NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Trucker Norman Breland still finds the awe-inspiring Hoover Dam and what is just around the bend from it, one of his favorite sights on the road.
“You can’t go over it in the big truck anymore but back in the ’90s you could. And like 2 o’clock in the morning you round that curve that lets you go over the Hoover Dam and you come over the hill and then you see Las Vegas just lit up; all the lights of Vegas.”
The freedom and seeing sights around the country is why Breland jumped into trucking in the first place. That was 27 years ago, and the 50-year-old driver from Purvis, Mississippi, was going through his first week of orientation as an owner-operator for Oakley Trucking out of North Little Rock, Arkansas, when The Trucker caught up with him at the TA/Petro truck stop in North Little Rock, Arkansas, now called the Idella M. Hansen Stopping Center.
“Excited, nervous; I’ll be taking on a lot more responsibility,” said the career company driver. “I’m most excited about being able to go home when I want to and make the money that I make; I’m making it for me and nobody else.”
Breland bought a 2015 International ProStar and will pull a pneumatic trailer, hauling grain or whatever is needed. He has traveled the lower 48 and into Canada.
“I grew up on a farm driving trucks and tractors” in Mississippi, he said. “You have to be very safety conscious, especially around combines, when you’re harvesting.”
That same safety-minded attitude has served Breland well in his career, particularly in bad weather. When he was 19 years old, he was caught in an ice storm in Salt Lake City.
“We had to sleep on the interstate and that was crazy,” he said. “Once we got to the truck stop it was so cold, it was like -40 [with the] the wind chill. It was crazy cold and the truck kept gelling up, the diesel fuel was freezing and wouldn’t run. That was the most miserable trip ever.”
Breland said the longest traffic back-up he’s experienced was actually not in his rig.
“I’ll tell you what, the worst traffic was Katrina, when Katrina hit New Orleans,” he said of the hurricane that hit in 2005. “I was working in New Orleans and I was trying to get home. It’s usually an hour and a half drive and it took me six and a half hours. And that was in my car; I wasn’t even in my truck … it was just everyone trying to evacuate New Orleans.”
The trucking industry is ever evolving, different than it was more than 20 years ago when Breland chose this career.
“People are not as friendly as they used to be. It used to be if you saw somebody broke down you could stop and help them. Now you don’t know if it’s a trap,” he said. “… There’s no communication anymore.”
To get away from it all, Breland enjoys hiking and kayaking with his wife and three adult children in Tennessee and out West. Some of his favorite trips have been hiking at the Grand Canyon, the North Cascades in Washington state and whitewater rafting on the Ocoee River in Tennessee. “We liked whitewater rafting there and kayaking down the creeks,” he said, adding his dream hike would be the Appalachian Trail.
For now, the latest adventure is being an owner-operator and Breland said he hopes to stay in the industry another 10 to 15 years.