John & Carol Wieczorek...THE ONLY WAY TO BE
Posted on Monday, November 10, 2014
Having four sons and being a truck driver for many, many moons means that there is a good chance that one of the four will eventually follow that exact beaten path. Fortunately for John Wieczorek's father, he along with his brothers all chose a career as a professional truck driver. Just as their father had. Before John was born in 1963, his dad ran his own trucking business as an owner operator and grew the fleet up to seventeen trucks. Growing up in St. Louis, Missouri with three older brothers, John was comfortable being around older people. Hanging around his father's shop at a young age provided him with many opportunities. There he was able to spend time with his father, but also learn from the other men that worked for his dad. "I learned a lot from the old-timers." We share a laugh as he and I both recognize the kind-hearted gesture in between the lines. He took to mechanics in his early teens and recalls getting his first real toolbox at thirteen. John's mother was also a business owner. She inherited her family's neighborhood tavern from her grandmother in 1965. The restaurant and bar was so well known for many generations that even John's dad spent a fair amount of his childhood there.
As a kid, eighty percent of their time was spent in St. Louis. During the summer time, the family would pack up and tee off to Troy, Missouri and stay on their small farm. Their dad stayed home fairly often, but as the boys grew older he took to the road more. This just fueled John's fire for trucking. "As far back as I can remember, I was riding in his truck..." His fondest memory, before he was even old enough to attend school, was having to sleep literally head to toe in his dad's first sleeper. By ten John's mind was made up. He knew that he wanted to drive a truck. His confirmation came from the need to always be around trucks. He wasn't into sports or any other recreational activities. He was more interested in getting his hands dirty. "...but most of all, I wanted to follow in my dad's footsteps." When John turned fourteen, he began working for his father doing any and everything. From general maintenance at the shop, to helping on the farm or house. He got his first truck at sixteen. "My dad gave it to me. It was a hand-me down. A 1974 GMC." When I asked John what color it was, he replied, "...primer." At eighteen, he graduated high school and went on to get his chauffeurs license. John knew that he was too young to drive over the road, the way he wanted but he still wanted to be around trucking. With that in mind, he enrolled in trade school for two years taking courses in diesel mechanics.
By twenty, John went to work for a trucking company as their mechanic. That venture lasted maybe five months. For the simple fact, he wanted to be the one pulling out on the road, driving the truck and not the one left behind to work in the shop every day. He enjoyed his profession as a mechanic, but in his heart he knew that he belonged behind the wheel. One year, during the Christmas holiday his father began having health issues due to a prior stroke. Of course nothing was going to stop one of the Wieczorek's from driving, especially his dad. John came up with a proposition that his dad decided to take him up on. "I told him, 'I'm going with you...' saying for a short time until he got well, but I knew in my heart and mind that it would be for forever." Together they took off for their first official trip to Detroit. Their load was going over to Canada. Once they made it to the border the two would wait as their trailer was carried over into Canada, emptied and returned to them to do again. Every now and then as they teamed up hauling trade shows, John was able to hop in the driver's seat of his father's white 1976 Road Commander Cabover. It was in 1983 when the father and son duo shared another special memory. John describes it like was yesterday. "We were in Atlanta at the time. He knew this is what I wanted to do... he let me trade in his 1976 for a 1982 dark brown Freightliner." They continued to drive together for another four months, until John hit twenty one. About this time his dad retired. Besides their occasional trip out, here and there, it was just John. Living his dream.
Fresh on his own, at twenty one John was leased to a trucking company out of Brunswick, New Jersey. His home still remained in Troy though. He kept the roads hot between the Baltimore, Maryland and Illinois area. With nothing tying him down, he stayed out two to three months at a time for the next two years. Eventually he grew weary of running the same schedule up East and decided to switch companies. John knew that there was a bigger picture out there for him and this was his time to branch out. He found a fit that was perfect for him. With this new company he was allowed to travel all 48 states, with California being his main target of interest. After driving heavy for almost eight years, he settled down, married and started a family. His son, Jason was born in 1991. Shortly after, the couple divorced and John was awarded full custody of their eight month old. During this transition, he switched to a different trucking company out of St. Louis, Missouri. He continued hauling for trade shows or sometimes general freight as an owner operator for another seven years.
Here's when my favorite part enters the story...
John goes out to enjoy a night at the local fair and meets a young lady by the name of Carol. At the time, Carol was there with a friend of John's but the two instantly hit it off. This new mystery girl that had John's full attention was fairly new to Troy. She was a nurse at the nearby hospital. Although Carol was not originally from Troy, she had family and friends located there that drew her in. The couple dated for a year and a half, then wed on May 12th in 1994. Their neighbor came up with the idea that the two should get married with horses involved somehow. Being since the two both grew up around horses and were also raising horses on their very own farm. With that in mind, they put him in charge of it all. And believe it or not, he made it happen! The wedding was outdoors on a trail ride down in Missouri and all of the wedding party was on horseback. You just don't get any cooler than that, I'm sorry. You ask and you shall receive.
With his happy family of three, John wanted to get a local job instead of being gone 320 nights out of the year. He removed the sleeper from his Freightliner and started piggybacking trailers. In 1998 John sold his truck and relocated to Vandalia, Missouri. Jason was eight and in school. Carol went to work at a family practice in town and John started driving a truck for a local farmer. It wasn't too long after John met up with his employer that the farmer decided to retire. In doing so, John bought his 1995 burgundy International leased out of Center, Missouri. The trucking company had him home every weekend, which was a good thing. When we was out, he would haul brick out to Ohio and Pennsylvania. Then return with steel. The following Fall in 2000, the family made their final move to Perry, Missouri. John and Carol found the perfect place to live and plus it was closer to work. Carol remained at the doctor's office, but on October 14th, 2003 John opted for one last change. He was wanting to get back on the road and quick. John was tired of running the same old lanes. Finally, he found a good company that gave him the opportunity that he was looking for. He joined the team at Mercer. "What got me was when I was out before and we loaded side by side, I noticed that guys with Mercer took longer trips..." Now hauling flat bed, he's found a new home that's nothing like any of the other companies. "Coming to Mercer has been the best move that I have ever made!" He goes on to explain that with Mercer he has two families. His relative family and then his Mercer family. "Here, we're a part of a true family. They provide a family atmosphere and everybody knows your name. They've really taken care of me... of my family too." Last year John celebrated his long-term commitment with Mercer and was presented with his 10 Year Service Award. He also has reached well over 3 million safe miles in total, since beginning his trucking career.
Soon after John started at Mercer, Carol decided that she wanted in on the action too. In 2004 she got her CDL and also joined Mercer six months after her husband. She gained some experience growing up on a farm. Mostly from driving a semi at an early age. There's some toughness behind her nursing hands. She was a farm girl way before her nursing days. Born on October 22nd, 1955 in Vandalia with one older brother, it was just another typical day for Carol to go outside and farm all day. With her father a farmer, they grew many crops and raised hogs. They had horses and a few cattle. She spent the majority of her time outside. If she wasn't farming, she was showing horses. By twelve, Carol could drive a tractor or a semi. After high school, at seventeen she worked the farm full time. Her dad later became ill and retired. They rented the farm and Carol found other work. In her late twenties she did a little bit of everything. She worked at a gas station and bar. Then joined the highway department for a couple of summers, driving dump trucks and graders. At 29, she went to work for a local farmer. Five years had passed of devoting herself to anything pertaining to driving a tractor. She felt it was time to expand her horizons. So she enrolled into nursing school. Her first thought was to be a veterinarian, but knew that she didn't want to spend that much time in school. Her desire to be in the medical field lead her to nursing. Carol graduated in 1991 and immediately went to work at the nearest hospital. After a year, she told herself that she needed a change of scenery. She packed all of her belongings and moved to Troy, Missouri. She landed a job at the hospital and soon met John the following year.
John taught his wife what she didn't already know about driving. At first, Mercer required Carol to drive only during day light and on the interstate for six months. Then, she was free to go. However, she remained to her duties as a nurse and only drove on vacation days or long weekends until Jason graduated high school in 2009. After that she came on full time with Mercer. To this day, Carol is still racking up her miles by the day. Right now she stands at 400,000 with her 10 Year Service Award presented to her also. John explains their ideal routine on the road and how it works for them as a team, but most importantly, as husband and wife. Together they travel for six to eight weeks over the road. Next, John will bring Carol home. She'll stay home for two weeks. In that time she'll spend most of it on their 60 acres with their nine horses, helping their son on the farm. Which he maintains full time since he turned sixteen. They also grow alfalfa and hay. While Carol is home, John is out enjoying a little "me" time alone. After his time is up, he'll return home for a week and spend quality time with the entire family. Then, if everything goes right they'll repeat it all over again.
In 2005, they traded their International for a 2000 lavender 770 Volvo. With John's background, they do everything! And by everything, I mean, he does all of his own maintenance. When a mechanical issue comes up, he fixes it himself. If any of his fellow drivers needs help with a mechanical problem, he's always there to lend a helping hand. Many have called for help. Even came to his shop for help. Some have even sent a picture by phone just so John can see what it is that he can help with. John and Carol both have really stepped up to the plate and put themselves in the position to be available to any other drivers in need. They enjoy being able to councel new owner operators. Many people find it hard to adjust to trucking, in a variety of ways. Say financially or just the lifestyle in general. John and Carol put themselves out there to their Mercer family as mentors so that they know, whatever the issue may be, they'll always have someone to talk to that can relate.
In January of 2013, after receiving a glider kit, John and Carol took their Volvo and parted it out. John, Carol and Jason spent the next three and a half months in their shop assembling what John referred to as his, 'biggest accomplishment since meeting his wife.' Carol recalls that specific day, as it was being delivered in their drive way and they had to unload it with their tractor. Next they purchased a daycab for it. And their 110 inch double sleeper they found out of salvage yard. They sent the sleeper up to Bald Eagle Sleeper Services, LLC. located in Indiana. There they custom designed the interior, back to brand new. These days you can catch John and Carol traveling in their 2013 Freightliner Coronado, lavender in color with a purple frame. Inside of their prized possession, you'll find a super versatile 12.7 Detroit engine with a 13-speed transmission. The sleeper has a full refrigerator and freezer, a kitchen sink and microwave, with a 54 inch bed, roof top air conditioning and mounted satellite TV. They also opted for the super single tires, versus the dual tires. To top it all off, he installed a single drive axel with a forward lift axel. So the sweetest part of this package is the excellent fuel mileage. If you'd like to personally meet John and Carol, come visit with them at the Great American Truck Show this month featured in Dallas, Texas at none other than the Dallas Convention Center on August 21-23. They will also have their beautiful truck on display at the Mercer booth. You may even get the chance to meet their third wheel, Miss Shadow. She's their black, white and brown, five year old Miniature Australian Shepherd that they travel everywhere with.