Howard Lake-Waverly Herald, January 25, 1999
Harvey Zander - trucker of the year
By Linda Longton
Reprinted with permission from Overdrive magazine.
For Overdrive's 1999 Trucker of the Year, the joys in life - and in trucking - are meant to be shared.
"We did it! We did it! We did it!" Harvey Zander shouted into the phone.
He had just learned that he was named Overdrive's 1999 Trucker of the Year. His first instinct - with this and all other important news - was to share it with his wife of 13 years, Karen. Bursting with pride, Karen shared the news with a close friend at work, who observed of the couple "no matter what it is, he always says we," Karen recalls.
Spend a few hours with the Zanders and you'll often hear the word "we." The St. Louis Park couple has made a success of their business and their marriage by working toward common goals.
"Everything we do is together," Zander says. "It's Karen and me and the house and the truck. We are a team."
The two met at a wedding where Karen served as maid of honor, Zander as best man. When he dropped Karen off at her home after the wedding, she told a friend, "I'm going to marry that man." It took Zander 11 days to pop the question. They were married five months later.
Zander's career is as enduring as his marriage. The 26-year trucking veteran has spent the last 17 years as an owner-operator leased to Dart Transit, where he averages about 3,000 miles per week, delivering can ends to 48 states.
He keeps his truck, Icy Blu, a pale blue 1996 Freightliner Classic, immaculate. That's a discipline learned early on from his father, Bernie, who supported the family by driving a milk truck.
"When we were growing up, if we didn't have anything going on at church or school, we were in the truck," Harvey recalls. "I learned a lot from watching my dad drive."
His powers of observation paid off when Zander joined the Army in 1967 and began his first of two tours in Vietnam.
"I went in on my own before I got out of high school," he recalls. "Worse yet, I went back." Stationed in Cameron Bay, Harvey did repairs and welding and drove a deuce-and-a-half wrecker with air horns, gloss O.D. paint and a mural of a bumblebee on the oil reservoir.
"I sent all of my money home," he says. "Never went on R & R. I was having too much fun driving."
Zander credits his father and the Army with teaching him to drive and maintain trucks, but it's Karen, he says, who taught him to treat trucking like a business.
"Karen put me on the right track," he says.
When the two met, Zander's idea of record-keeping was piling all of his receipts on his pool table. Karen stepped in, writing a program to track expenses and compute Zander's fuel use, cost per mile and deadhead miles. She prints out a summary sheet for Zander to use on the road to help him determine a load's profitability.
Treating trucking as a business and knowing your bottom line are the biggest challenges owner-operators face today, Zander says. He marvels at truckers who "fly by the seat of their pants," running without knowing their cost per mile.
"I hear them on the CB: 'I won't move anything for under $1.25 per mile,'" he says, shaking his head. Because he knows his costs, Zander can run for about 84 cents per mile "and still do OK," he says.
But Zander is quick to admit he didn't always watch his costs so closely.
"Used to be if I wanted to come home I'd fill the tanks," he recalls. "You can't run a business like that."
Zander is happy to share such lessons with less experienced owner-operators.
"I have several guys at Dart that come up and ask what I think they should do," he says. He says his best advice is "Listen and learn" and "Don't let your ego get in the way."
He's passed this wisdom - and a love of trucking - to his son from his first marriage, 27-year-old Quay, a company driver for Teske Trucking in Cokato.
"It's surprising how much Quay does that I do," Zander says.
"He wants to be like Dad," Karen adds.
"He will listen and he's a damn good driver," Zander replies, with obvious pride.
One lesson Quay learned from his dad is to give of himself to his industry and community. The Zanders, often accompanied by Quay, speak to high school driver education classes about sharing the road with trucks.
"You'll put 10,000 miles on your car in one year," Karen tells the teenagers. "Harvey does that in one month."
"We tell them, 'Think of all the people truckers save in a year,'" Zander said.
While their work with driver education classes is important, the Zanders' true satisfaction comes from time with a fourth-grade class in Coon Rapids. Following Zander's travels helps the kids learn geography, while computing Icy Blu's miles per gallon sharpens their math skills. The Zanders also let each child sit in Icy Blu to teach them about blind spots, a lesson they encourage them to share with their parents.
Piles of letters from the class addressed to "Harvey, Karen and Icy Blu" speak of what the Zanders' involvement means to the kids. It's a feeling that's wholeheartedly mutual.
"When you come out from talking to our fourth graders, you feel like you could walk on water," Karen says.
Her one wish, she says, is that the couple had more time to devote to such programs.
It's that need for public awareness - and the poor image some truckers project - that Zander says hurt the industry the most.
"All it takes is one out of the basket," he says. "Everybody else has to make up for what one guy did."
Zander does his part during the holidays by handing out more than 450 suckers wrapped in tiny bags Karen sews. Wearing a Santa hat and a cheery smile, Zander gives the gifts to toll-booth operators, loading dock personnel and anyone else he meets. It's his way of spreading cheer and getting people to look at trucking from a new perspective.
That's what happened last summer when Zander took his 76-year-old dad with him on the road for the first time.
"He got a whole different take on the industry," Zander says.
His dad was impressed with the accommodations and told Zander, "This thing (the bottom bunk) sleeps better than my bed at home."
Friends asked the elder Zander what it was like riding with his son. "This is what I'm really proud of," the younger Zander recalls. "He said: 'I've never been with a safer man.'"
Hard-won praise from a man who years ago discouraged Zander from buying his own truck, perhaps not wanting his son to drive the same tough road he had followed. But Zander's career choice has paid off time and again. He's received numerous safety and contractor of the month awards from Dart, the National Safety Council and the Minnesota Trucking Association. In 1990, he was named Contractor of the Year by the Interstate Truckload Carriers Conference (now the Truckload Carriers Association). Eighteen family members and friends flew to Phoenix to watch him accept the award in front of 1,200 people.
"My dad was never there for sports or anything when I was growing up because he had a seven-day job," Zander says. "But in front of all those people I asked him, 'Is this important enough for you to be here?' He stood up and said, 'You bet it is!' The crowd loved that."
Of the many awards Zander has received, nothing brings more satisfaction than the time he and Karen spend competing at truck beauty shows nationwide. Icy Blu has racked up an impressive record since the Zanders began showing in 1996, winning firsts in the mural category at the 1998 Overdrive Pride & Polish contests at the Mid-America Trucking Show and the Southern Trucking Expo.
The couple speaks fondly of the many friends they've met on the show circuit, a fiercely competitive environment that, oddly enough, breeds good will, not animosity.
"With show friends, if someone needs something, they're there to help," Karen says. She tells of an incident at the Walcott Truckers' Jamboree last summer when Harvey was polishing Icy Blu's roof and fell off a ladder, crushing her beneath him. She was rushed to the emergency room with a severely swollen arm.
"Tod Job [another contestant] finished polishing the roof for him," Karen says. Later, at the Waupun Trucker's Jamboree, Harvey was able to return the kindness.
"It was 10 minutes to rags down and he's over at Tod's truck doing his bumper," Karen recalls.
It's that generous spirit and ever-positive attitude that Zander brings to his career and his life.
"You've got to love what you do," he says. "To me, trucking is still an adventure."
An adventure that's lasted 26 years and more than 3 million safe miles. After all that time, what does Zander still love about trucking? "The freedom," he says without hesitation. "Being your own boss is still the number one thing."
"And the coming home," Karen adds, with a smile. "He drives a little faster the closer he gets to home."
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