Aug. 18–Darryl Francis drives more than you. A lot more.
He’s twice won awards for driving 1 million safe miles in his 18-wheeler and but for another time when the company went out of business, it could’ve been three.
He recently won recognition for driving 1 million safe miles for Jacksonville-based Landstar System Inc. trucking company.
“This is the second time I’ve been recognized for driving one million safe miles for a company,” said Francis in a telephone interview from a truck stop 30 miles north of Richmond, Virginia. “I started with Landstar in June 2008 as a business capacity owner (a truck driver who owns his rig), and I got my first one million mile safe driving award in 1999, and should have received another one in 2008, but the company I was working for then went out of business.”
Francis, 55, is a Live Oak native who now lives in northwest Gainesville. He’s been in the trucking industry for more than 25 years after serving 10 years in the U.S. Army after graduating from Suwannee County High School in 1980.
Francis said he has driven safely in every state in the nation, and has seen a lot of changes in the trucking industry. The Sun asked him a few questions about what it’s like to spend all that time on the road.
How did you get started as a trucker?
“I got out of the Army in 1992, and this was something that I just wanted to do,” Francis said. “I grew up in Live Oak, and as a country boy, I wanted to see the country, and that is why I joined the Army and why I became a truck driver.”
How many trucks have you owned?
What are some of the weirdest or strangest things you have encountered on the road?
Before answering the question, Francis, who chooses his words carefully and speaks with the deliberateness of a drill sergeant, (which he was the last two years of his military career), began laughing.
“Let’s go to another question,” he joked. “The thing about driving trucks for a living is that every day you are going to experience something different. Some stuff you see on the road and just overlook and keep going. It’s a lot better on the road now than it used to be back in the day.”
Francis said truck stops are more modern today and are better equipped, with amenities such as gyms to work out in and eating venues that offer healthier food choices. Though there are still hustlers at some truck stops trying to sell things like watches, televisions and sex, there is nowhere near the amount of illicit activity truckers used to contend with.
“Things are better now, for sure,” Francis said.
What advice would you give to people about how to stay safe on the road?
“Please don’t text and drive, and get rid of any distractions while you are driving,” Francis said. “Plan your trips before you get on the road, and give yourself time for the incidentals, like eating and using the restroom, don’t be in a rush and stay focused.”
What do you do to stave off boredom when you’re driving?
“I use hands-free devices to talk to my closest friends and family members,” Francis said. “Thank God for cell phones because when I stop to rest, I Facetime with my wife a lot. When I stop, I figure out how much time I am going to have to sleep, then I will talk on the phone or watch the TV I have in my truck.”
Francis owns a 2014 Peterbilt 587 that has a 500-horsepower motor, equipped with gray leather seats, a television and a bed.
“I have the same kind of bed in my truck to sleep in like I have at my house,” Francis said.
What are your favorite cities to travel to as part of your job?
“The Memphis area because of the freight rates,” Francis said. “You get good freight rates year round in the Memphis area and throughout the Midwest because the loads are not seasonal.”
How many days do you spend on the road in a month?
“Between 22 to 25,” he said. “I try to be home on the weekends. I’m a family man and a man of faith.”
Francis, a member of Fort Clarke Missionary Baptist Church in Gainesville, has been married to his wife, Angela Francis, for 10 years. The couple has one daughter.
How did you get your training to drive a big rig?
“I went to a job fair when I got out of the Army and a recruiter for a truck company who had also served in the Army sold me on the idea of becoming a truck driver. The guy was from J.B. Hunt trucking in Lowell, Arkansas, and that is where I went to get my training.”
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