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NASTC’s Driver of the Year – BigRoad’er Lonnie Brice

This story is all kinds of awesome. What I believe is the true tale of the trucker: an unsung highway hero who gets the job done and done well. Not just delivering precious cargo, but an over-the-roader who quietly and unassumingly gives of himself wherever he is and whenever he is needed. Helping stranded fellow truckers along the side of the highway as much as complete strangers.   

He is Lonnie Brice. A man of impeccable manners, I had the opportunity to speak with him while he was on a 34-hour reset in Mankato, MN; getting ready to pick up a load of dairy products for delivery due west to a community in South Dakota.

Running for Triple R Trucking out of Decatur, Nebraska, Lonnie calls an ‘07 Freightliner Coronado his highway home. Driving for 44 years, he has been everywhere but Mexico, Canada and Alaska – with his favorite places being every state his children are. With 12 grown kids, 36 grandchildren and 1 great grandbaby, that covers a good part of the US – from Oregon to California, Kentucky to North Carolina and back to Texas, to name a few.  

Planning his runs around visiting family lies at the heart of Lonnie’s schedule. But any load that takes him near his favorite fishing spot on a river in the middle of beautiful nowhere Oregon – well – that’s his own little piece of heaven on the road.  

It’s been a few years since Lonnie has been to that peaceful river that serves up the tastiest rainbow trout – not having much time to do so with his runs of late. With a quota of 10,000 miles/month, Lonnie averages closer to 14,000 miles.  Constantly running has made it hard for Lonnie to get back to that special place in the Oregon backcountry. But Lonnie loves trucking. It’s in his blood and his blood runs deep.

Raised in Northern California, in a tiny town tucked high in the Sierra Nevada, Lonnie spent his summers with his dad down in Texas. His father was a trucker, so Lonnie learned early on how to drive his rig – running for his dad from the early age of 15 (and running any chance he could get!).  

Loving the road from the minute he climbed into his dad’s cab, Lonnie quickly got his license to drive a log truck at 17. “It wasn’t a CDL back then,” Lonnie mused, “but a chauffeur license – a strange name for the job. They grandfathered me in when the CDL came to be”. Driving a log truck was not easy but it taught Lonnie how to manage under extreme conditions and how to react to dangerous situations when they arose so suddenly in the treacherous mountain switchbacks.

He didn’t run timber long. After a few stints here and there as a tow truck operator and straight van driver, Lonnie moved back to his first love: the big rigs. Which brings us back to Triple R Trucking LLC.  

Driving with Triple R for a few years now, Lonnie has known the owners much longer – working for the family in some manner for as long as he can remember. Watching as the original owners – Dan and Konnie Small – built a business and raised a family. Mrs. Small kept the shop in line. As secretary, she ran the back office with a gentle yet firm, iron fist – keeping everyone on their toes while keeping her daughter, Krystal, by her side.  

Knowing Krystal since she was a 5-year old girl, Lonnie watched her fall hard for the trucking life – starting first as a dispatcher and working her way through the ranks. For a time, Krystal worked for another company until she came back and bought the family business from her father. After years of working for her father, by 2013 Lonnie was now driving for Krystal – coming back to Triple R after some time away.

In fact, it was Krystal who nominated Lonnie for the NASTC Driver of the Year award. Knowing him for close to 27 years, Lonnie was a huge part of Krystal’s life, “He watched me grow up and learn the business”, she fondly reminisced, “He watched me get married and have children. He loves my 3 kids and they love him. He is like family”.

When I had the chance to chat with Krystal about why she nominated Lonnie, this is where the story starts warming your heart. Lonnie has clocked an extremely impressive 5.7 million accident-free miles so it’s not for nothing that this achievement was a big part of why he is one of twelve NASTC Drivers of the Year for 2015. But it’s not just accident-free miles that make this man so special.  

Having nominated a few other drivers before in her career, Krystal wasn’t sure Lonnie would win, but she knew this time was different. “It’s kind of hard when you are a young woman and starting your company to have drivers support you,” stated Krystal matter-of-fact, “ but Lonnie, he always goes above and beyond what he is asked to do. No matter what I ask of him, he always has my back.”  

While Lonnie refers to himself as a “decent mechanic” who does “small maintenance” jobs for Triple R when he is not running loads, Krystal quickly corrects that characterization by informing me “Lonnie is much more than just that”.   

Keeping his rig in shape himself or fixing a reefer that Krystal needs to go on an urgent run, well, Lonnie steps up without even being asked. When a female driver got stranded when her engine went down, Lonnie headed out to rescue her, take her load on and then get her back home to Missouri in time to be with her family.

“He will help drivers no matter where they are broken down – even if it’s not Triple R folks!  His willingness to lend a helping hand to me, to our drivers, to our community, well, I don’t know what I would do without him,” said Krystal warmly.

And it’s the community part of the story that warms my heart the most – both for Triple R and for Lonnie. Whether it’s giving small change to homeless vets living under a highway overpass or helping a stranded car on the roadside with family of four on their way to a funeral, Lonnie’s motives are always pure, “God says help people in need if you can – so I try to do so.”

So when the ugly part of the logistics industry rears its head, its truckers like Lonnie and businesses like Triple R that step up – rescuing the rejected loads from big box stores to feed the community. Whether its meat from the mid-west or produce from the plains’ states, Lonnie and the Triple R folks find food banks, churches, missions, charities, and the like, to ensure that food waste does not happen. Lonnie and Krystal work together to deliver the precious cargo to local community services rather than the local dump – and they make it happen whether they get paid for the extra drop or not.

And Lonnie wouldn’t have it any other way. Which is why Krystal put forth his name for the 2015 NASTC Driver of the Year award. When she found out that Lonnie had won, she was ecstatic; “I started crying I was so happy for him. He so deserves it!”

When I spoke with Lonnie about his newly won Driver of the Year award during that 34-hour reset, he was as humble as humble can be – very thankful, very gentle. So polite and so soft-spoken, I could barely hear him on the phone.  I had an image in my mind – a gentle giant in a super-trucker cape.  And when he sent me a photo of himself and his rig for this story (after much coaxing by me), his modest stance and shy smile said it all. Lonnie is not sure what all the fuss is about – he’s just doing what he thinks he should be doing – helping others whenever and wherever he can.  

When not on six axles and saving folks, Lonnie calls Kerrville, TX (about 60 miles west of San Antonio) home. A BigRoad’er since January 2015, it should come as no surprise that Lonnie is one of Triple R’s top drivers. Using his iPhone 5, Lonnie loves using BigRoad, “I don’t make mistakes at all.  It keeps me on time and it keeps me riding right.”  

Lonnie has been inspected twice with a Level 1 in Texas back in March and then a Level 2 in Kansas in the late spring – breezing through both inspections with BigRoad by his side. Notes Lonnie, “I don’t have an engine-connection yet but am looking forward to being completely free.”  

And after a massive heart attack in 2009, it’s that freedom and ease on the open road that Lonnie loves so much. With the addition of Candy, his new part Australian sheep dog, part long-haired Lab and part Alaskan puppy, running by himself will be a little more exciting when she gets old enough to ride shotgun with him.

Doctors said Lonnie shouldn’t have made it after his brush with death a few years back. Even after meeting and getting to know him by phone, and hearing Krystal speak so fondly of him as well, I keep going back to the image of the highway hero in my mind. The countless strangers he has aided. The brother- and sisterhood he has rescued on the road. The communities who had one more meal than they ever expected or hoped for.  

BigRoad salutes you Lonnie Brice. We can’t imagine a world without you in it!