Born in the small town of Sarah, Mississippi, Henry Clay Walker started driving Greyhound buses in 1980 but after a bus strike switched to driving commercial trucks in 1990. “By the time they [Greyhound drivers] came off strike, I was busy in Delaware, driving big trucks.”
Since then, he has seen plenty of what the road has to dish out, not all of it good.
The 66-year-old says 20-plus years ago trucking was “fun for me” but not as much now, although he said he’s in such good health he will continue to work and keep active. For example, he said retirement would mean taking up tennis, which he likes. But he wants to keep working, regardless.
Walker doesn’t miss driving buses but one of his two grown daughters drives a bus for the Chicago Transit Authority and is making $33 an hour, a salary he wishes he had now.
At one time he actually trained bus drivers but said it takes a lot of focus to be a bus or a commercial truck driver and today, “young folks don’t want to focus that long,” for example, when the weather is bad and it’s hard to see in snow or rain. “You got to focus. Once you stop focusing, you get in the ditch.”
He’s hauled dry van and about every product there is, “everything that pays the bills,” he quipped at the North Little Rock TravelCenters of America/Petro Stopping Center at the Galloway Exit while waiting for his 2012 Kenworth to be fixed.
It was early afternoon but Walker had only time on his hands and had only had a cup of coffee for breakfast, so he was chowing down on ribs and fixings.
Trucking, he said, suits him, especially now that he’s single, adding with a chuckle that “my wife kicked me out after she got all my money.”
He’s seen a thing or two out on the road and like most drivers his age, has seen the trucking industry go through a lot of changes.
One change for the worse, he said, is that “it’s all about the money” now with trucking companies and “they all talk [about safety but] they’ve thrown safety right out the window.”
About Hours of Service, he said, “When I get tired, I don’t care; I just pull over.”
Nowadays, he said, professional truck drivers “get no respect” either from the general public or their fellow drivers. “Nobody gets treated right anymore.”
He said female truckers aren’t always respected or paid well. “If I was a female I’d work at McDonald’s.”
Walker is no stranger to hard work, having served in the U.S. Navy for six years aboard a destroyer that was “a training ship” for new recruits.
Consequently, he got to see Puerto Rico, Canada and other sites on the U.S. government’s dime.
Would he consider training would-be truck drivers?
No way, José. “These younger drivers,” he said, “they don’t have any respect for each other.” 8