Five million miles of safe trucking
By Clay Schuldt
Harold Heaney Jr., of Caledonia, has driven truck for most of his life and just this year managed to pass a milestone five million miles driven. For perspective, the planet earth is less than 25,000 miles at its circumference. Five million miles is a rough estimate, but Heaney is certain he has surpassed that number.
“I am figuring 125,000 miles a year,” Heaney said. “I know its five million easy.”
Heaney officially started his trucking career at age 19 hauling pigs for Wiebke Brothers, but it was his father, Harold Heaney Sr., who really got him started. “I rode with my dad when I was 10 years old. I knew right away I was going to be a trucker.”
Even with starting trucking at such a young age, this feat is more impressive because Heaney managed to reach the five million mark without an accident. Few people could claim as good a driving record and most people do not haul 60 foot trailers.
“You never perfect this,” Heaney said. “You get better and learn something new every day.”
With a driving record that spans 40 years, Heaney has learned and seen a lot. “The best training is getting on the road and doing it.”
He further credits his excellent driving record by paying attention and being cautious of other drivers, especially the bad ones. “Nobody wants to get behind a truck. They always want to get ahead or cut you off,” Heaney said, but his biggest pet peeve is tailgating, commenting that it is dangerous.
In general, Heaney has found the worst driving occurs when people are in too much of a hurry.
Weather is also a factor, but Heaney admits that he has had the good fortune of avoiding the more severe weather. “I’ve never been in a tornado — a lot of high wind, but I’ve never seen a tornado in all the years… With the snow I’ve been lucky. I might have gotten laid over for a day because of the storm, but I always managed to get through it.”
The scariest moment for Heaney has not been weather or traffic related. Heaney was in Springfield, Va., a suburb of Washington, D.C. on Sept. 11, 2001. “We were only seven miles from the Pentagon when it was hit.”
At the time everyone, included Heaney, wanted out of the area, but he ended up staying until the next day to make a delivery. “That was probably my scariest time.”
Most of Heaney’s experiences have remained positive. A lifetime of trucking has allowed him to see a good chunk of the country. His old routes took him to California and Florida, but he has seen all 48 of the contiguous states, parts of Mexico and Canada. “It’s kind of like a paid vacation. I got to see everything. Some of the prettiest parts of the country is the Northwest.”
As for dealing with the tedium of driving, Heaney admits these days it is easy to stay content with many trucks being outfitted with refrigerators, satellite radio and televisions. On the occasion when he’s homesick, Heaney can always call his wife Susie on his cell phone.
Being away from home is often a concern of long-haul truckers. Currently, Heaney is working for Avalon Truck out of Cannon Falls, Minn. Since working for Avalon he’s been given his weekends off and allowed to spend more time with family. And, after being on the road for so many years, Heaney has made many friends across the country.
“You stop at the same truck stops and restaurants and they recognize you.”
Since Heaney is a second-generation trucker many people recognize him as his father’s son. “I’ve be JR for years and years.”
Heaney is uncertain if he will go for the next milestone of six million miles. “I am going to [drive] until 66 for sure. If I am healthy I see myself going until 70.”
Heaney remains optimistic about his chances, citing his father who managed to drive until he was 70, and he is still in good shape to this day.
There are a lot of people with five million miles, but it’s the accident free part that is significant. It is a major accomplishment, and Heaney is rightfully proud of it because a driver who avoids accidents benefits everyone.