While truckers can sing along to the Hank Snow hit “I've Been Everywhere,” not everyone has been everywhere. However, the lyrics cannot be any truer for Willard “O’Neal” Boyd, 65, of Wichita Falls, Texas, who has three million-plus miles under his belt.
“I just enjoy being out here, not punching a clock. I’ve seen everything in the United States and parts of Canada,” Boyd told The Trucker. “I don’t have a camera. I never take pictures because I know what it looks like … I’ve seen it 35 times.”
While the three-million milestone may not be a big deal to Boyd, his wife Jeanette, who has been driving team with him for about 12 years, said it’s an important accomplishment.
“I think that’s amazing that he’s done it without any accidents,” she said, adding he’s been at Prime Inc. for more than 20 years. “… I feel really proud of him. I feel he drives in a way the he doesn’t just protect me and him, but he protects everybody on the road.”
The couple is leased to Prime Inc., and drive a 2014 Freightliner Cascadia anywhere they’re asked, with their Blue Heeler companion Sydney, a rescue dog who has ridden with them for 11 years.
As Boyd was racking up the miles throughout his 45 year-career, he has seen the world change through his driver’s window — even before his professional career began.
In 1967, he began trucking during the summers at just 16 years old, before the law required drivers to be at least 21 before driving interstate. He hauled lumber all over Texas and Oklahoma, usually not longer than five or six hours from his home in Wichita Falls.
“Basically if you had a problem on the highway, you had a problem. You carried our own tire with you; you had to have your own spare. The fuel was like 29 cents a gallon for diesel,” he said. “You basically had no credit cards. There was no sleeper so if your truck broke down someone had to wire you money. … If you didn’t have a place to stay, you were just SOL and they’d have to come get you the next day.”
During one breakdown in Oklahoma, he was told to catch the bus home at 2 p.m., but it had already left and wouldn’t be back until 2 p.m. the next day.
“Every place that I was around, the bus had already been there,” Boyd said. “I wouldn’t have been able to get into a room in that day because I’m black; with me being black in a small town that wasn’t going to happen.”
He said his company was able to pick him up at about 1 or 2 in the morning.
His boss, who was friends with Boyd’s father, a local policeman, was respectful to Boyd and stuck up for him if needed in a time of widespread racism.
“It depended on what place you went to,” Boyd said of encountering racism. “I was at one place in Oklahoma that a guy told me to get out of the truck and unload it and put the stuff in this place and that place. That wasn’t my job, my job was to drive there and let his people unload it.”
He obliged a couple times but finally told the man it was not his job. The man and Boyd’s boss spoke on the phone and the next time he delivered there, “I was told not to get out of the truck” and the man’s employees took care of everything.
The places that were really hostile, he avoided.
“Some places had these signs, ‘Don’t let the sun set on you here’ and it had the N-word in front of it,” Boyd said. At truck stops, “you got a certain shower number; that’s where they put black people, Mexican people. Some places didn’t like women, they would have problems … The trucking industry has changed. It’s better than what it was.”
Throughout the last 45 years, he’s seen every kind of weather — hurricanes, tornados, floods and extreme temperatures from negative 16 degrees in the Dakotas to 121 in Arizona.
“There was sunny weather and then a mile ahead two inches of snow on the ground; from 65 degree weather to 2 inches of snow in New Mexico,” he said.
He’s also seen heartbreak too many times.
“I’ve seen accidents that shouldn’t have been. The holiday season is worse — people haven’t checked their hoses or being hit by another car” in a rush, he said. “… I’ve stopped and lent aid and taken people someplace or made sure they had help coming.”
But there are also the fun memories, like the days of CB radio, he said.
“I was riding down Interstate 59 in Mississippi … I said, ‘now watch it there are two bears up here,’” which was CB slang for highway patrol, he said. Fellow truckers began asking, “‘Where are the bears at, where are the bears?’ I said, about mile marker 63, y’all watch out. Another guy said, ‘You’re talking about actual bears, I see them.’ We had seen these bears, cubs; we called it in.’”
The cubs had traveled from Tennessee after their mother was killed and authorities were able to get them to safety.
There are also very few places that Boyd can get lost in the country, making him pretty much a human GPS.
“[My wife] used to hide the truck,” while he was sleeping, putting it in what she assumed was an unfamiliar place as a joke. “She would put it in a place behind the underpass. I’d get up and say ‘Oh you made it to so and so.’ … I know all the great cubby holes, places to rest. I’ve memorized the highways; sometimes I’m good and sometimes I’m way off.”
Luckily, he was right where he was supposed to be when he first met his wife at the Iowa 80 Truckstop.
“We were both snowed in,” Jeanette said, adding she was impressed that he wanted to know about her career as a driver and the respect he showed. “… I always tease people that he picked me up in the truck stop parking lot and married me — I don’t say I had my own truck. It sounds way more scandalous the other way.”
During Christmas, the couple, who have three adult children and three grandchildren between them, celebrate on the road, making family pit stops along the way.
“We celebrate Christmas by visiting everybody, hopefully on the road going home,” Boyd said.
While Boyd is essentially retired, only driving to team with his wife, he said his career has afforded his family many opportunities — a gift to appreciate.
“We’re tired of it, we’ve seen it all, but we know that it has paid for our houses, cars and kids’ education. My daughter wanted to go to college and said, ‘Dad I need $2,500 for my books and stuff,’ boom, I sent it to her. I had no problem sending it to her,” Boyd said. “It’s not easy money but it’s money. It has helped my kids and helped me if I needed something.”