John Bail with wife Charlotte at their Keizer home. John is holding the crystal truck he received for being honored as a Diamond Driver, only 1 percent of Swift drivers received the award. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

John Bail with wife Charlotte at their Keizer home. John is holding the crystal truck he received for being honored as a Diamond Driver, only 1 percent of Swift drivers received the award. (KEIZERTIMES/Craig Murphy)

By CRAIG MURPHY
Of the Keizertimes

After nearly 29 years working at a plywood mill, John Bail found himself a 49-year-old frantically looking around for a new line of work.

The Keizer resident eventually found a job as a heavy haul truck driver for Swift Transportation. His effort was recently recognized as John was honored with a Diamond Award from the company. Of the more than 18,000 drivers in the company, only 1 percent get the award.

Not bad, especially considering the dilemma he was in 15 years ago.

The Arizona-based trucking company flew John and wife Charlotte to Salt Lake City last month to be feted, along with other drivers being honored. John got several personalized polo shirts, a backpack filled with items including two flashlights, a crystal miniature truck, a large blanket and a certificate. In addition, Charlotte got a $100 gift card. This is the third year for the diamond program.

“I didn’t know anything about it until my manager called and said, ‘I heard you’re diamond.’ I said, ‘I am?’ I didn’t know. Our terminal manager got us included. The owner of the company (Jerry Moyes) flew diamond drivers and their spouses to Salt Lake City on Sept. 26 and put us up at the Marriott. We had a banquet with awards and a nice dinner. We were recognized at the banquet. The new inductees got fabulous gifts.”

John typically gets up at 2 p.m. and gets to his truck in Brooks around 5. He starts work around 6 p.m., often driving up to cities in Washington for stores like Winco and Costco before heading to Albany for a last load and then heading home at 8 a.m. and repeating the process each week day.

“As long as you have a regular routine you do all the time, that makes so much difference in making the adjustment (to driving all night),” John said. “Being home every day is great. There are a lot of drivers out there who would kill for my job.”

The diamond award is a new top level. After starting at the bronze level, drivers have the chance to move up to silver, gold and then platinum.

“You have to do well to make it to gold,” John said. “You have to drive almost perfect to go to platinum. Then you have to have three perfect years to make diamond. That means no citations or accidents, on-time pick-up and deliveries. You have to be safe and on time.”

Among other things, meeting that criteria leads to a lower CSA (Compliance, Safety and Accountability program) score and keeps costs lower for Swift.

In June 2000, the mill John had worked at for 28 years and 10 months was closed. It was suggested John try his hand at driving a truck and he took advantage of a government program for displaced mill workers to do just that. After six weeks of training, John had his CDL (Commercial Driver’s License) and drove a truck for a recycling company in Salem. But after 18 months, he was looking for work again.

“I looked for work for two years,” John said. “I had applications in everywhere. There were a lot of jobs I didn’t want to do but I applied for them because I wanted to work.”

John had heard negative stories about working at Swift and dragged his feet for a while. He finally applied and was hired in July 2003. Early on he was asked to do some Costco runs to Washington.

“I was on time, so they kept me,” John said. “I prefer this type of haul. A lot of drivers live for rumbling down the interstate everywhere. I’m not one. I like doing my job, come home, have a home meal, go back the next day and do my job.”

Charlotte likes the arrangement as well – after all, her husband is home if a project needs to be taken care of. She also doesn’t mind the recognition he got.

“I am very proud of him,” Charlotte said. “The evenings can get lonely, but this definitely makes up for it. I know Swift appreciates the drivers. Jerry Moyes gave a nice talk recognizing the heavy haul drivers. He really appreciates the diamond drivers. Swift has been very good to John.”

John said success is due to support from office crews and terminal manager who take care of the planning, all the way up the ladder to Moyes.

“They always come through,” John said. “Something else I like about Swift is they are one of the companies that say if it is not safe to drive, pull off. If it’s so dangerous, you can pull off and that’s fine.”

John figures he’ll keep driving as long as he can safely do so.

“I don’t foresee retiring,” he said. “I can’t see me sitting here watching TV every day. I’m not ready to retire.”

Charlotte looked at her husband of 24 years and smiled.

“Swift is not ready for him to retire, either,” she said.