May 14–COLFAX — Sitting high in the cab of his semitrailer, Gary Buchs of Colfax passes millions of cars on his routes across the country.
Sometimes the drivers look up and wave. Occasionally a kid in the back seat will pump an arm — the universal request for truckers to toot their horn.
In his 27 years of commercial truck driving, Buchs has driven 2.3 million miles accident free.
“It’s a people story more than a miles story,” he said. “When people drive by a truck, they tend to just see the truck. I want them to recognize there’s a person in there that loves things, cares about things and has the same social needs.”
The safety of other drivers on the road has been a top priority to Buchs during his career. That dedication recently earned him the national award of Owner Operator of the Year from the Truckload Carriers Association.
In 2015, Buchs also earned the Travel Centers of America Citizen Driver Award. The Bloomington Travel Center on Market Street is now named in his honor.
“It’s like a stadium being named after you if you’re a baseball player,” said Buchs.
Another reason Buchs has been recognized as an exemplary driver is his passion for community service. He volunteers and teaches safety classes to other drivers. He and his wife Marcia also have a large garden on their Colfax farmstead where they grow and donate bushels of potatoes and sweet corn to local food pantries.
“Marcia and I feel called to do it. We believe that’s a great way to give back something to people,” he said.
Buch learned how to drive trucks as a child, growing up on a livestock farm in southern Illinois. He drove for several companies before becoming owner operator. He now leases work to Landstar.
Bobbie Applegate, an agent for Landstar, has worked with Buchs for more than 10 years.
“Gary has worked for us on and off when he isn’t saving the world,” said Applegate. “He helped clean up after (Hurricane) Katrina and floods in Nashville. He and his church are very active in helping people after disasters.”
Applegate said that if a rig breaks down, Buchs steps in to pick up the load that needs to be delivered.
“He always goes above and beyond. He’s a super guy,” she said.
Applegate also said Buchs has a knack for building a relationship with customers.
“Some guys just dump their freight and then head out. He always has camaraderie with receivers and shippers,” she said.
Buchs said he hopes his achievements inspire other drivers to focus on self-discipline and communication skills.
“Our industry could improve by having stronger training and not stopping there. We should continue education for people even if they’ve been in the industry over 20 years. We should never stop learning because rules changes and environments change,” said Buchs.
As the industry evolves, Buchs said the stereotypes surrounding truck drivers are fading away.
“Ten to 15 percent of over-the-road drivers are women and statistics show women are actually safer drivers than men in trucks,” said Buchs. “Drivers are anything from a single young person to a great-grandparent. We all have families we love and want to go home to.”
Upon winning the title of owner operator of the year, Buchs also received a $25,000 cash prize. After donating to a number of charities and buying some polished wheels for his truck, Buchs is planning a family vacation for he and his wife, their two children and their families.
“Driving a truck is something I do, it’s not who I am. Who I am is much greater than that,” he said. “I want to be safe on the road because I want to come home to the other parts of my life; my family, which is my number one.”
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