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By Ed Moreth 

A MILLION MILES

Plains man retires after trucking in 50 states

 

January 10, 2019

Ed Moreth

CLEAN RECORD – Larry Spiekermeier worked 19 years with Whitewood Transport without a single blemish on his record, delivering freight in 50 states.

Pitching a no hitter in baseball is a feat, but driving a big rig more than 1.7 million miles without an accident is epic. And that's what Larry Spiekermeier of Plains did during his career with Whitewood Transport of Billings.

The 71-year-old Spiekermeier retired from Whitewood Transport in October, but he had just one more task to accomplish to make his career complete – to drive truck in all 50 states.

"I told them that Hawaii was the only state I hadn't driven in, so they organized it with a trucking company over there so I could drive a truck there," said Spiekermeier.

Since his family was in Hawaii on vacation, Spiekermeier's boss arranged for him to make a delivery for Hawaiian Logistics on the island of Oahu a week after Thanksgiving. Spiekermeier fulfilled his goal by driving a 48-foot reefer truck, making grocery deliveries to a handful of sites. The Hawaiian freight was a lot lighter than those that Spiekermeier delivered during his time with Whitewood Transport.

Although he started his trucking career in 1968 delivering lumber, oil, produce, and farm equipment, once he went to work for Whitewood Transport, he hauled heavy equipment with an average payload of 90,000 pounds for each delivery, totaling some 7 million pounds during his career. He is one of two drivers of Whitewood Transport to have a clean record with 19 years and nearly 2 million miles.

Spiekermeier said he enjoyed driving with Whitewood Transport, but with heavy freight deliveries came a ton of responsibilities that other truckers didn't have to contend with. Spiekermeier had to have an air brake endorsement, a hazardous material tanker endorsement, passenger endorsement, and have double and triple trailer endorsements to pull multiple trailers. In addition, for each job, it was Spiekermeier's responsibility to all the logistics for each trip, such as planning the route, finding out the bridge and road restrictions, pilot cars, and obtain the proper permits.

He said that when driving heavy loads, there are four major things to consider – height, length, weight, and width – and he's had some huge loads to haul across the United States. His largest loads were done in Montana, where he chalked up about half of his total miles since beginning his career in 1968 at age 21.

His largest shipment with Whitewood Transport was a delivery of ferries from RTI Fabrication in Plains to three sites on the Missouri River in Montana. Spiekermeier's heaviest haul was last year when he trucked a 160,000-pound Caterpillar D11 dozer from Colstrip to Billings. His longest was delivering 150-foot bridge beams from Plains to Hungry Horse.

Spiekermeier has been a big rig owner and operator since 1975, the year he moved to Montana and he has totaled some 4 million miles over his entire career, most of which were in Montana, Wyoming and Idaho. He delivered heavy equipment to Alaska once, traveling through Canada, where he's been to half of the country's provinces. He often traveled to the East Coast, but he said it was sometimes a hassle because of the additional regulations, bridge restrictions, additional permits, and more traffic. On one trip from Maine to Idaho he had to drive all the way around Vermont because the state didn't want heavy loads on their roads unless the freight was destined for Vermont.

However, one trip to the east was his biggest thrill. In 2017, he was selected to haul the U.S. Capitol Christmas tree from the Yaak in Lincoln County to Washington, D.C. Whitewood Transport was picked because of its impeccable safety record, according to Spiekermeier. "The reason they chose me is because they thought I'd be good to promote Montana and the company and the truck driving industry," he said. In addition, Spiekermeier was chosen because of his safety record.

He hauled the 68-foot spruce tree for 3,700 miles over a 13-day period, making 30 public relations stops, including Plains and Fargo, N.D., where he was born and raised. He said the entire trip was paid for by donations; no taxpayer money was used. "Everybody was excited to see us. I wish I had a penny for every picture that was taken with us," said Spiekermeier, who handed out trading type cards with biographical data and his new nickname, "The Trusty Tree Trucker."

Spiekermeier liked driving truck, but said the job was getting tougher. "I would probably still be driving if I had someone else helping me with the physical labor of chaining down and blocking," he said. "Driving the truck is easy. It's the physical labor of getting the loads off the trailer." He considered driving a logging truck, but putting the chains on and off is strenuous. He said that some chains weigh over 1,000 pounds. It was also suggested to him that because of his many years of experience that he become a pilot car driver, but the insurance costs would be prohibitive, he said.

Spiekermeier is proud of going his entire career without a problem, but having a clean record doesn't mean just avoiding accidents. Any type of traffic violation, log book violation, weight violations, or driving too many hours in a day would mean a blemish on a driver's record. He has received several safety awards during his career, including twice being named "Driver of the Year by the Motor Carriers of Montana. Spiekermeier said he's seen a lot of changes in the trucking industry, but overall he said it's a good career, especially if a person wants to see the country and it's good money. Spiekermeier's only regret is not being able to pass on his experience to new drivers. "I'd really like to be a mentor to someone just starting out," he said.

"So much of what I see is a lack of experience. You can go to school and get a CDL to drive a truck, but it's not until you get out there and drive a truck in traffic that you see what's really happening out there."

 

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