Wreck-free truck driver keeps rolling along

Posted: December 2, 2013

The Winchester Star

Truck driver John Taylor, 79, sits behind the wheel of his rig on Saturday. The Cross Junction resident was recently recognized by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association for 62 years of accident-free driving. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)

CROSS JUNCTION — John Taylor heard the phrase “Keep on trucking” and took it to heart.

The 79-year-old was recently recognized by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association for 62 years of accident-free driving.

He began his driving career, unofficially, even before he had his driver’s license.

“I actually was hauling pulp wood off this old farm here in 1947, when I was 13 years old with no driver’s license,” Taylor said Saturday while sitting at the kitchen table of the Frederick County farmhouse he has called home most of his life. “And we were hauling about 20,000 pounds.”

During the Depression, Taylor’s parents, who had nine children, “farmed out” him to relatives.

The home where he grew up belonged to his aunt and uncle, Edith and Albert Thompson. They had one son 15 years older than Taylor, but he died in 1954.

“I was their second son,” he said. “[His cousin’s death] was the reason I started hauling pulp wood, because he drove the truck. It was an old ’42 or ’43 Army truck.

“I had driven the truck in and out of the woods since I was probably 9 or 10 years old, so going to Keyser, W.Va., or Luke, Md., was no problem for me.”

Taylor recalled being a witness to an accident at age 13 — months before he could get his license at 14 — and being asked for his license by a trooper.

“My uncle rode with me, but he didn’t drive the truck — he only drove his Model A Ford car,” Taylor said. “[The trooper said], ‘When you get old enough, you get your driver’s license.’ And, I kept on hauling pulp wood to Luke, Md. That would not happen today. That’s the reason we’re in so much trouble today, because there’s no common sense used. Back then, you did what you had to do, and the world was a better place.”

Taylor, who worked for several companies before becoming an independent owner-operator in 1966, estimates he has driven about 6.5 million miles.

“I’ve run cross country most part of my life, to the West Coast, into Canada, from the Canadian border to Mexico, across the Rockies, everywhere,” he said.

He avoided accidents “simply by paying attention to what I was doing.

“And, I think that the good Lord rode with me, and also I had the full support of my wife and all of my family.”

He and his wife, Martha, will celebrate 59 years of marriage next month.

‘I liked trucking better  than I liked school’

Taylor dropped out of James Wood High School as a junior in 1950.

“I liked trucking better than I liked school,” he explained. “I’ve never drawn a paycheck for any work since I’ve been 15 years old other than driving a truck. And, I still enjoy driving. I’m still somewhat active in the trucking business, and I may be going until I’m 85. Who knows?”

Although her husband was often away from home, the couple’s three children — James, Carol and Christine — helped keep loneliness at bay.

“If it hadn’t been for our children, it would’ve been a whole lot harder,” she said. “I can understand why some marriages don’t last, especially if they have no children, because you have to have something to occupy your time, and I got interested in everything my children did.”

Taylor is a passionate lobbyist for his profession and has called on legislators to solve a critical parking shortage for truck drivers.

And, he feels the police and the public often take an improper approach to trucker relations.

“You do have almost a hate trucker mentality among a lot of people, but, unfortunately, that is how our goods are delivered,” Taylor said. “There is no industry in the United States of America that has to put up with the general public invading their work table, and our work table is the highways of the United States of America.

“The truck drivers do not go into factories and go into people’s place of work and wallow around in their operation.”

Taylor said he thinks shippers and receivers should allow truckers who haul their products to rest on-site.

“The parking issue is critical,” he said.

So is overcrowding on the highways, especially Interstate 81, according to Taylor. He supports an increase in fuel taxes to pay for highway construction, but is “adamantly opposed” to toll roads. He’d also like to see trucks-only highways running north to south and east to west.

Through the years, Taylor said he has seen a decline in courtesy among drivers — and that includes truckers.

“People’s nerves are on edge, and the big thing that’s causing the wrecks are distractions,” he said. “There has to be something done to address the cellphone and texting in trucks, cars and also in law enforcement.”

‘He’s a trucker’s trucker’

From his rig, Taylor has seen most of the country.

“I’ve hauled some into Canada years ago, and I’ve even been into Old Mexico,” he said. “I wouldn’t take my truck to Old Mexico now. My favorite part of the country is the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia.”

He added that he has been snowed in “a lot of places. I’ve sat 15 and 18 hours on the highway [for storms].”

Taylor tried to deflect any attention from his unblemished driving record.

“It’s about the men and women that drive the trucks and have been driving for years,” he said. “It’s what they go through.”

OOIDA spokeswoman Norita Taylor thinks Taylor’s achievement is pretty significant.

“He is amazing,” she said. “He’s a trucker’s trucker. We’re very proud of him and others like him and hope that others can look to him as an example of professionalism and safe-mindedness.”

While Norita Taylor has had truckers with 40 to 45 years of service, John Taylor’s longevity is unique.

Had he not taken the wheel of a tractor-trailer, Taylor supposes he would’ve been a farmer or rancher. When he was 6, he was driving a homemade Model T tractor on his aunt and uncle’s farm.

“I guess if there was ever somebody born to drive a truck, I suppose it was me,” Taylor said.

— Contact Sally Voth at svoth@winchesterstar.com