I had the good fortune to interview Chuck Racine a while back -- he's a veteran owner-operator with close to 35 years worth of trucking under his belt, and we're not just talking about hauling freight here. He's a long-haul driver for The Paxton Companies, a moving firm in Springfield, VA, so his job involves not just wheel time on the highway, but loading and unloading a 53-foot trailer worth of heavy furniture, hiring local workers to help him with that loading/unloading process, all while being the point of contact with the customer -- literally eyeball to eyeball, at their home.
It's far from an easy job, but Racine told me he's done very well at it -- and stayed at it for nearly four decades now -- for two simple reasons. The first is he believes himself to be a professional; not just a truck driver, but a businessman who is out to provide the best service for the money. And it's not a surprise to learn that many customers, when they call Paxton for a move, request him by name.
But even more importantly is the second reason: he shares a close working relationship with his company. Paxton trained him and bailed him out of some tough spots, while he in turn delivered high qaulity service to Paxton's customers day in and day out. It's that working bond, he believes, that's brought both him and the company success, Racine told me, and he gave me a story to back it up.
"I had my tractor stolen in 1988 in San Diego, CA - that‘s about as scary a moment as you can have out here,” he said. So he called up Paxton's founder and then-CEO Albert Lee Paxton and told him he'd have to buy a new truck then and there. "He asked how I was set for money and I told him I‘d have to really dip into my savings to get one -- it would be a bit of a burden. So he told me, no, just go pick the truck I wanted and he‘d send a check for it. After three or four months, I got my insurance check for my stolen truck and I tried to pay him back with interest. He only took back the money he fronted me. You want to talk about why I stayed with one company and built a career here, there‘s no better example than that.”
That's but one of the ways Paxton has forged a long-term driver corps willing to go the extra mile for the company and its customers. Racine noted that he started as a mover's helper at Paxton while going to college in 1974, but quickly moved up to driving straight trucks by 1975 along with fellow rookie drivers John Gauthier and Paul Poucher. Their dispatcher at Paxton, Mack MacReath, put all three through their paces while carefully gauging their capabilities and interests.
“Mack was a great guy, someone who defines the word ‘mentor‘,” Racine told me. “He would pay you a day‘s wages to come in on a Saturday and practice backing up a trailer around the company‘s warehouse building all day long so you could get really good at it. If your truck broke down, no matter where, you‘d call him from a pay phone and he‘d get you to a local shop somewhere to get it fixed.”
All three drivers ended up in different careers - Gauthier went on to be head of operations at Paxton, with Poucher becoming the company‘s long distance dispatcher. Racine stayed in trucking, becoming an owner-operator. Basically, Paxton gave each of them choices in how they wanted to pursue their careers, and that flexibility kept their skill and experience at the company for the long-term
Most of all, though, Racine appreciates how his career has influenced his personal life. "I'm proudest that my work and success at Paxton have enabled my wife Cyndi and I to raise two wonderful daughters, one of which has recently returned from Oxford University in England, studying in Politics and Philosophy. My youngest is just beginning her high school at a local parochial school," he said. "Of all my actions in life, it is of making these things a reality for my kids that I'm proudest of. It makes the pain of carrying all of those pianos go away."