Virginia Trucker Honored for Logging 6 Million Accident-Free Miles

It was a bitter cold night in New York city some 40 years ago. Trucker Robert C. Wrenn pulled his rig to a halt at a red light and suddenly, there was a sharp rap on the metal door next to his elbow.

Wrenn looked out, peered down and saw a young woman standing there. As he swung open the door of his truck, the woman flung open the heavy coat she was wearing.

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

Taken aback, Wrenn closed the door and pulled away as soon as the light turned green. And that’s just one example of this country boy’s adventures during 47 years driving a truck up and down the East Coast.

Wrenn drives for Gwaltney Transportation, a division of Smithfield Foods of Smithfield, Va. Company officials figure he’s charted 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.

Wrenn, who credits the “good Lord” with 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.

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 nation.

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 truck spotter the guy charged with backing tractor trailers into and out of the loading dock didn’t show up.

Wrenn recalled that a supervisor yelled over to him: “Hey, can you drive these things?”

‘”Guess I can,” Wrenn said, and climbed in.

He was too young to drive out of state, so he started making local runs, mostly to Norfolk. When he turned 21, his boss asked, “How would you like to go to New York?”

This was before interstate highways and none of the three big rigs had heat or air conditioning. There were also no locks on the rear doors.

“You’d be sitting at a stoplight, and, when you got where you were going, the back doors were swinging wide open, and some of the meat was gone,” he said, shaking his head.

There was more snow in those days, Wrenn said, and the snow plows on the roads weren’t as efficient as they are today. Plowing through meant just that.

Wrenn adopted a motto that he says has helped keep his driving safe stay steady.

“I always tried to stay under 60 or 65,” he said.

Wrenn said he liked going to New York better than driving south. In the city, people worked around the clock. Down south, nobody went to work until 9 a.m.

And those were the days when there was nowhere a black trucker could go inside, sit down and eat. The restaurants that opened their doors to blacks opened their back doors, and he ate with the cooks. Not always a bad thing, he said, smiling.

In the South, discrimination was even worse. But he credits the company for never having made him feel any less of a professional because of his skin color.

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

He remembers one trip into North Carolina. A supervisor was riding with him, and they hadn’t eaten in hours, Wrenn said, but there was nowhere around that served blacks. The supervisor, a white man, improvised.

“We had a couple of pork tips left on the truck, so he went into a store and bought some aluminum foil,” Wrenn recalled. “We wrapped those tips in foil and cooked them on the manifold of the truck.”

It was a trick that Wrenn used many times.

Wrenn was so struck by the differences between New York and Smithfield that one time he took his daughter with him.

Shawn Wrenn was just a little girl then, but her father wanted to show her how fast-paced the lifestyle was, and how some people there slept on the streets, he said.

Last year, of the 160 drivers at Gwaltney, 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 also named the Virginia Professional Driver of the Year by the Virginia Trucking Association.

“We call him the miracle worker,” Worrell said.