Tucson trucker could teach us a driving lesson or two

Some folks might automatically hate to see Tucsonan Larry Gerhart on the street.

Larry Gerhart recalls advice from a high school driving instructor: "Always leave yourself an out."/submitted photo

Larry Gerhart recalls advice from a high school driving instructor: "Always leave yourself an out."/submitted photo

But only because of his vehicle.

Gerhart, 64, drives a tractor-trailer. He’s been a trucker ever since he couldn’t get a job in town when he retired in 1993 after 30 years in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Now, before anyone gets all hissy about how semis are big, wide, slow and clog up the road, just take a gander at his driving record.

He’s not had a single, preventable wreck in the past 15 years.

Gerhart, a married father of two adult daughters, was recently recognized by the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) for his years of safe, accident-free driving of a commercial tractor-trailer.

How many folks can say that – even in their cars?

We caught up with Gerhart – via his Bluetooth – while he was trucking north out of San Diego to ask his safe driving secrets. No surprise, the guy had many.

One of the first he mentioned was to stay slow and steady – and let the bad drivers do their thing.

“You try to let people in a hurry get around you,” he said. “They are going to make a move, be dangerous. I say, ‘OK, go make a fool of yourself,’” just leave his truck out of it.

Some of those fools include a mom with a car full of kids who passed him on the shoulder, others who pass on the curves or his blindside, and still others who “gotta shoot behind me” when he’s backing into a space.

“You have to be aware,” said the driver who usually hauls furniture, dish network satellites and Caterpillar parts. “I know what I’m doing. My question is ‘What are they doing?’”

Highway onramps are a bad spot, he said, as many drivers today don’t realize anyone getting on the highway is supposed to speed up and merge, blending into traffic.

They expect highway traffic to stop and let them in.

“Miracle Mile and Interstate 10 is ideal for an accident to happen,” he noted of that onramp.

One driver, who was apparently upset that Gerhart’s truck ended up in front of him, zoomed around the semi, pulled in front of it – and slammed on the car’s brakes.

“I’m 85,000 pounds and you’re 2,500 pounds and you’re about to give me a brake test?”

While that incident didn’t end in disaster, another one did. Kind of.

Larry with current truck - his old one lasted more than 1 million miles/submitted photo

Larry with current truck - his old one lasted more than 1 million miles/submitted photo

During a New Mexico winter some years back, a car came barreling into Gerhart’s lane.

“I moved over and caught the slush. The truck hydroplaned and went sideways. I let go of the steering wheel and threw myself into the corner of the cab,” he said. “I knew if I tried to correct it, I would have laid that truck all over the highway. And who else could have been involved, I don’t know.”

So he chose instead to ride it out, which resulted in the tractor-trailer in a gulley, $17,000 worth of damage to his cab and about 150-feet of annihilated guardrail.

“The police didn’t cite me – they commended me.”

Ditch diving aside, some of the dashing tales of adventure of trucking life are true, Gerhart said. You get to travel. You get to see some awesome sunsets. You get to pull that loud horn.

But there are some drawbacks.

“I think a lot of people look at the economy and say, ‘I’ll go drive a truck.’ They don’t think it through. When you get out here you find out it’s not a bunch of peaches and cream. You got a commitment.”

The only holiday Gerhart spent in Tucson last year was Christmas, when he took a leisurely four days away from the road. Otherwise, he’s been driving two-month stretches, with a weekend at home in between, just to pay the bills.

“It’s hard on a family,” he said, “especially a young family.”

Gerhart’s wife, Ruth Ann, 64, is a teacher at Roadrunner Elementary School who initially didn’t want to move to Tucson but now is delighted they did. One daughter, Shannon Peck, lives in Queens Creek while the other, Dawn Gerhart, runs Gerhart’s two Tucson UPS stores. They also have four grandkids.

While Ruth Ann may be looking at retirement as soon as this summer, Gerhart’s not sure when – or if – it’s in the cards for him.

After all, one of his friends tried it before quickly heading back to work because of retirement’s consequences.

“He was getting fat. Eating a big breakfast then taking a nap. Eating a big lunch then taking a nap,” Gerhart said. “I don’t know if I’ll actually retire. I’ve always loved traveling. Trucking fits my needs.”



Ryn Gargulinski is a poet, artist, performer and TucsonCitizen.com Ryngmaster who has never driven a semi or ridden a unicycle. Her column appears every Friday on Rynski’s Blogski. Her art, writing and more is at RynRules.com. E-mail rynski@tucsoncitizen.com.


About Rynski

Writer, artist, performer who specializes in the weird, wacky and sometimes creepy. Learn more at ryngargulinski.com.
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16 Responses to Tucson trucker could teach us a driving lesson or two

  1. radmax says:

    Money! Mornin’ Rynski! I almost got into trucking before I decided to settle down and have a family. Judging from Larry’s experiences-I made the right choice. Still think about it sometimes though…seemed like the last chance to ride off into the sunset. 🙂 Keep on truckin’ Larry, and keep the shiny side up.

    • radmax says:

      PS-Haulin’ Javalinas? ahaha!

    • Rynski says:

      mornin’ radmax!
      trucking does have that romantic and adventuresome allure – esp. since you get to hang out in the truck stops with all those kitschy goodies – haha. can see why people would be drawn to it.
      i’d rather have a semi full of thrift store stuff – never mind money – the thrift store haul is where you get the REAL treasures – hahah.

  2. leftfield says:

    Ryn, you put poultry on the list.  It doesn’t sound safe for birds to be in a truck. 

    • azmouse says:

      I figured she put that on there just for you…maybe a well padded, cushy trailer with lots of mirrors so the chickens can admire their own beauty.

    • Rynski says:

      az mouse is right – the poultry was put on the list with you in mind, leftfield! if larry’s driving the cheickens would have nothing to worry about. they’d be safer than they are in their eggs – hahah.
      and yes, we could include velvet cushions and mirrors for them.

  3. Ferraribubba says:

    Well, back in 1970, I had just bought this new Porsche 914-6, paying cash from some of the funds that the Financial Editor of the Herald-Examiner and I had made as a result of him touting this stock being traded on the PCSE in his column and us buying it before it ran in the paper.
    It was a beauty, fly yellow, mag wheels, black leather racing seats, etc.
    Anyway, I’m driving to work early one morning about 5:30 am, and it’s still dark, and we’re having what you would call a monsoon in the Old Pueblo. 90*F, raining, 100% humidity, and I’m on I-5, approaching downtown L.A., doing about 5 mph, stuck in traffic with the top off, right behind this big flatbed truck stacked about 12 feet high in back with scores of open-air chicken cages. All filled to the brim with squaking, moulting, pooping, live chickens.
    Cars to the left of me, cars to the right of me, cars behind me. Nowhere to go, but to follow this moving chicken coop that smelled like the outhouse from hell.
    Me gag? I was gagging worse than if I had entered the Little Lady in a Deep Throat contest featuring either Johnny Wadd or Long Dong Silver. She used to gag if she saw somebody else with a sucker in her mouth. <g>
    Lucky for me that I had a cooler of beer with me that was going to be my lunch. The minute that I could find an off-ramp and pull off that damn freeway, I did, and pulled over and drained one quicker than you could say, “Stop the presses!”
    Yer pal, Ferrari Bubba

    • azmouse says:

      I just have to say, you are something else. You really shoud have written a memoirs book. If you ever do let me know. I’ll be the first in line to buy it.
      I get a kick out of you.

    • Rynski says:

      “that smelled like the outhouse from hell” – gorgeous image to start the morn.
      awaiting your memoir as well! hahah

  4. azmouse says:

    Larry looks like a guy who can take care of himself, that’s for sure. I’m with him. I’m never in a hurry when I’m driving.

    • Rynski says:

      good for you, azmouse. patient drivers are safe drivers. i’ll be the top cause of wrecks is people in a hurry, driving like madmen and madwomen. you know the folks – and larry had mentioned them, too – the ones that speed up to get a car ahead of you only to be stopped at the same stoplight you are – still only a car ahead of you.

  5. w9xxx says:

    I’d like a load full of freshly minted $100 bills.   I could then buy smaller quantities of the other, except for the hazmat, I’m not sure about the poultry  either. Maybe a order of wings.

  6. Ferraribubba says:

    All right, I’ll answer your poll. In the old days that would be easy to answer.
    10 reams of blank pardons, all signed by Arizona Gov. Brewer, and a skid of Viagra on the back of Larry’s truck, headed for the largest Womens’ Prison in the state. Of course with Ferrari Bubba riding shotgun.
    Now? A one-way ticket to Monaco with enough Euros to live out the rest of my days in the kind of luxury that I’ve so richly deserved all my life, but never have been able to afford.
    Yer pal, Ferrari Bubba

  7. Big Guy says:

    A truckload full of classic and rare automobiles, Cobras, Lamborghinis, Ferraris, Shelbys, Bugattis, etc…..

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