At 85, Eugene “Smitty” Smith still drives an 18-wheel tractor-trailer truck, picking up milk from area farms and delivering to creameries for Clouse Co. in Frederick.
He has been driving for 56 years, and intends to continue as long as he has good health.
“I do it because I like the exercise, and I like to get out and socialize with the farmers,” Smitty said.
Smitty began delivering milk when it was transported in cans. The farmers would fill the cans with milk and he would haul them to the dairy, unload them and bring the cans back the next day.
Today, farmers use pipelines to dump the milk into trucks, and several farmers use robots to milk cows, Smitty said.
The job has taken him to a lot of places, including Wisconsin, North Carolina and Ohio, and he has clocked at least 1 1/2 million miles on the truck he’s driving, Smitty said.
“There’s many a night I haven’t been home,” Smitty said, tearing up as he recalled not seeing his two sons, Rick and Jeff, often enough. They were asleep when he came home late at night and asleep when he left early the next day.
“I tell you the truth, it’s a rough life hauling milk,” Smitty said. “You leave in the morning, and you never know if you’ll break down.”
Some routes are easier than others. You make eight or 10 stops on some routes, others require only one or two, and it’s in all kinds of weather, he said. Combine that with inconsiderate motorists who cut you off without warning, driving a big truck can be challenging, Smitty said.
“He’s still a better driver than most people I know,” Clouse Co.’s terminal manager Kimberly Young said.
“He’s always had that kind of work ethic, working seven days a week, and he handles that truck just as good today as he did many years.
“But he can be a handful. He’s not afraid to speak his mind.”
Smitty works part-time. He doesn’t wear glasses, except to read the newspaper, he said, and his workmates wonder how he is able to read the small numbers on the milk tank gauges and dipsticks.
“I make a mistake once in a while, but everybody does that,” he said. “I’ve been fortunate that my eyesight is still good, and I just passed a DOT (Department of Transportation) physical.”
The physical is required to drive a truck.
To aspiring truck drivers, Smitty said if you want to spend a lot of time away from home, then delivering milk across state lines is the right job.
“We always say it’s not a job, it’s an adventure,” said Young, who has worked with Smitty for 28 years, starting when she was a teenager.
“Smitty has bailed me out of a lot of jams, coming in on his days off and being asked at the last minute, or when someone calls in sick,” Young said. “I keep trying to get him to adopt me.”
Driving an 18-wheeler in the late 60s, early 70s was enjoyable, when traffic was not like it is today, Smitty said.
He has not had any major accidents, only a couple of fender benders, Smitty said. Driving on the Washington Beltway “gets your nerves riled up. It’s busy all the time, and there’s no slack, and one thing I want to say is, I wish people would stop talking on the telephone and drive,” he said.
“I’ve seen some fellows going down the road working the computer,” Smitty said.
As for unforgettable experiences, “I’d like to forget about a lot of them,” he said.
He recalled the blizzard of 1996 when he was working for W. H. Mercer: “I left one morning and was gone for four days and three nights,” he said.
“My father is an extremely loyal, hard-working, humble man who enjoys immensely having simple conversations with ordinary folks of all types,” Rick said. “Part of his job satisfaction all these years has been his love of animals and the many people he gets to meet and talk to.”
He has been on the road a long time, the driver said.
“I don’t know how much longer I’ll be doing it. It depends on my health, but so far, I’ve had excellent health,” Smitty said.