By Linda Scherer
WINSTED, MN K-Way Express trucker George Jepson of Winsted is one of the 3.2 million professional truck drivers nationwide who spend their working hours on the highway.
During the month of September, a special week was set aside for drivers, like Jepson, to show appreciation for their hard work and dedication in delivering goods to meet the needs of the US consumer.
Jepson’s 20-year trucking career has provided him with an endless supply of stories and he tells them better than most, having a background in journalism.
As he crosses the countryside, he doesn’t just sit back in his 13-speed Volvo and enjoy the view. He’s collecting material for a book he’s writing, or jotting down new ideas for a book he has yet to start.
Writing is one of the reasons Jepson became a trucker in the first place.
“I was thinking that if I took a driving job, I would have time to fill up, and would have time to write books. That is what I have always wanted to do,” Jepson said.
“I have ideas written down on scraps of paper all over the place,” Jepson said. “I have always liked to write, from the time I can remember.”
Although Jepson continues to enjoy writing, he has found his career driving truck has become “addictive,” and he appreciates his time on the road.
“I like to travel. I have always liked to travel, and it’s a kind of independence,” he said.
“There is something about waking up at a different place each day, and every week is new,” Jepson said. “You are not getting up at the same time, having lunch at the same time, and coming home at the same time.”
Jepson’s highway-home is a truck and trailer that is 58 feet in length. With nothing in the trailer, it weighs a total of 33,500 pounds.
“I might have a 42,000- 43,000- or 44,000-pound load, plus the weight of the truck, so I am 77,000 or 78,000 pounds of weight going down the road,” Jepson said. “Now suddenly, you have to stop with more than twice the weight and it’s a different ball game.”
But there really is nothing to driving the truck.
“It is the easiest, most convenient truck I have ever driven,” Jepson said. “There is cruise control, which makes it just like driving a big car, and power steering.”
The truck also has a radio, TV, CD player, MP-3 Player with about 500 songs, a refrigerator, and a plug-in coil to the cigarette lighter which allows him to heat up a cup of coffee or tea; plus a bunk to take a nap.
The most important thing to driving a semitruck the size of K-Way’s, according to Jepson, is being responsible for, “knowing what you have, how big, how heavy, and how everything you are.”
Bridges are something truck drivers need to pay special attention to, and each state measures its bridges differently, according to Jepson.
If the bridge is 13 feet 6 inches high, Jepson said his truck can make it under.
“But there’s a railroad bridge where I pick up a load in New Jersey,” Jepson said. “If a train isn’t going across the bridge you can make, but if it is, you better wait.”
Jepson estimates he has driven a total of 2,580,000 miles since he first started driving truck for Burlington Motor Carriers in 1989.
The company had 4,000 trucks and five main terminals throughout the US. Jepson started out as a driver in Joplin, MO, and later was asked to help train drivers.
Training drivers was quite an experience, according to Jepson, who said some drivers were easy to train and others should have never been driving.
“We had to go to Utah, and I had one guy who had no idea what direction Utah was,” Jepson said.
“It’s a terrible thing when you have a guy that maybe spent $3,000 to go to a truck driving school and you have to tell him, you’re sorry he didn’t make it.”
Jepson also learned at Burlington that even when some drivers were able to pass the training, the stress of making deliveries on time was just too much.
“At Burlington, I had two guys and all they did was go out and pick up abandoned trucks. Somebody would quit and just leave the truck,” Jepson said.
In 2001, he began driving truck for K-Way Express, a company that Jepson said has been good to him and his family.
“Other companies pay book miles, no matter how many miles you put in. K-Way pays you in the actual miles you drive,” Jepson said, which he feels makes a real difference.
He also likes K-Way’s willingness to support the employee in good times and during family emergencies.
“There isn’t any problem getting time off if I need it,” Jepson said.
K-Way has even planned deliveries to various locations to accommodate his personal agenda.
Jepson grew up in New Jersey, and last year he had a class reunion there. He and his wife, Betty, took a load out to New Jersey, and then attended the reunion.
For any deliveries and any destination, Jepson said he always feels he has an option.
“There is give-and-take here that you can’t get everywhere.”
Throughout his driving career, the one thing Jepson finds the most upsetting is road construction.
As an example, he recalled approximately 35 miles of interstate highway that is under construction coming out of Chicago.
“They have been working on it, resurfacing the road, for months,” Jepson said. “I had to slow down to 45 miles an hour because three guys were working on the road. Two guys had air hoses and one guy was holding a sign that said, “slow.”
“Take that by 120,000 miles a year and it will drive you nuts.”
Another of his least-favorite things about driving truck is waiting.
“You are always waiting for something. Waiting to get loaded or waiting to get unloaded,” Jepson said. So, he uses his time to read, or for writing, although he admits doing more reading lately than writing.
Jepson said he began reading a lot while he served in the Air Force from 1961 to 1965.
“Every base would have a library and almost nobody used it,” Jepson said.
After serving in the Air Force, he enrolled at the University of Kentucky.
One weekend, he found himself in Winsted attending the wedding of one of his Air Force buddies.
At the wedding reception, which took place at the Blue Note Ballroom, he met Betty Remer and they started dating. In May 1968, they were married. They lived in Kentucky until Jepson graduated in 1970, with a degree in journalism.
After college he worked for the St. Petersburg Times in Florida as an editor and writer, and later worked at the Clearwater Sun, which was a smaller newspaper.
“But I could write and edit and I was a sports editor and a columnist,” Jepson said of his time at the Clearwater Sun.
“I love sports and I have known some top-level athletes,” Jepson said. “When we lived in Clearwater, FL and I was sports editor, the Philadelphia Phillies would train in Clearwater, so our kids would spend the summer in the bullpen playing catch with the players. It’s too bad it wasn’t a little bit later. They would have appreciated it more.”
Jepson’s priority has always been writing books.
“I want to finish my books,” he said. “I think I am here to write these books and if I die before I finish them, it was a waste of time.”
He has already written a 400-plus-page book titled “Some Restrictions May Apply.”
“It’s a book about life and how everyone wants the same thing,” Jepson said. “We all want to feel special and to be loved, and we all have some restrictions.”
He is in the process of rewriting the book, using a conversation between himself and his two granddaughters to tell the story.
He has also started two other books: “Over and Over and Over the Road” about the US being a wheeled society; and “The Scottish American War of 1962 to 1964 and Other Selected Skirmishes” about an enlisted man who becomes a top general and a war hero.
In all, Jepson said he has ideas for about 20 more books.
Some of the characters in his books have been people he has met in the past, but there are also characters in his book “Over and Over and Over the Road” like Daphne Fairhope, whose name comes from road signs in Iowa.
Since Jepson first started driving truck, he has kept a notebook in which he lists each place he has been, and what the miles are every time he stops the truck.
The notepad he began Dec. 6, 2010, is almost filled. On the back of each page, he jots down his thoughts and ideas for other stories or books.
“I have to get a tape recorder so I can just put things on it because you know, if you have a thought, you may never get it back the same way. You should write it down,” Jepson said. “You may have the same thought again, but you can’t word it quite as well. So if you have that one shot, you better write it down.”
Some of Jepson’s favorite states to travel in are Pennsylvania, New York, and Colorado. He likes the hills and mountains.
“Minnesota is too flat. Not as bad as Illinois and Indiana, but it’s still flat,” Jepson said.
Although he prefers the weather in Florida, he does like the changing seasons Minnesota offers.
The Jepsons have lived in several parts of the country, but have made their home in Winsted the longest.
From 1977 to 1989, while their twin sons, Nick and Nate, attended Holy Trinity, they lived in Winsted. In 1989, the family returned to Florida where they lived until 2000 when they returned to Winsted so Betty could be closer to her mother.
But according to Jepson, where you live doesn’t matter when you are driving truck
Jepson always enjoys deliveries that bring him to different parts of the country, and recommends truck driving to young people starting out.
“What better way to make some money, see the country, and try and decide what you really want to do for the rest of your life?” he asked.