Trucker, 79, has covered 4 million miles accident-free
ALLENTOWN (AP) — The last time we saw trucker Don Cook, his career odometer had just rolled over to 3 million miles. He hadn’t had an accident in all that time, and his company, YRC Freight, gave him a truck cab with his name on it and a leather jacket with a patch reading “Three Million Miles Safe Driving.”
That was nine years ago. Cook was 70 then, and it stood to reason he would retire before long. But here he was at the YRC terminal in Bethlehem Township on Friday, about nine months shy of 80, wearing a new leather jacket with a patch reading “Hall of Fame.” He has been enshrined among the trucking legends there because he has, since 2012, racked up an additional million flawless miles.
Four million miles and not so much as a fender-bender. He attributes this to skill and patience — “You have to have your wits about you,” he said — but also to luck. Drowsy drivers, drunk drivers, distracted drivers — all have kept out of his way over the years, and nature has spared him its worst.
Cook plans to keep rolling, too. His eyes and reflexes are sharp, and his love of the road burns as bright now as it did when he started trucking professionally 47 years ago.
“I’m not retiring,” he said. “I’m still a young pup. And my wife would drive me crazy.”
This was a joke, of course. The Cook marriage is in its 58th year. Dolores Cook has been her husband’s rock all that time. It’s not easy being married to a trucker, after all, because they can be gone for long stretches. Don, for example, used to run routes to Texas and California.
“If it wasn’t for her supporting me, I wouldn’t be here,” he said.
He stays closer to home these days, with an overnight route that takes him 400 miles to Akron, Ohio. He makes one stop along the way, at a truck stop on Interstate 80 in Barkeysville, Venango County. He uses the facilities and has a cup of strong black coffee. Next stop, Akron.
When Cook returns to Pennsylvania and drops his truck at the terminal, he has to drive another 30 miles home to Snydersville, in Monroe County. Some people might consider that a few miles too many, but Cook seems to have a sort of Zen approach to driving. It doesn’t bore him or make him grind his teeth. He puts country and western music or oldies on the radio and hums placidly along the asphalt.
“You get bopping down the road and pretty soon, you’re where you’re supposed to be,” he said.
Which is not to say the beauty of the country is lost on him. He spoke warmly of his days passing through New Mexico and Arizona on cross-country runs, stopping at roadside stands to buy dreamcatchers and trinkets from Native American craftspeople.
Cook grew up in Belleville, New Jersey, where his father drove a tour bus, hauling Vaughn Monroe and other stars of the 1940s from show to show.
He could be gone for ages at a time. Sometimes, Cook would wake in the morning and see the bus outside. Father and son would enjoy a brief reunion.
“He’d give me a ride to school on the bus and I wouldn’t see him again for six months,” he said.
Cook drove a factory truck for a while after high school. His first job as a tractor-trailer driver was with Roadway Corp. Yellow Transportation acquired Roadway and the merged companies became YRC Freight in 2009.
YRC in the process of reverting to Yellow Transportation again. Whatever the name, its star employee has driven surely and steadily into the record books.
His colleagues admire him. One, Danny Brown, a 37-year driving veteran, pulled in to the terminal as Cook was having his picture taken and paused to watch.
“He deserves it,” Brown said, noting how rarely drivers reach multimillion-mile thresholds without an accident.
“I got a million miles a while back,” he said. “I got a nice watch for that. I don’t think I’ll make another million.”
Cook probably won’t either, though it might not be wise to bet against him.
“I’m an old guy,” he said, “but when I sit behind that wheel, I’m 30 years old again.”