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Driver Lifestyles

Top Expediter: Clayton King

By Jeff Jensen
Posted Oct 14th 2002 9:05AM


There's no doubt - Expediting can be a tough job and lifestyle at times. The problems of lack of freight, long waits between runs, traffic, weather, separation from home and family can be overwhelming at times.

Sometimes we need to step back and take a look at our situation; sometimes we need someone to give us inspiration and help us realize that maybe we don't have it all that bad after all.

For that inspiration, one needs to look no further than Clayton King

Now approaching his second anniversary in expediting, Clayton can serve as an example to us all, that by overcoming the obstacles life throws in our path, one can achieve beyond his dreams.

Clayton King, of Linden, TN was injured in an accident around ten years ago; an accident which left the young man, now almost 30 years old, a paraplegic, paralyzed from the chest down.

Growing up in a family of truck drivers, Clayton had always yearned for a life in trucking, but with this physical challenge and the confinement of a wheelchair, he figured it was never to be.

The beginnings

Clayton's mother, Patricia Smythia, was in truckstop management working for TA, Pilot, and 76 Truckstops in purchasing and buying. Seeking a career change, she obtained a Class 8 CDL and began driving for a couple of years with different fleets.

It was during his employment at a menial job packing boxes in a factory, that Patricia began considering Clayton's plight, and a way for him to pursue his dream of a life on the road.

"I could see everytime I came home that Clayton wanted this (truck driving) for himself."

They could find no school with facilities to teach a handicapped student the art of driving a truck.

The family looked for financial aid from Tennessee Vocational Rehabilitation Services, but none was available for this case. “They are supposed to help handicapped people get back into the work force, but they didn't understand what we were trying to accomplish," Patricia says.

She adds,"They didn't believe that anyone could teach him to drive, and then, no one would hire him. We decided we'd have to do it ourselves."

"I took the truck that we designed for Clayton and signed it on with Tri-State Expedited. I would come home every other weekend and teach Clayton. The DOT gave him a training waiver, in fact, when it came time for his driving test, he had to be tested by a handicapped waiver specialist."

"His test was actually on the local TV news in Jackson, TN."

His pre-trip(an hour long) and test was actually more difficult than a normal CDL test. He was the first Tennessee driver to obtain this special license.

The very next week he went to orientation at Tri-State Expedited Service, Inc. of Millbury, OH.

Patricia says, "We have to thank Tri-State for giving Clayton a chance. It's a forward-looking company that will allow someone with Clayton's special needs a chance to prove themselves."

The search for a truck

Again, no state aid was available to purchase and equip a truck for Clayton. Eventually the money for the truck would come from Patricia's savings.

Patricia tells us that it was a difficult search to find a truck that could be outfitted for Clayton's special needs. "“Clayton had to have an automatic transmission. I looked all over the Southeast for one, but they were back-ordered everywhere,”

Patricia and Clayton had determined that a Freightliner FL70 would suit Clayton's needs, but these were also back-ordered from the manufacturer.

After Patricia contacted the sleeper manufacturer Alumi-bunk of Ontario, Canada and explained the special modifications required, the company accepted the challenge to build it's first conversion for someone with Clayton's needs.

With both transmission and truck cab in stock, Alumi-Bunk's vice president of sales, Eric Jain, designed the sleeper using a 78" standup condo model.

The lift mechanism was also installed by Alumi-bunk using a Ricon lift that lowers Clayton's wheelchair to the ground.

Clayton's special controls include a six-speed Allison automatic transmission keypad controller mounted on the dash. Hand controls operate the brake and throttle. Built into the sleeper are a microwave, refrigerator, TV/VCR, closets and custom cabinets.

For CB communication, Clayton uses a headset microphone and a "talk" button in the steering wheel.

Original purchase price of the 2000 Freightliner was $88,400. The wheelchair lift and other conversions, added another $20,000+ to the total.

"It was difficult to build the special truck," says Patricia, "But Alumi-bunk did a wonderful job of spec'ing out this unit."

On the road

At the time of this writing, Clayton King has rolled up over 240,000 miles in the truck, and he tells us, "It's gotten easier as time goes by. This is something I've wanted to do forever.”

"I've been running team with my father-in-law, but he's been off the truck for medical reasons for a few weeks now, so I've been running single."

"We sometimes stay out three to four weeks and then take maybe 4 days at home."

When asked about some of the obstacles he faces on the road, Clayton states, “Going in to fuel can be a problem, because the position of the fuel pumps blocks the chair lift and I can't get out to fuel."

"I have learned, however, which truck stops and fuel stops have the long fuel hoses, so now I just nose in and leave enough room for the chair lift to operate. Then I can do my own fueling."

Another problem for Clayton is at the loading docks. He tells us, "I have to get out at the guard shack and have them call back to the dock to explain my situation. They bring the paperwork out to me sometimes. A lot of places know me by now."

"If I do happen to require assistance, I find that most people will help. I have people asking me if they can help out all the time."

"To pass the time, I work out with weights in the truck, I read, I watch TV/VCR and get around the parking lot in my chair."

Patricia noted that some truckstops are lacking in necessities for the physically challenged; “I hope the truckstops will become more accessible to handicapped drivers,” she says. “Some of the truckstops have handicapped showers, but not all of them."

She feels that someday in the future, the physically handicapped driver in trucking will be the norm, once the industry recognizes the contributions these special people can bring to the job.

Clayton says that expediting and trucking is an occupational area that people with physical challenges should investigate because, "There's a lot of freedom behind the wheel of a truck, it definitely gets you out of the house seeing new things and places."

Patricia tells us of the positive changes she's noticed in Clayton, “This has changed his whole personality. He's happy, confident, more outgoing. It was all worth it.”

Freedom Express

Patricia stays at home more often now, caring for Clayton's two daughters. She also runs the expediting company she founded just a couple of years ago, Freedom Express.

The company has grown to a fleet size of five trucks now, with Clayton and his father-in-law running team in his truck, another two-man team, and three husband/wife teams.

"Expediting is still the only segment of trucking that's growing," Patricia tells us. "It's been down, but will come back."

"It's the perfect business for husband/wife teams. There's plenty of time available for sightseeing and other leisure activities."

"I think expediting is the future, and will continue to grow because of the necessity of the just-in-time system of inventory control. I've been in management for most of my working life and large inventories are detrimental to a company. It's less expensive to expedite than to inventory."

The Freedom Express fleet is currently signed on with Panther II Transportation of Medina, OH. Patricia says that this company is a good match for her business: "Panther II has been a super expediting company. They've been extremely helpful with new drivers and introducing them to this business and they've also been of great assistance in finding new teams for our trucks."

As mentioned at the beginning of this article, Clayton and Patricia belong to a family of past and current truck drivers and expediters. Both of Clayton's grandfathers were truck drivers, as was his father, who was killed in a trucking accident.

Patricia's sister-in-law, Mary Genereux, owns her own expediting company, Genies Express. Mary's husband Robert is involved in conventional trucking, as are two of Clayton's uncles, Larry King and James King.

Patricia tells us that she's shopping for a new truck for Clayton, considering a Class 8 chassis with an integral sleeper.

She says, "We've been talking with Dan Schultz at TSI Western Star in North Jackson, OH. We've also been working with Western Star to develop an integral sleeper that is more accessible and "user-friendly" for the physically challenged."

"We met Mitch Fisher of Freightliner of Knoxville at the Louisville truck show, and now we're thinking about replacing some of our fleet's older trucks with a Class 8 style truck like their Columbia model."

"I think we're going to get better service life and value out of the heavy-duty trucks as opposed to the business-class size vehicles."

Freedom Express: A unique company with a family outlook.

The next time you hear a driver on the CB identify himself as "Outlaw," there's a chance you might be talking to one of those Freedom Express drivers, a very special guy indeed named Clayton King.


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