"The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it." --Thucydides
I met Leonard and Charlene Testerman several years ago on a cold, snowy day before the Mid America Trucking Show. Stopping in for my annual visit to Mercer Transportation's headquarters in Louisville, KY, I couldn't take my eyes off this glorious black-and-red extended hood Peterbilt in the parking lot. It was the Testermans' pride and joy -- named "Rollin' Thunder" -- and they spent over an hour telling me how they built it, showing off the scrap book they made detailing the refurbishment process in their garage behind their home in Frederick, MD. They didn't know me from Adam, yet they treated me as though I were family.
I later learned from Dale Corum, Mercer's general manager, just how special they were. Besides being the top earners year in and year out (pulling down six figures), the Testermans were extremely well-liked by customers and fellow drivers alike. In fact, many customers asked for them by name to haul their loads -- something that's all too rare in trucking these days. Yet none of it went to their heads -- they were simply the nicest people you'd ever want to meet.
I kept bumping into the Testermans at show truck competitions over the years -- in fact, I made a point of seeking them out. They always gave me warm hellos, no matter that most drivers are rightly wary of reporters wearing tires and carrying cameras. They never ignored me in the company of their peers -- they were never stingy with their handshakes or well-wishes. Visiting with them always made my day.
That's why finding out that Leonard got killed this past May in a freak construction accident at his home came as quite a shock. I simply couldn't believe it. Even worse, he died practically in the arms of Charlene, who'd been by his side literally for 22 years, both at home and on the road. That's the thing about husband and wife teams in this industry -- you bond on a level many marriages simply can't achieve because you live and work together almost every single day.
Leonard and Charlene really made it work -- they tended to be quiet folks but you could really sense how tightly together they were. I remember when Charlene showed off her scrapbook detailing how she and Leonard stretched the frame on Rollin' Thunder, with her doing a lot of the welding. Leonard -- sporting his trademark 1950s-style flattop haircut -- just stood back and let her have the floor, smiling all the while. He knew how much pride Charlene took in the work she'd done on their truck and I could tell he wanted her to have the spotlight all to herself.
So well respected were the two of them that when Bob Martin won a truck makeover from Shell Lubricants for his rig, the firm that did the work -- S&J Truck Sales -- had a picture of Rollin' Thunder painted on the side of his sleeper along with Leonard's name. S&J did a really beauitful job with this testament to Leonard (and a great job with Bob's truck I might add).
I kept telling myself over the years that I needed to get up to their home in Frederick -- only an hour and a half north of where I live -- for a visit, but, as usual, I kept putting it off. Now that chance is gone. It's but one more regret I'll be keeping close at hand for a long, long while, I think.