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Trucker was driven to perfection

January 16, 2001

Trucker was driven to perfection



By ANDREA BROWN-HURLEY / Staff Writer


INDIAN SPRINGS - J. Albert Brechbill went the long haul without a scratch.

The Indian Springs resident recently ended his 41-year career as a long-distance truck driver without having an accident.

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"My dad told me that any job worth doing is worth doing right," Brechbill said.

The lesson stuck.

He clocked nearly 3.5 million miles on his odometer, traveling up to 900 miles a day throughout 48 U.S. states and all but two Canadian provinces, during the 30 years he drove for the Wisconsin-based Dallas & Mavis Forwarding Co.

He's had some close calls but never a collision.

Brechbill once bellied his crane-loaded trailer on a high-speed railroad line after being given incorrect directions to a nuclear power plant. He worked feverishly for 20 minutes to free the load, unhook the trailer and move it off the tracks, he said.

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"That train never did come, the whole time I was there," he said.

Another time, Brechbill lost his trailer's brakes while traveling downhill on Interstate 68 in West Virginia. While down-shifting, three of his tires got so hot they melted.

"I got out of the truck with weak knees," he said. "The sign at the bottom of that hill says 55 mph, but I know you can make that turn at 75."

Brechbill once got stuck in an ice storm while hauling an oversized load in Ohio. He kept his speedometer at 3 mph and drove with one wheel on the roadside berm.

When he tried to stop, his truck slid sideways. He still avoided other vehicles.

"Ice is the thing I always feared, more than anything else," Brechbill said.

Then there was the time he hit a surprise snowstorm on U.S. 50 in West Virginia. As Brechbill cleared the top of a mountain and began downhill, he saw another truck stopped dead in the middle of the slick, snow-covered highway.

"I was able to stop because out of nowhere there was a bare spot in the road," he said.

Brechbill's wife, Mary, said it was time for her husband to park his 18-wheeler before his luck ran out.

But Brechbill, 60, said his clean driving record had little to do with chance.

With God in the passenger seat, he always tried to drive defensively, follow the rules of the road and wait out bad weather when possible, he said.

"I never hit anybody and nobody every hit me," Brechbill said. "I always felt that the Lord looked after me real well."

Over the years, Brechbill's employer honored his spotless safety record with wall plaques, watches, belt buckles, a curio corner cabinet and a gold and ruby ring. A diamond was added to the ring in recognition of 25 years of safe driving.

Brechbill bought his first of four Kenworth trucks for $25,300 in 1970 after 11 years learning his trade as a truck driver for Grove Manufacturing in Pennsylvania, he said.

"I sort of took to it like a duck to water," said Brechbill, who in 1997 paid $97,000 for the WL900 Kenworth he now has for sale.

He's hauled construction machinery and machine tools ranging from bulldozers to unmanned underwater vehicles. Brechbill has a glass cabinet filled with models of the types of equipment he's hauled, and scores of photographs of the more "exotic stuff" he's loaded onto his trailers.

Brechbill once drove two miles underground to deliver a machine to a limestone mine. The Patriot missile system he and his wife spent three days transporting from near Chambersburg, Pa., to El Paso, Texas, had to be watched 24-hours a day, he said.

He's hauled U.S. Navy flight simulators, cruise missile launchers, self-propelled Howitzer tanks and Atlas rockets, he said.

A trucker's life isn't easy, Brechbill said, but his job gave him the opportunity to make many friends and tour much of North America.

"I lived in a truck," Brechbill said. "The boredom sets in if you're empty on Friday and have to sit in a truck stop all weekend."

Brechbill said one of the toughest aspects of his career was missing out on family gatherings, club memberships and chunks of his children's upbringing.

He would sometimes be away from home for up to six weeks at a time, but he always made it home for Thanksgiving, Christmas and major wedding anniversaries, Brechbill said.

He's still adjusting to life off the road, but he doesn't plan to be idle.

He said he'll spend his retirement working on his 120-acre farm, playing with his two young granddaughters, dabbling in the stock market and building that model train set he's never had time to complete.

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