Congratulations to James Martin TOTAL’s Driver of The Year!
TT: Hi James, congratulations on being named TOTAL’s Driver of the Year! That’s quite an accomplishment.
JM: Well, thank you.
TT: I guess first off, tell us a little bit about yourself. Where are you from?
JM: I’m from Illinois, Peoria, Illinois, and I live down here in southwest Florida with my wonderful wife, Dorothy.
TT: How long have you been driving trucks?
JM: I’ve been driving for 21 years now, maybe over 22 years? I’m going on 11 years with TOTAL.
TT: What kind of work did you do before becoming a truck driver?
JM: I was a cook for about 15 years before getting into trucking, but since I was 16 years old, I’d always wanted to drive a truck.
TT: What made you decide to finally switch from cooking to driving a truck?
JM: Watching the movie “Convoy?”
TT: Haha. Seriously? That’s great! What do you like about trucking?
JM: Absolutely! It gives me the freedom to be myself. I’m not an owner operator, but I can grow my hair long or have a beard or earring if I wanted. No one says anything as long as you get the job done.
TT: How many other companies have you worked for before you joined TOTAL?
JM: I think about five. I started out with Stevens Transport for two and a half years. And back in February of 2003. I was Driver Of The Month, which was a big honor back then, because there were like 2500 trucks in the fleet. I stayed there for two and a half years and then I ended up getting married. I had a house down here so I ended up quitting there and pursued other trucking opportunities.
TT: What was it that made you decide to come to TOTAL over other options?
JM: Well, because of where I live there were only three companies that would hire me. I went with TOTAL because they said they could get freight down to Florida to be able to get me home.
TT: What do you feel makes TOTAL different from other trucking companies?
JM: One of the things I like is that they’re consistent on our safety and their training, which is a good thing. They keep pushing us to be safe drivers and they don’t just give the keys to somebody and say here, just go drive the truck. You know, listen to your trainer, watch the safety videos, and anytime you can pick up information, take it, especially from someone who’s been around like me. When my truck is in the shop for maintenance or an oil change, I’ll keep an eye out for any rookies out there. I’ll introduce myself and say hi, I’ll ask them how things are going. If they want advice I’m going to give it to them. Hopefully, they’ll be able use it correctly and make their job a little easier.
TT: How do you feel about TOTAL’s equipment?
JM: I love our equipment. Anytime I need a new truck I just call Tony Wallace. That guy loves to make money for the company. He and Chris Stomps love me and I’ve got both their cell phone numbers. I’ve gone through 4 trucks in my time here. This truck that I have now is a Freightliner Cascadia, I got it with 17 miles on in July three years ago. It’s a really good truck, strong. I’m coming up on 400,000 Miles already in that truck. So when it’s time to get a new truck all I’ve got to do is make a phone call. Because if the wheels aren’t turning, I’m not making money. That’s the golden rule out there.
TT: What do you like most about working with TOTAL?
JM: I get respect. Why I mentioned that is, when I’m coming into Mississippi, when I’m going into Jackson, I let them know. And they let me pick my loads. So I always get good loads coming out of Jackson or Mill Haven, the graphic packaging loads. Depending on what time of the year it is, whether it’s winter or summer, they always give me good loads. So if it’s summertime, I’m always looking for the Newark, New Jersey loads, New Hampshire loads. Sometimes I’ll do a Milwaukee. There are only certain loads I won’t do; St. Louis. Williamsburg, Virginia. I have reasons for those. But I’ll do a Baldwinsville in the dead of winter. That’s right outside of Syracuse. They always give me the miles. They know I’m coming into their area and they let me choose what loads are available.
TT: Any tips for a good relationship with your fleet manager.
JM: I think the biggest key is communication. You have to communicate. A lot of the drivers that I talk to laugh when I make that comment. They don’t realize when say you’re going to drop a load and you’ve got seven hours left on your shift, (That’s what I call them as a shift) and you don’t communicate that to your fleet manager… How do you know that you drop that load? Say there are five other trucks in that area looking for a load? I have no idea what’s what or what else is going on in that area. So my biggest thing is to communicate. I let my fleet manager know when I’m going to be there, how many hours I’m going to have left, whether I’m going to get an empty trailer or not, because sometimes it’s a 50/50 shot on the two trailers. And I give them a two-day notice when a 35 is coming up. And all I ask is let me do my break in peace. Let me get it over with and then I’ll get back on the road and make more money. I don’t like riding on recap hours, I do 35’s And I’m averaging 3800 to 3900 miles a week.
TT: What do you think that takes to become TOTAL’s Driver of the Year?
JM: I’d say doing your job well and being aware. if you’re not bringing your A game, when you get behind the wheel or after you’ve done your pre-trip, you ain’t gonna make it. A lot of people just get there, you know, they wake up and they don’t even go outside. Check your seals, your tires, your lights, make sure you know everything is as it should be. When you parked that truck the night before, how do you know you didn’t run over a piece of glass or a nail? Do your pre and post trip inspections or, you could be rolling down the road with a flat tire and might not even know it. It all comes down to being prepared, you’ve got to predict the unpredictable. I’ve never had an accident in my 22 years and I’m driving around knocking on wood. You’ve got to bring your A-game to survive out here.
TT: That’s quite an accomplishment to be accident-free after that many years. Congratulations.
JM: I just got my 750,000 mile certificate and my watch. John Stomps gave me that watch and now I’m closing in on my million miles. So that’s my next goal is a million safe miles because I went that diamond ring! I’m looking forward to getting a plaque that says Driver of The Year because it’s going to go on the wall next to my Driver of the Month for February 2003 For Stevens Transport.
TT: Do you have any advice to help brand new drivers to be successful?
JM: The best thing I could tell them is to stay with a company at least two years and do your job. Watch your mirrors when you’re making turns. Pay attention out on the road. Don’t watch videos while driving! I’ve seen drivers going down the road watching videos. Again, stay at least two years. My wife has had a friend that just went from job to job to job to job. After a while, no one would hire him because he wasn’t worth a bus ticket, hotel, food, or the cost of the drug tests. If you stay with a company for at least two years accident-free you’re gold, anybody will hire you.
TT: Is there anything that you feel you could still work on?
JM: Well, totally, like blindsiding. I don’t like blindside backing (haha), or chaining tires. if I absolutely have to do it, I can. It’s funny how the tire chaining videos were shot on sunny summer days. It’s a bit different when you’re trying to put on chains with frozen fingers on the side of a mountain road in the dark when it’s snowing.
TT: Is there anything else you’d like to tell other drivers or motorists?
JM: Just say something. If you feel there’s an impaired driver, whether it’s a four-wheeler, another trucker, or even God forbid a TOTAL truck. If you see someone, swerving back and forth on the roads call 911. Don’t get caught up in their accidents. If you see something that’s not right call 911. That’s what those signs are out there for, trying to save lives. That driver you report could have gone out and killed himself. He could have killed a family of four. Yes, they may get fired. I didn’t want to get them fired, but they put themselves in that position.
TT: James, I want to again, congratulate you on becoming our Driver of the Year. And we thank you for taking the time to talk to us.
JM It was my pleasure.
Solo Driver Of The Year
TT- Hi Genevieve, thank you for taking a moment to speak with us. First, congratulations on being our Total Solo Driver of The Year!
G- Thank you! Yeah, I was quite surprised when I got the news.
TT- Why was that?
G- Well, mainly because I didn’t actually have a full year with Total in 2020.
TT- You certainly made up for lost time then. Tell us a little about yourself.
G- Let’s see… I’m from South Africa… and I came over here in 2012. It was tough, but I definitely don’t regret anything. I started with Total in March 2020
TT- What did you do for work before coming to Total?
G – I worked at an Amazon Fulfillment Center.
TT- What made you want to get into trucking?
G- I wanted more freedom. We were micromanaged. I had targets to meet every hour. If I didn’t hit the rate every day, then I got a warning. I didn’t care for that much. I was stuck in a big warehouse with no windows and breathing the same stuffy air as everybody else. Basically, rubbing shoulders with the person next to you. When I found out Amazon would pay for my CDL training I took advantage of the opportunity.
TT- So how long have you been driving trucks altogether?
G- I’ve been driving for just under two years.
TT- How did you end up choosing Total?
G- Well, at first, I went to Werner. After 7 months, I started wondering if there might be a better fit for me out there. I didn’t know anything about Total. I spoke to someone in the HR and Safety Department when I was leaving Warner. They actually recommended Total. They said they’d known many people to come here and it was a great company. I was like, Okay, then I’ll apply there. Total was the first company I applied to; I didn’t even hesitate. In just a few days I got a phone call and the process got started.
TT- Well, now that you know all about us, what do you think makes us different?
G- I am not a number. People know my name and I feel like I’m heard. I’ve worked hard for that. As you show people that you are committed to your job and put in the effort people are going to learn who you are. Then you’re going to get more personal attention instead of maybe your call going to voicemail or something…. Obviously, there’s exceptions, the shift changes, weekends and evenings get slammed because there are less people manning the phones and stuff. But that’s the number one thing. Mr. Stomps is very hands-on as you know. We’re not a small company, by any means, but we’re smaller than what I came from. If there’s an issue, I feel like I can get it addressed much easier and quicker. We also get updated on it, it’s not just tossed to the wayside only to explode a year later. Someone will do something about it.
TT- Do you have any tips for other drivers to have good relationships with your FM and other support staff?
G- Yeah, communication is key. From day one, I made sure that I put a name to a face. I went and I met my fleet manager and showed them who I am. “Okay, good to meet you! Now, we know who we’re talking to on the phone!” It’s not just the name on the screen. If something is the matter, speak up, because we’re all human, everybody’s situation is unique. People are not going to just know what you need, what you’re thinking, or any issues that you’re having. This company is very accommodating. If you’re not getting the communication from your fleet manager, or whomever, don’t be afraid to be open about that. There’s always other people to talk to if you don’t feel comfortable with the person directly above you. I can just send people from safety, recruiting, or my TM an email, they will respond to me. There’s a large number of ears that are willing to hear you out and see what they can do. We even have the new Driver Council. I mean even Mr. Stomps is happy to receive emails and text messages. Personally, I don’t go that high. Nothing’s been that much of an issue to disturb him and he’s got a buttload on his plate already. I don’t know what people call him for, but with so many people willing to help it better be important!
TT- Do you have any thoughts on our equipment?
G- (laughing) Well, I’m honestly not a big fan of the Drivertech.
TT- Then you should be hearing some good news next month!
G- That’s great news. Besides that though, I’ve had this truck since I started and everything runs. If it doesn’t, we get taken care of. If a repair will take a while or if I say I need it, I get put into a hotel in a heartbeat. There’s no pushback, Total understands that my risk is important. I do drive nights. So getting a hotel for a couple of hours during the day seems a bit crazy to the average person and it actually was an issue with my previous job. To get several hours of sleep during the day means we have to pay for two days because of the check-in and check-out times. But that’s never been an issue here.
TT- Do you have any advice for new drivers on how to be successful?
G- Drive when it’s your time to drive and rest when it’s your time to rest. When your clock comes back on, drive. Don’t turn down loads. We’re here to move product from point a to point b, this is our job description. Also, when you don’t turn down a load, or when you get a call and they’re like “Look, you’re the only person in that area can you please help us out with this hot load?” or whatever the case may be… then, you know, help them out. They will remember it. And when you need help later on they have that, let’s call it an incentive to try to make sure that they can help you with your request. I run out my whole 11-hour clock if possible every day. And that gives me little mini weekends at the end of the week. It gives me time to do whatever I want for myself, instead of just doing recaps and running myself dead every day. But I feel like it ensures you use your whole 70-hour clock for the whole week. And you get a weekend. So it’s a bigger paycheck and you’re getting more, you’re seeing more profits. And you know, you’re getting that extra little something for yourself, you know, right?
TT- I’ll tell you one thing we’ve noticed. You might just have one of the most positive mental outlooks of any of our drivers. How do you do that?
G- I believe that everything happens for a reason. I don’t look at something that’s going wrong and then feel like it’s the end of the world. I believe that the Lord has a reason for everything. I get put in certain situations that I may not like at the time but there’s always a bigger, better outcome. I may not see it right then. But you know, give it a couple of hours or days or possibly even weeks. You’ll see the bigger picture. Take religion out of it if you want. If there is an issue, don’t just think about the problem, think about how you can fix it. I eat healthy and I try to work out when I can, that helps with your emotions, your endorphins and all that. From the moment I wake up I’m just happy to be living another day. If you bring that positive attitude into every encounter, if you put forth a friendly positive attitude, you have a much better chance of getting that back. Some people over the phone are just like, ”What do you want?” I try to put myself in their shoes. I am aware that they are having 1,000 calls coming in. And I’m sorry. This is just all I need quickly, you know, I try to get to the point. I think if I put myself in other people’s shoes, it goes a long way. Voice that, acknowledge that, and communicate. The people in this industry are alone all the time and when they’re not alone, they have people shouting at them wanting them to move, or you know why you’re not there yet. It’s nice to have a little break from that, it’s nice to not just be the same. Maybe you can be that little bright light that changes someone’s day today.
TT- What do you think that it takes to become Total’s Solo Driver of the Year?
G- It takes determination. Okay, so when I came in, I looked up at the wall and I was like, my name is going to be up there for 2020. Now, obviously, I didn’t actually think that I would be able to do it because I started late. But if that is what you want you got to go for it. Don’t just give up. You got to take those loads. Don’t get me wrong. I’ve said no to loads if I felt unsafe. If I knew that there was an extreme rainstorm or snowstorm up north or something like that. If I feel uncomfortable, I’ll tell the company. They’ll take it off me and give it to someone else that is more comfortable driving in those weather conditions. I’m not an expert, I’m still relatively a new driver. I also drive whenever I am able. You can still take vacation days, but not weeks and weeks on end. I haven’t taken any vacation since I started. Any doctor’s visits and that kind of stuff, I do in my 34’s. I tell my FM, this is where I need to be for my 34, I have an appointment, or to do this or that. I do everything I need to do on my time off, my 10-hour break, my 34-hour break, or reset. I don’t dilly dally. Get your loads there on time. If you look like you’ll be early, call. Sometimes they can reschedule you to get in early. Also, another way to make sure that you get to where you need to and be successful about it is to cover your 6, because people will take chances. Taking chances can cause accidents or delays that can cause more paperwork and more delays later on.
TT- Is there anything else that you would like to say to our drivers or the company at large, because this is your moment.
G- I feel like I’ve said so much. It’s a team, we’re all a team. You’ve heard of “one team, one dream?” This is teamwork. Without the people in the office, we wouldn’t be able to do our jobs and vice versa. So try not to separate yourself from the people that you’re speaking to. We are all trying to work together. We need to remember that. I mean, I wouldn’t have been able to become Driver Of The Year without the help, support, teamwork, and good relationships that I have with the people in the office.
TT- Well, Genevieve, I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us, thank you so much. Drive safely out there.