day file
WHO: President, founder of Hoosier Air Transport.
WHAT: Also a truck driver for the company.
COMPANY INFO: Founded by Day in 1992. Located in Taylorsville. 110 employees, including 70 drivers.
DAY’S PREVIOUS JOBS:
After high school, he made bumpers for Chrysler in an auto parts plant in Ohio
Operated a coal truck in Kentucky in the early 1950s
Worked at Golden Foundry
Working at a filling station part time. The owner lent him money to open his own. Day’s station serviced law enforcement vehicles.
20 years at Cummins Inc., including 17 years as maintenance supervisor
1970 Ford Mustang
1935 Ford pickup truck, painted orange as an homage to his favorite NASCAR driver, Tony Stewart, who usually signs the hood of Day’s trucks.
FAMILY: Wife, Doris (married 1957); son, Wade; daughter, Karen.
“I love that driving,” he said. “I can go anywhere, anytime. I don’t care.”
Day personifies the trucking industry trend that the average age of truckers is steadily increasing. However, his longevity also makes him an outlier, because trucking companies are dealing with lots of driver turnover, in part because drivers spend a lot of nights away from home and their wages have stagnated over the past two decades, according to the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association.
Day frequently drives to California and Florida, but on his trip last weekend, he brought Home Depot products to Oklahoma City, where he met with another truck driver hauling Macy’s products. The two switched trailers, and Day brought the Macy’s products back east, spent a night in Columbus and drove them to Ohio the next day.
Day used to run Hoosier Air, but he has handed the controls to his son, Wade, and his daughter, Karen. His wife, Doris, also works at Hoosier Air, which has about 110 employees, including about 70 drivers.
The company runs trucks across the country, delivering anything from clothes to transmission parts. Early in his career Day even delivered trailers full of playing cards from Cincinnati to casinos in Reno and Las Vegas. An old photo in the Hoosier Air office on the west side of U.S. 31 just south of Edinburgh Premium Outlets shows Day with his first big-rig stopped on the Hoover Dam.
‘So long as it’s a Cummins’
Day has owned 10 heavy-duty trucks, and he named each one: Happy Hour, Hurryin’ Hoosier, Big Daddy. His new one’s named Godfather.
He likes Kenworth trucks especially, though the brand matters less than what’s under the hood.
“It doesn’t matter what kind it is, so long as it’s a Cummins,” he said.
His loyalty to the Columbus-based engine makers is easily explained. He retired from Cummins after a 20-year stint, working 17 of those years as maintenance supervisor.
His love affair with trucks began at age 14 when, on weekends and in summers, he hauled logs and coal for his father, Lloyd, in his native Whitesburg, in southeastern Kentucky on the fringes of Appalachian coal country. His father previously drove a postal truck. His mother, Nora, was a teacher when she was younger but stayed at home to take care of Doug and his five brothers and two sisters.
Day launched a trucking business on Seventh Street in the late 1960s while still working full time at Cummins. When the engine maker needed to cut back in 1983, Day said he took early retirement, in part because his truck business kept him busy enough. He moved to the Taylorsville location that year, bought 15 Kenworth big rigs and flew to Kansas City to see them coming off the line.
Karen Day said his voluntary retirement from Cummins shows his concern for others, because out of Day’s department of three, one had to be laid off. He was the only one who had a second job, so he decided he would best be able to withstand the loss of the Cummins job.
“That speaks volumes,” Karen Day said. “I thought that was a pretty cool thing to do.”
‘He’s just a fighter’
That year, Day also bought a tractor for himself and began delivering goods, especially enjoying trips to the West Coast. That first truck cost him $17,000, Day said. He drove it for a million miles. He drove a Kenworth he bought in 2002 for 1.5 million miles.
He enjoys telling stories about his experiences across the country, whether it’s having to stay on an Indian reservation in Montana after being struck by a pickup or grabbing some good chow in his favorite truck stop on Interstate 44 between Rolla and Lebanon in Missouri.
“I just like the people you see on the road,” Day said.
His daughter said he always has liked talking to people about where they came from and how they ended up where they were. It goes back to his youth, she said, when people worked for the same company for 50 years and pretty much stayed where they were born.
But like a long-haul journey from coast to coast, Day’s life has led him to high places — and to low ones, swept up in the undulations of a life filled with taking chances.
His first Columbus trucking business went bankrupt in 1989. The company grew too much too quickly, his daughter said. It had about 300 trucks at its peak and fell victim to a weak economy and tough competition.
“It was very hard,” Karen Day said. “And a little bit demoralizing.”
But he soon got back on the road. He bought five used trucks that were barely roadworthy, fixed them and started over.
“He’s just a fighter,” his daughter said.
‘He’s been a good friend’
His continued dedication to trucking also has won him the respect of fellow truckers and has turned him into Hoosier Air’s best recruiting vehicle.
“Doug’s a trucker, buddy. I can tell you that,” said Larry West, owner of West Trucking, in East Columbus.
The two have bought trucks from each other and help each other in a pinch, giving each other truck parts that one needs and the other doesn’t.
“We work together,” West said. “He’s been a good friend.”
West said he used to consider Doug and his brother Don pains in his rear end, but over the years, they first developed mutual respect and then a friendship.
“I think the world of Doug and Don,” he said.
Day said he enjoys talking to fellow truckers on the radio. Sometimes, if their paths cross, he’ll meet with them at a truck stop.
Karen Day said her father’s affability and curiosity about others has him constantly returning from cross-country trips with new potential recruits for Hoosier Air.
He always comes back and says he met this driver or that trucker, and they usually show an interest in Hoosier Air after they talk to her father, she said.
“He’s by far the best recruiting tool we have,” she said.
Day said he keeps in touch with his family via phone, and he doesn’t mind sleeping in the cramped bed of his truck cab or eating lots of meals from a microwave.
“It’s a lot of freedom, too,” he said.
‘I’d rather be working’
He doesn’t like thinking about retirement.
“I don’t think I’d last very long if I quit,” he said.
Nonetheless, he knows he cannot keep driving forever, although he wants to continue so long as his mind and body allow it. He recently had a physical, and his doctor said Day is fine; but, Day said, he knows that at his age, that can change quickly.
He said he wants to drive his new truck for another 600,000 miles in four years.
“Then I’ll ride my motorcycle, I guess,” he said with a laugh.
His daughter said she worries about her father sometimes, at his age, driving across the country by himself.
But, she added, “It’s what he loves. So it’s kind of hard to keep him down.”
“He’s been a hard worker his whole life,” she said. “‘I’d rather be working.’ That’s pretty much his phrase.”
And, she said, her father has gotten a lot better about admitting when he cannot take an assignment.
“He’s finally realized, ‘I’m not 40 anymore,’” she said.
Until he has to give up the keys to his big rig, however, Day keeps asking pretty much every day where he needs to drive the next trailer.
He had returned from Oklahoma by noon Sunday, slept for a few hours and drove the trailer to North Jackson, in northeastern Ohio.
“Tomorrow he’ll be ready for something else,” his daughter said.
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