Stories from 41 Years Behind the Wheel
41 years. More than six million miles. And not a single accident. (He’s never even been rear-ended.)
Jan Quarnberg earned the Lytx Driver of the Year award in the for-hire trucking sector earlier this year. And in a recent episode of The Fleet podcast, Jan shared stories from his career on the road and insights into how he’s maintained such a strong safety record. Listen to the full interview here.
Jan began his career with the railroad — until a flood washed out the tracks and his job. A friend who worked for Barney Trucking in nearby Richfield, Utah, suggested he try to get a job there. Unlike today, when nearly every trucking company is scrambling for drivers, it took Jan three months of pestering the owner, Brad Barney, before he landed a job in 1980.
That was six years before Commercial Drivers Licenses (CDLs) were standardized by Congress, so Jan’s training consisted of tagging along with a senior driver for a couple of weeks to learn the ropes. He was instantly impressed by the driver’s smooth handling of the rig and vowed to hone his skills.
“He was phenomenal,” Jan says. “I never once saw him grind a gear. He was a perfectionist, and it gave me the idea of what I wanted to be.”
Over the years, Jan learned to keep himself and his load safe, even on the narrow two-lane mountain roads that made up his usual routes. He hauled coal from mines to power plants, through steep canyons. Even during the worst snowstorms, he was under immense pressure to get coal to the plants to keep the lights on. (And he was paid by the load.) That often meant he couldn’t wait for municipal plows. “I’d push snow with my bumpers, and if we couldn’t make it to the mine, they’d come and hook onto us with pickups and pull us to the mine,” he says.
When in-cab cameras were first introduced, Jan says, many of his fellow drivers were skeptical: “The guys we had were old school and said they didn’t need a babysitter.” Plus, those early models had obtrusive lights that would flash “when you’ve done a naughty or you slammed on your brakes, even going over a bump,” he says. Today’s cameras are so discreet, “You don’t even know they’re there anymore. They’re just part of the equipment. And they’re a good safety thing. I’ve had a couple of incidents that they’ve gone back on my cameras and said, ‘Okay, it wasn’t your fault.’”
“You don’t even know they’re there anymore. They’re just part of the equipment. And they’re a good safety thing. I’ve had a couple of incidents that they’ve gone back on my cameras and said, ‘Okay, it wasn’t your fault.’”
Even more valuable are the insights drawn from the video footage. As the Barney fleet grew from about 35 drivers in 1980 to more than 500 today, drivers began viewing footage during their monthly safety meetings, helping them learn from each other.
At every meeting, the footage reminds drivers of following distance and running stop signs. “That’s a big thing because I pack 128,000 tons of coal and I got doubles and you don’t stop them really easy,” Jan says. He finds those reminders valuable because it’s too easy to grow complacent while driving the same routes, day after day. And even on a familiar route, “You better be on top of your game, or you’re going to be off the shoulder. We’ve had three wrecks just in the last two months where civilians were passing where they shouldn’t have.”
Throughout his career, Jan has seen many accidents and near misses, especially among civilians who cross the double yellow lines around blind curves. He’s also seen too many motorcyclists make risky moves, trying to get around the coal dust blowing off his rig. But by paying attention and avoiding distraction, he’s maintained his stellar safety record.
Jan points out that the pandemic reinforced just how important trucking is to keeping the nation fed and functioning, delivering essentials to grocery stores, hospitals, and everywhere in between. As Jan says, “We truck drivers, we run the country. That’s what enticed me to be a truck driver — I wanted to be able to deliver a product. There’s a lot of pride in that.”
We hope you find Jan’s stories as inspiring as we do. Learn more about American Trucking Associations’ Truck Driver Appreciation week by visiting trucking.org.