Alabama company driver logs 5 million miles in 60 years

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Frank Calvert

If you want to know anything about driving a truck, you might consider making your first phone call to Frank Calvert. He’s been driving for 60 years and has five million miles under his seatbelt.

Calvert also has gone 52 consecutive years since his last chargeable accident, which happened the same year the Beatles were on Ed Sullivan. Today, he’s based at AAA Cooper’s terminal in Birmingham, Alabama. He’s been there 22 years and has three million accident-free miles for the Dothan, Alabama-based less-than-truckload company.

“I still have the drive,” Calvert said during a recent interview and job interaction with Truckers News. “There’s not a lot of people in this business that’s still here since I started here.”

It’s unlikely that Cooper wants Calvert to go anywhere soon, as his accomplishments recently were recognized by the Alabama Trucking Association. Calvert received the organization’s prestigious Driver of the Year award at its annual Safety & Maintenance Management Fleet Safety Awards Banquet, held March 21 in Pelham.

Calvert wasn’t a stranger to safety and award-winning driving before joining Cooper. He was the State Truck Rodeo champ in both 1961 and 1962, and in 1961, he finished third nationally in the four-axle category; the next year, he placed sixth nationally.

Calvert’s advice for a long, safe driving career? “You’ve got to know what’s in front, sides and back at all times.” He said he’s had a lot of job offers over the years, but “Cooper’s been good to me.”

Over the years, Calvert has worked as a dock hand, a local LTL driver and a line-haul driver. At Cooper, he’s missed only five days of work.

“I love vegetables,” he said, explaining his physical durability. He and his wife, Virgie, grow a lot of what they eat. “It’s better for you.” The couple has a three-acre garden. “We grow it and give it away.”

Calvert’s spent his last 17 years with Cooper as a team driver. These days, he’s behind the wheel of a 2015 Volvo equipped with a 245-hp D13 engine and the truck maker’s XE (xCeptional Efficiency) fuel efficiency package. The truck has 247,000 miles on it.

Calvert currently runs 6,000 miles a week, making five round trips between Birmingham and Dallas hauling LTL freight, with the occasional run to Memphis on the way to Dallas. It’s a 24-hour-a-day schedule, usually taking all of that time for the round trip, unloading, reloading and, of course, stopping for fuel along the way.

Calvert said he and his teammate “don’t really stop at truck stops. We only get fuel.” He’s been on the Birmingham-Dallas run for four years. “You can’t drive a team truck if you can’t get along,” Calvert said. “We’ve got each other’s lives in our hands.”

However, Calvert said “it’s easy to drive a truck today,” recalling the rigs he drove when he was starting out. “We didn’t have power steering, no interstates. Today, we have ELDs (electronic logging devices), automatic transmissions, air ride (suspensions).”

What does make it tougher to perform the job of driving today, Calvert said, are “other drivers,” including both four-wheelers and other so-called trucking “ ‘professionals’ that shouldn’t be driving. They’re in a hurry. They take chances.”

But through the years, Calvert’s seen it all – certainly enough to know how to handle such occurrences. “If you don’t learn something new behind the wheel of a truck every day, you’ve got a problem,” he said. “You learn a lot of valuable lessons every day.”

Calvert’s work ethic was instilled at an early age. He was born and raised in a rural area near Cullman “under where Smith Lake is now,” growing up poor in a hard-working family. He’s the third of four brothers still alive. The oldest brother, 82, still works at the water testing lab at Wallace State Community College.

“If you work hard in life, you don’t have to worry about a job,” he said. “People know your work ethic. I’ve always said that if management feels like I didn’t do a day’s work, they don’t have to pay me.”

Of course, a lengthy successful career, paid or not, has to start somewhere, and for Calvert, it began when he was 17 and left home after dropping out of school – “the biggest mistake I ever made,” he said. He got a job as a warehouse helper, then the same company gave him a chance behind the wheel of a truck.

That’s how it got going for Calvert in 1956, and that’s how it continues to roll on. “I’ve always enjoyed being a truck driver,” he said. “It’s been a good life.”

Calver said Virgie always has been supportive of his job that takes him on overnight trips, far away from everyday household tasks. “She says ‘you’re the one that works – you let me know what has to be done,’ ” he said.

The couple lives in the Logan community, near Smith Lake and Cullman, and has two adult daughters, Joan and Lesha, along with several grandchildren and great-grandchildren. “We never went anywhere we couldn’t take our children or grandchildren,” he said. “If you’re there, it’s a place you shouldn’t be.”

That’s a family-first philosophy Calvert brings to his active involvements in his community and church, where he serves as Sunday school director for Logan Baptist Church.

“Our family was raised with a big heart,” he said. “Material things aren’t always an indicator of success. The good Lord saved me many years ago. I don’t have a lot of money, but you don’t have to have money to be wealthy.” He said he feels like he’s the richest man in Cullman County, Alabama.

Calvert said someone once asked him if he’d ever gone out and bought something luxurious for himself. “I’d rather not if it takes away from my family,” he said. “It’s always better to give than to receive. I’m not a good receiver of things. I’ve been very fortunate, very blessed.”