'Proud to drive a truck'

Con-Way employee competes in national competition

Con-Way employee competes in national competition

September 11, 2005|By DANIEL J. SERNOVITZ


Otho Kretzer is no pencil pusher, though he is more than willing to haul them if that's what's asked of him.

"I enjoy meeting people. I like being out in the open. I don't like being stuck behind a desk," said Kretzer, 42, of Boonsboro, a driver for Con-Way Central Express in Greencastle. "I'm proud to drive a truck. I love it. I just can't say enough about it."

After 22 years and 1.5 million accident-free miles behind the wheel, Kretzer recently placed first in the Five Axle Semi-Trailer-Sleeper category of the 2005 Maryland Safe Truck Driving Championships, qualifying him to compete at the American Trucking Association's National Truck Driving Competition Aug. 16-20 in Tampa, Fla.


Up against the best and safest drivers in the nation, Kretzer placed 31st out of 44 in the nationals. Rather than dwelling upon his finish, he has vowed to make it back to the competition, scheduled to be held next year in New Orleans, and to win it.

"I'm not afraid to say it, it was a career high for me," said Kretzer, who previously worked as a driver for the Sharpsburg Volunteer Fire Co. and for another trucking company before joining Con-Way in 1995. "Hopefully, I'll make it to New Orleans next year."

The state and national competitions are designed to test several components of a driver's abilities, including his or her knowledge of motor vehicle law, a pre-trip equipment test to check for problems such as low tire pressure, and a driving course. The first-place finishers in each category from each state go on to compete nationally. Drivers can be disqualified from the competition, up to the day of it, if they are in an accident. The restriction even includes accidents caused by other drivers.

Kretzer's supervisor, Steve Sibbio, said that because of the exacting standards of the competition, the slightest error can mean the difference between winning and losing. He said while Kretzer did not finish higher in the national competition, just to get there is an honor, one that has earned Kretzer praise among his colleagues.

"There's a certain level of prestige to it. I think others look up to him and look at him," Sibbio said. "Literally, inches can make or break it. All of these guys who are there are already state champs, so he's going against the best of the best."

Sibbio said that soon after Kretzer returned from Tampa, the two sat down and Kretzer vowed not to let his finish this year deter him.

"He brought that up ... He said, 'I'm going back (to nationals),'" Sibbio said.

"That's a big urge. I've got my plans," Kretzer conceded.

In the interim, though, Kretzer doesn't plan to wait around for another shot at the nationals. Specializing in local and regional deliveries, Kretzer balances his time between mentoring younger drivers and carefully arranging his constantly changing daily deliveries to make sure his customers get what they need when they need it.

As a driver for Con-Way, Kretzer's day starts about 6 a.m. and when he hits the road about 10:30 a.m., his workday can take him anywhere in the region. He specializes in P-and-D, as he refers to it, pickup-and-delivery, shipping goods ranging from ice cream and school supplies to tires and automotive parts. He didn't carry any on his routes, but he recently helped Con-Way sort a batch of new Harry Potter books the company was charged with delivering at a precise time before the book's midnight release.

More than just pointing the truck in the right direction, Kretzer said that on any given day, he needs to carefully analyze his routes, often bypassing shorter stops along the way to make sure some of his time-sensitive deliveries make it to where they need to go at specific times. Many times, Kretzer can be more demanding on himself than those who are awaiting his arrival.

"I've had customers down there who would say, 'Take as much time as you need' (when I'm running late)," Kretzer said. "For the most part, I apologize for myself and the company for running to the last minute and stuff, and I think customers understand that."

After more than two decades in the business, Kretzer said he has learned that for all the things he can control behind the wheel, there are that many more things he cannot.

"Driving a truck does have an awful lot of responsibility to it," he said. "It's not just getting behind the wheel, kicking back and enjoying it."

He noted that most often, road hazards are created by other vehicles making sudden turns or stopping without warning.

"They think: Big truck, more wheels, lots more brakes," Kretzer said. "But you've got that much more weight going down the road."

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