- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 28, 2006

6 million miles of safe driving earn recognition

SMITHFIELD, Va. — Trucker Robert C. Wrenn recalls a bitter cold night in New York City about 40 years ago when he stopped at a red light and saw a young woman standing in a heavy coat.

“And under that coat, she didn’t have nothing on,” said Mr. Wrenn, 67. “I swear to you. She was nude.”

He promptly left, but the incident remains among the most unforgettable in his 47 years of flawless driving along the East Coast.

Mr. Wrenn, who credits “the Good Lord” for his exemplary record, was one of four drivers nationwide inducted recently into the truck driver hall of fame, or more specifically, the National Private Truck Council-Bridgestone Firestone Driver Hall of Fame.

The company for which Mr. Wrenn works, Gwaltney Transportation, a division of Smithfield Foods, estimates that he has driven more than 6 million miles with no accidents or traffic tickets.

“Every record that exists on him is as clear as a bell,” said Gordon Worrell, the company’s fleet-safety manager.

Minimum requirements for the award are 20 years, 2 million miles or 50,000 hours of driving without a preventable accident.

The National Private Truck Council is the only national trade association devoted to private corporate truck fleets. With members such as General Mills, Kraft Foods, Harris Teeter and Wal-Mart, the group, founded in 1938, inducts four truck drivers a year from across the country.

Mr. Wrenn, a trustee at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Smithfield, went to work in 1957 for the meat-packing corporation based in Smithfield. Before that, the then-19-year-old drove a school bus.

He started working on the loading dock, but that changed one night when the man who backed tractor-trailers into and out of the loading dock did not come to work. Mr. Wrenn recalled that a supervisor yelled over to him: “Hey, can you drive these things?”

“Guess I can,” he said before climbing into the driver’s seat.

Mr. Wrenn was too young to drive out of state, but started going to New York when he turned 21.

This was before interstate highways, and none of the big rigs had heat or air conditioning.

Mr. Wrenn attributes much of his success to his commitment to staying under 60 to 65 mph.

Mr. Wrenn said he liked going to New York better than driving south because people in the big city worked round-the-clock, while nobody went to work before 9 a.m. in the South.

His early years also marked a time when black truckers where not allowed to sit down and eat inside a restaurant. Those that did allow blacks opened their back doors, and Mr. Wrenn ate with the cooks.

Mr. Wrenn also remembers a trip to North Carolina in which he and a co-worker bought aluminum foil and used the truck’s manifold to cook a couple of pork tips left in the truck — a trick he used many times.

Mr. Wrenn said discrimination was the worst in the South. But he credits the company for never having made him feel less of a professional because of his skin color.

“If I was driving, and they put a white helper with me, they made it clear I was the boss,” he said.

Mr. Wrenn was so struck by the differences between Smithfield and New York that he once brought along his daughter to show her the fast-paced lifestyle and people sleeping on the streets.

Last year, of the 160 drivers at Gwaltney, Mr. Wrenn was named company Driver of the Year. He got a cash prize, a plaque and a Caribbean cruise for himself and his wife, Myrteen.

In 2005, he was named the Virginia Professional Driver of the Year by the Virginia Trucking Association.

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