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Joe Brown didn’t understand what the big deal was Wednesday, Oct. 5, at the YRC Freight Memphis terminal and distribution center in South Memphis.
He told executives of the company that he was just “doing his job.”
Brown was honored this week for driving 5 million miles without an accident in a career that began in 1977.
He is the only driver among the global company’s 20,000 employees currently at the 5 million-mile mark. Fellow Memphis YRC employee Arthur Cage was honored last month for driving 6 million miles without an accident. Cage reached the 5 million-mile mark in 2009 and logged a million more in almost seven years.
In Wednesday’s ceremony, Brown got his name on the side of a YRC trailer and was inducted into the company’s hall of fame.
“Thank you for giving me a chance to prove myself,” said Brown, who drives a route between Memphis and Houston, Texas.
When he started driving in 1977, the city’s factories were just beginning a decline in a recession that would grow more severe. Gas shortages were a fact of life for the industry.
Brown said he took the job for one reason.
“I had kids,” he said, pointing to his five children, who attended the ceremony along with his wife and six grandchildren.
He learned the business with some basic advice from his father.
“My father told me to keep my mind on what I’m doing and watch what’s around me,” Brown said, also crediting his belief in God.
“It was a lot easier in the day – not as much traffic,” he said of the business of being a truck driver nearly 40 years ago compared to today. “A lot more traffic. A lot more everything,” he said of the current life on the road between Memphis and Houston.
YRC president Darren Hawkins is a believer in training drivers in the Smith System, a training program founded in the 1950s that’s been updated over the past six decades but still centers around five keys: Aim high in steering, get the big picture, keep your eyes moving, make sure they see you and leave yourself an out.
All 8,500 YRC tractors have event recorders as well as forward-collision warning and lane-departure systems that alert drivers.
But Hawkins said much of the credit goes to Brown’s work ethic.
“That’s totally about him being alert and paying attention and watching out for the other guy constantly … with distracted driving and other things,” he said. “Not only has Joe not caused an accident, he’s avoided being in an accident.”
Overland Park, Kansas-based YRC is the result of a 2003 merger between Yellow Transportation and Roadway – two national carrier names with a long history in Memphis trucking.
The company bills itself as “the original LTL (less than a truckload) carrier since 1924.”
“When Joe started in ’77, just a few years after that, deregulation came to the industry,” Hawkins said. As a result YRC is one of three union trucking companies in the country. Teamsters union officials were also among those honoring Brown Wednesday.
Though the business has changed several times over during Brown’s 39-year tenure, other changes have come over a longer period of time. Brown has been driving a stick – or manual transmission – for most of his career.
“One of the big advancements you see now is the tractors are automatics,” Hawkins said. “Typically all Class A tractors have been associated with being manual transmissions and that’s no longer the case.”
Brown was a man of few words Wednesday, which other drivers at the terminal say is his usual approach to work along with being upbeat.
Asked what his plans are, Brown said, “I don’t know. I want to see. It’s up to the man upstairs.”