Two for the road: Rookie finalist explores US with pup

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Tanner Johnson and his dog, Brownie.Tanner Johnson and his dog, Brownie.

Tanner Johnson credits his parents for his trucking career. Johnson, 26, had held various jobs, sometimes working as many as four at a time. While he didn’t mind the work he was doing, he felt stuck. It was his parents who encouraged him to pursue trucking.

“It all falls back on my parents. It would have never happened without them in a million years, just because I often have trouble pulling the trigger on things,” Johnson said.

Trucking checked all his boxes. With his parents’ encouragement, he went to truck driving school and now hauls a reefer over the road for Wil-Trans. He was recently named a finalist for Truckers News‘ 2017 Trucking’s Top Rookie award.

He says he’d always been a hard worker but he didn’t know any trades, and school was expensive. He wanted a job that would allow him to travel while bringing along his older Shar-Pei/Chow mix, named Brownie.

“When I thought about something tying me down, there was only one thing and that was my dog,” Johnson said. “I didn’t want to get a job where I was going to have to leave her at home, like in a cage while I was at work.” 

He wasn’t sure how Brownie would adapt to the truck, being an older dog, but she adjusted quickly. Brownie was diagnosed with cancer in December, while Johnson was still training, and had to have a tumor removed from her spleen. It was a scary ordeal, but Johnson say she loves riding in the truck and getting to sniff new places.

“If I’m sitting here watching television, she comes up to me and she just wants to go. She loves when I pick her up and put her in the truck. She just wants to go,” Johnson said.

Trucking has other perks, as well. Johnson has been able to connect with distant relatives that he may never have gotten to meet otherwise. When he’s near their city, they’ll try to connect and spend time together.

“It’s good to get back in touch with those people. I definitely never would have done that. You just don’t. You don’t know the person well, but travel has definitely helped me out with that,” Johnson said. 

The winner of the 2017 Trucking’s Top Rookie award will be announced during a ceremony at 1:30 p.m. Friday, Aug. 25 at the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, and will receive $10,000 and a package of prizes.

The winner receives:

  • $10,000 cash
  • Expenses paid trip to the awards presentation in Dallas
  • A custom plaque from Award Company of America
  • Interview on Red Eye Radio Network with Eric Harley
  • $1,000 worth of DAS Products merchandise featuring the RoadPro Getting Started Living On-The-Go Package
  • American Trucking Associations “Good Stuff Trucks Bring It” package, which includes a logoed polo shirt, baseball cap, model truck and utility knife
  • An IntelliRoute TNDTM 730 LM GPS Unit and a Deluxe Motor Carriers’ Road Atlas from Rand McNally
  • A dash cam and CB radio from Cobra
  • Feature story in Truckers News

The other nine finalists receive:

  • $1,000 cash
  • A custom plaque from Award Company of America
  • $100 worth of DAS Products merchandise, featuring the Road Pro MobileSpec Portable Life Package
  • American Trucking Associations‘ “Good Stuff Trucks Bring It” package which includes a logoed polo shirt, baseball cap, model truck and utility knife
  • An IntelliRoute TNDTM 730 LM GPS Unit 
  • CB radio from Cobra

Sponsors include:

  • The RoadPro Family of Brands
  • Rand McNally
  • Cobra Electronics
  • Progressive
  • RedEye Radio
  • ATA

Partnering with Truckers News in the search are the three national organizations overseeing truck driver training:

  • Commercial Vehicle Training Association
  • National Association Of Publicly Funded Truck Driving Schools
  • Professional Truck Driver Institute

Recognizing the top rookie driver was the idea of the late Mike O’Connell, who was formerly the executive director of the Commercial Vehicle Training Association. He believed that honoring a top rookie driver helps show new drivers they are appreciated by the trucking industry.