by Nori Gale
As a driver transporting RVs across the 48 U.S. states, Doug Bicknell of Transport US has always taken his German shepherds on the road. “He has been doing this for close to 20 years and everyone in town, even other companies know who he and Tucker are,” explains Jenni Miller, CEO of Transport US.
Bicknell started driving in 2007. He was working in Florida for a telephone company when his neighbor talked him into traveling to Goshen, Indiana to work for a company founded by Miller’s father. “Her dad was a great person and the president.” Miller then started Transport US in 2020, a few years after her father's retirement.
Bicknell drove for an outfit called “Quality and Foremost” prior to joining Miller’s company. As one of the first to join her new company, his driver number was and still is 0003. At that time, Bicknell had another German shepherd on the road with him called Smoky. Sadly, about a year into his job, Smoky passed away. Bicknell describes a trip from California back home: “I was mourning the death of Smoky when I saw an ad for shepherds for sale in the paper down in Oklahoma so I drove there and saw Lex, named after my favorite radio talk show, Lex and Terry, and adopted him right on the spot.” About a year later, Bicknell picked up another shepherd, TK, to keep Lex company. “I love the freedom of having a dog. I’m not married and I’ve always loved dogs and I’ve always loved shepherds. Going up and down these highways, 14, 15 years, having these three dogs to keep me company has been great.”
How do you make the decision to become a truck driver?
“The company I was working for, based out of Miami, was a pretty big national cable company. I was working in Brooksville, Florida, which is just south of Tampa, and they were moving the operation to another location and that wasn’t something I wanted to do.” A friend of Bicknell’s kept bringing up the idea to become a truck driver until one day he gave in, bought himself a truck, got outfitted for the job, and headed north to Indiana for a new career. “I tell you what. For a lot of these drivers, including me, you get hooked, you get hooked. I don’t know what it is, you just get hooked on it.”
What is it that makes a person want to be a truck driver and how friendships play a role
What Bicknell most treasures about his time on the road is the friendships he’s made with other drivers, whether they are Transport US drivers, or those he’s met on the road delivering goods for other companies. “You’d think it would be ‘OH, I get to see the country, but I’ll tell you what the biggest thing is, actually, for me. It is the friendships.” Bicknell has met many different kinds of people out on the road and built deep friendships over the years in the business.
“Some of my best friends I have found on the road and it ended up either we ran together or met up at truck stops or rest areas along the way where we park and gather to catch up. It’s all about friendships for me anyway.”
When you’re a driver, you’re naturally thrown together with other people doing the same thing and, from that commonality, relationships are built. “We’re on the road so much - you’re in your truck - you don’t go find a hotel every night - you’re sleeping in the back of your truck.” For Bicknell, those friendships help break up the routine - he knows his routes and where he’ll stop for the night and having friends and conversation to look forward to at the end of the day helps keep things interesting. “Truck drivers just like to talk.”
There are many different ways to be a truck driver
Bicknell’s job has changed over the last few years and he now provides RV shuttling, traveling to a manufacturer in Indiana to bring the “fifth wheel” RVs to Transport US yards for other drivers to ship to the dealers. “We hire independent contractors to drive the RVs to all these dealers around the country.”
When he traveled across the country, he drove RVs to dealerships. Now he works locally and brings them to local pick-up lots for his company.
Elkhart County, Indiana is a hub for RV production and where more than 80% of the nation’s RVs are made. So for Bicknell, being in the RV transport business and living in Goshen, he is surrounded by folks who are making a living in the very same field. Almost every week, Bicknell runs into somebody in Goshen who asks him, “Hey, you still got your two shepherds?” These are people he doesn’t know, but have heard about him and his dogs. Living the trucker life, he’s surrounded by his community.
How does having a dog on the road make truck drivers’ jobs more fun?
For Bicknell, Tucker is a constant source of entertainment during his workday. “Tucker is a big hit wherever I go and pick up these units. He hangs out the window and everybody knows him so they’ve got biscuits, they have all kinds of treats for when we show up. I had one lady who had meatloaf and chicken tenders. One of the girls - she just retired - worked for Keystone RV which is a manufacturer of RVs - she’d be cooking something and her boyfriend would go ‘Is that for Tucker?’”
Bicknell finds dog lovers wherever he goes.. “He’s a big hit no matter what yard I go to. Little guard shacks where we check out - they all have little biscuits for old Tucker. He’s a pretty popular buddy.”
For Bicknell, the stops he makes along the way on any given trip are touchpoints. “When we pick up these RV units, there are different types of RVs in different yards. In every one of those yards they have treats ready for Tucker.”
It’s not easy to find a dog who’s going to be a mellow puppy
When Bicknell went back to his same shepherd breeder and picked out Tucker, he asked for a gentle dog with a calm disposition. The breeder pointed to Tucker and said “This one right here.” Not so much, as Bicknell explains, “I’ll tell you what, I named him the right name, and it rhymes with a bad word.” Tucker was full of mischief for those first few years, nothing remotely resembling calm. “Tucker was just ornery and wouldn’t listen. He was like a bratty little kid was what he was.” Bicknell says the key to making Tucker come around was just patience. “He’s still a handful, but he’s just become a great dog, and the most affectionate dog that I’ve ever owned.”
What does it mean to run together as a truck driver?
When you’re out on the road as a truck driver, a fun way to build community and make the long days shorter is to run with other drivers. Bicknell describes this with other RV delivery drivers: “They get an RV and I get an RV and a lot of times we’ll be going to the same dealership or one in close proximity - 100 or 200 miles apart - and then we just come back together and it makes life a lot easier.” They sometimes chat by CB radio on the road, and it’s like traveling in a caravan. “There were some times that some of us drivers would be eight, nine, ten of us all going in the same direction - stop at the same places, get meals together.” They also set up shop in the yard, or in a parking lot, and have a cookout together with a portable gas grill. Sometimes they play horseshoes and corn-hole during down time. “I’ve had two close friends that I’ve run with steady throughout the years.” As Bicknell explains, you’ve got to get along and have the same ideas as the people you’re going to caravan with. That’s what makes it workable and worthwhile to team up in that way.
Now that he’s transporting RVs locally for Transport US, he can run with his two best friends. “I usually work from 7 in the morning until 7 at night five days a week, 200-400 miles per day.” Bicknell is still doing transport, but it’s locally now with no overnights. “I work with two of my best friends ever since day one when I got up here. It’s a father/son team. They’ve been shuttling since I’ve known them, and I help them out all the time. We’re best friends and we’d do anything for each other.” Now Bicknell is doing similar work, so the three of them work together in a more formal way.
Can driving a truck be about seeing the sights?
When transporting RVs, Bicknell would typically travel anywhere from 450 to 600 miles a day. “When you know the roads and you know your areas, you’ve got your spot that you’re going to each day.” When he first started out as a truck driver, he marveled at others who would work their trips around visiting famous landmarks across the country. “Some people like to stop and see Lake of the Ozarks or National Parks, but me, I just like to come right straight back and get another load.”
This changed later in Bicknell’s career. When he did stop and see the sights, he found it more relaxing and enjoyed his work more, giving himself those opportunities to enjoy the view, getting more out of being on the road. To get to California was a four day trip. “It got kind of old, just doing that same old routine where I’d drive straight through without enjoying the sights.” When Bicknell made this shift in his thinking and allowed himself time to enjoy sights along the way, he thought a lot about where he would want to live when he finally retired. This kind of framework for his thinking gave his travels new purpose and made sightseeing more enjoyable. “There’s certain areas, like Utah: I found out that Utah is a beautiful state.” He also fell in love with the landscape in Idaho and Western Montana.
What’s it like to have a dog in your truck on long trips?
Bicknell drives a crew cab one ton truck and had a special bed made in the back for Tucker. “He’s usually right on top of the cubby hole, right next to me when we’re on the road, sitting right beside me looking out. My dogs will bark at cows and rabbits and other critters we see on the road, but other than that, they’re just fine to sit beside me and enjoy the view.” As soon as he hits the Goshen area, “They could be in a dead sleep and they wake up.” The shepherds know instinctively when they’re homeward bound and get excited about it. Tucker also knows all the spots where he gets treats. “He’ll sit beside me and wait for that blinker to go on and he’ll look right at the blinker and he knows we’re about to turn into a yard where the guard’s got a treat for him.” Tucker also loves and instinctively knows when they are near a yard that Bicknell frequents and gets excited in the truck because it’s an open spot where he knows he’ll be able to run free.
One thing that Bicknell loves about having Tucker along on the road is his loyal and loving companionship. “Every time I leave the truck and come back, he acts like he hasn’t seen me for weeks. He’s the first dog I’ve ever had - when he gets up here and gets on me - he hugs me. He gets underneath me and just starts nosing me. It’s annoying and touching at the same time.”
“I think German Shepherds are one of God’s great creations. I can read Tucker and he can read me better than any other dog that I’ve had. He’s a crazy dog and he’s a beautiful dog. I couldn’t ask for anything better than old Tucker here.”