NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — It was a husband-and-wife, father-and-daughter, family kind of day Wednesday at the Idella M. Hansen North Little Rock Stopping Center at the Galloway Exit (161) as the Arkansas Trucking Association gave out free hot meals and cold drinks to show professional drivers some love.
Otto Schmeckenbecher and his wife Sheila waved to passing drivers as they held up a sign thanking truckers, and many returned the favor by honking their air horns.
Schmeckenbecher, a 42-year career driver who has been with ABF for the past 29 years, is on the Arkansas association’s road team, visiting schools all over Arkansas and teaching driver-aged students about driving safely around big trucks.
In addition to his educational lectures he also lets children climb up in the cab to see what professional truck drivers can’t see. Last year, his first year with the program, Schmeckenbecher spoke at 50 schools around the state and talked to adults as well as youngsters.
“They’re glad to see us at the schools,” he said.
Loren Hatfield, an ABF driver for 19 years and a long-hauler for 27, was also taking turns at holding signs thanking other drivers and had in tow his 23-year-old daughter Skylar, a major in Logistics and Supply Chain Management at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.
Her dad was Arkansas Driver of the Year in 2015 and is also an Arkansas association road team captain and a third-generation truck driver and Skylar said it was only natural that she should choose a career in the trucking industry.
“He’s been a truck driver my whole life,” said Skylar, who recently completed an internship in the safety department of CalArk Trucking, based southwest of Little Rock.
Once she graduates, Skylar would like to work in a safety department, as that’s her main area of interest.
Loren has competed at truck championships at both the state and national levels and said he took Skylar with him for many years. He credits those experiences with influencing his daughter’s career choice.
Jared Hopper, 36, who delivers mail for the U.S. Post Office had stopped in for a bit of grub, and said he loved seeing different locales and the freedom of the open road. And he said one thing he really likes is knowing people are eager to get what he’s bringing. When he delivers checks rather than bills, that is.
Truck driver Gill Amandip, who has his own company, Sukhmani Transport, also took advantage of a hot meal, and said he was proud to not only be making a living for his family but also “to be working for America — for my country.”
The Arkansas Trucking Association (ATA) was giving away meals and drinks from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday, with ATA Communications Coordinator Bethany May commenting that the lobbying group was expecting at least 750 drivers to stop by for a bite to eat this year, topping last year’s 700.
There were also opportunities to pay a little basketball at a hoop that had been set up, play tug-of-war, participate in product giveaways and listen to a DJ spin some tunes.
“This is our Thanksgiving,” said May, “our way of giving back, to say, ‘we see you [drivers] out there. We see you what you do to keep our closets full and a roof over our heads.’”
She commented that many drivers during National Truck Driver Appreciation Week September 10-16 are busy with relief efforts in Houston and parts of Florida hit by Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, respectively.
“Our member companies are sending relief [loads] to Florida and sent relief to Houston,” she said.
“Wherever we’re needed, we’ll be there.”