By Carmen K. Sisson | Randall-Reilly/J.B. Hunt Transport Services
Driver profile: Alexander “Grey” Feaster
Alexander “Grey” Feaster has all the symptoms of a man in love. He can’t stop talking about the new lady in his life — her soft voice, her gentle ways, her natural beauty.
“If I could fit a gold ring around my tractor and bolt it in place so it wouldn’t fall off, I would marry my truck,” he says, laughing.
I can stand up and turn around in a circle; I have space to roam around. That means more than I think most people who aren’t in this profession would understand. ~ Grey Feaster, driver
Feaster, 39, just received the 2015 Freightliner Cascadia Evolution, the newest member of the J.B. Hunt Transport Services fleet. As an over the road (OTR) driver, he spends three to six months at a time in his truck, so the Evolution’s comfort was a pleasant surprise.
After only two weeks, he has nothing but praise for the new model.
He has had several 72-inch sleepers throughout his seven years with J.B. Hunt, but none like this one, he says. He was happy with his previous truck, the 2014 International ProStar, but once he sat in the driver’s seat of the Cascadia Evolution, there was no looking back.
He especially likes its roominess, speed, and fuel efficiency.
“I can stand up and turn around in a circle; I have space to roam around,” Feaster says. “That means more than I think most people who aren’t in this profession would understand.”
His miniature cooler and cooking supplies fit easily, with room to spare thanks to Freightliner’s efficient use of vertical space. There is storage for his Xbox gaming console, DVD and audio book collection, and a slide-out desk that can be used for a work station or dinner table. He has room to take his boots off at night, he jokes.
“It turns the truck from a work vehicle into a home,” Feaster says. “I can take along all of the things that make it pleasant to be here when I’m not driving.”
It simply has more power than any truck I’ve ever been in. ~ Grey Feaster, driver
And he won’t be missing the ProStar’s bed, which he affectionately calls a two-inch thick “prison mattress.” The Cascadia Evolution’s bunk area features a five-inch thick mattress that is three inches longer, and Feaster says he is sleeping better than ever.
But it’s not enough to just hand a driver the keys to a new truck, he says. It’s the whole package that lowers his stress levels and allows him to make better use of his time.
Feaster, a resident of Ponca City, Okla., covers the southeast, from Denver to the Eastern seaboard, and Canada to the Mexican border. He drives an average of 650 miles per day.
The 475-horsepower, DD15 engine “simply has more power than any truck I’ve ever been in,” he says.
The increased power doesn’t sacrifice fuel efficiency either. Feaster says he can pull 45,000-pound loads over hilly, non-mountainous terrain while still averaging seven mpg. With light loads of 20,000 pounds or less, he is averaging 9.8 mpg, without a tailwind, which he calls “absolutely mind-boggling.” A veteran of the road, he is accustomed to knowing where he needs to refuel, but lately, he stops at his usual places only to find he still has half a tankful.
Another stress reliever is the switch from the Wingman collision mitigation radar system to the Meritor OnGuard.
The truck has good lines; it looks good sitting there … My truck is a lot nicer than most. ~ Grey Feaster, driver
“The Wingman was beeping at me incessantly all day,” Feaster says. “I hated it worse than most people hate the idea of hellfire. This Meritor OnGuard performs all the same functions so quietly. … It’s a little more forgiving. The Wingman system is horrible.”
The white Cascadia Evolution — trimmed in black and carrying J.B. Hunt’s yellow logos — catches the eyes of his peers, too. Feaster swears that at least 30 drivers have asked to explore the bunk and try out his driver’s seat. One even asked to try out his mattress. Another begged (unsuccessfully) to take the Evolution for a spin around the parking lot.
“The truck has good lines; it looks good sitting there,” Feaster says. “They turn and look over their shoulders at what they’re driving, and they look at what I’m driving. … My truck is a lot nicer than most.”
And though some might laugh, Feaster has even named his new lady love, just as he names all of his trucks. Every truck has a story, every truck has a personality, he says. You just have to take it for a drive and figure it out. The ride was so smooth and quiet, he thought he had hit upon the perfect moniker.
“I offered to call this truck ‘Princess,’ and she didn’t like that at all — I kid you not, she instantly threw a check engine light,” Feaster says. “I said, ‘Would you be amenable to Belle?’ And the light went out, and the truck just went smoothly down the road.”
But in all seriousness, Feaster admits that before the new truck, he was getting burned out on the profession. Sometimes the money was the only thing that kept him going.
Now he tells everyone: J.B. Hunt is about driver comfort, not just good money. And he points to the new truck as real-life proof.
I will go the distance. I know for a fact that J.B. Hunt cares about me, because they gave me Belle. And Belle is a beautiful beast. ~ Grey Feaster, driver
He even wrote an enthusiastic “love letter,” published Oct. 1, 2014 on the J.B. Hunt Truck Talk blog.
“I know there are MANY other J.B. Hunt drivers who deserve her more than I,” he writes. “But how I do thank you for your kindness. I will treat her with the care and respect she serves — and more besides.”
It has brought the fun back to the profession, he says. Every morning, he wakes up eager to slide into the driver’s seat. Any thoughts of leaving trucking are in the past.
“I will go the distance,” Feaster says. “I know for a fact that J.B. Hunt cares about me, because they gave me Belle. And Belle is a beautiful beast.”
Driver profile: Gaston Hansley
Gaston Hansley holds a special distinction at J.B. Hunt Transport Services: He is the first driver to receive the 2015 Freightliner Cascadia Evolution, the newest member of the company fleet.
Hansley, 60, began his trucking career in 1987 and has spent the last decade with J.B. Hunt. Still, he has only been over-the-road (OTR) since February, so he was surprised to learn he had been chosen as the first key holder for the new rig.
I’m a pretty good-sized guy — six feet tall and weighing 310 pounds. I needed space. Now I can sit in the back and enjoy my truck. I have more room to stretch. ~ Gaston Hansley, driver
“I’m glad I wasn’t driving at the time (J.B. Hunt called), because it was a major shock,” Hansley says. “They said I was the number one driver in the (southeast) region — number one in on-time service, number one in fuel mileage, and number one in miles over the last six months. I was never trying to compete. I was just out here to make a living.”
Hansley received the Evolution — a welcome replacement for his 2014 International ProStar — on Aug. 29, 2014. Since that time, he has found a lot to like about his new home away from home.
Hansley covers the territory east of Interstate 35, from Duluth, Minnesota to Laredo, Texas. He averages approximately 2,750 miles a week and has already put 18,500 miles on the new truck.
One of the biggest things he likes about the Evolution is the amount of space it offers — 24 inches between the seats and 90 inches of headroom in the raised-roof sleeper.
Hansley tends to spend a month at a time on the road before heading home to Chester, South Carolina for five days. Typically, he brings along 15 pairs of paints and 15 shirts, along with an ice chest and other essentials. Now he can hang his clothes up instead of moving them back and forth from the bed in the daytime to the passenger seat at night. He even has space beneath his bunk, where he stores his toiletry kit and underclothes.
“I’m a pretty good-sized guy — six feet tall and weighing 310 pounds,” Hansley says. “I needed space. Now I can sit in the back and enjoy my truck. I have more room to stretch.”
Because Hansley has diabetes, it is important for him to eat frequent, nutritious meals, and that’s easier in the new truck, too, he says. He keeps raw meats and frozen water in his cooler, and now that he has a refrigerator, he is able to keep quick foods like lunch meat and fruit. He is even planning to buy a small microwave. It’s nice to pull over and make a sandwich instead of eating peanut butter crackers every day, he says.
He has similar praise for the Evolution’s performance, from the handling to the improved fuel mileage. He likes the smoother clutch and easy takeoff, and he believes the truck is more stable in high winds.
Lately, he is pulling heavier loads, averaging 42,000 to 46,000 pounds, and he is pleased with how well the Evolution climbs hills, especially since he is averaging 7 miles per gallon. He only got 7.5 miles per gallon with the ProStar, even when hauling loads as light as 18,000 pounds. On a good day, the Evolution is giving him 8.3 miles per gallon, which is “unheard of fuel mileage,” he says.
I closed my curtains to go to bed, and I tell you, I had people out there looking at my truck and talking about my truck until way after midnight, when the rain started. It stands out as something they haven’t seen. It’s a show truck. ~ Gaston Hansley, driver
Other drivers seem to like the new truck as well, and its sleek, aerodynamic design — featuring chassis side fairings, black skirting, 20-inch side extenders, and rear wheel covers — is a head-turner.
Recently, Hansley stopped in Hagerstown, Maryland, taking his place alongside other drivers. Almost every one of them wanted to examine the Freightliner, and Hansley was happy to oblige. Many thought he was an owner-operator. Others had only one question: “If I come to J.B. Hunt, will they give me a nice truck?”
“I closed my curtains to go to bed, and I tell you, I had people out there looking at my truck and talking about my truck until way after midnight, when the rain started,” Hansley says, laughing. “It stands out as something they haven’t seen. It’s a show truck.”
The new rig makes him feel like J.B. Hunt is listening to its drivers and putting them first.
“Right now, this company is two thumbs up,” Hansley says. “J.B. Hunt is a great company to work for. It’s a career company.”
Right now, this company is two thumbs up. J.B. Hunt is a great company to work for. It’s a career company. ~ Gaston Hansley, driver
And because of the recent changes, Hansley intends to stay with J.B. Hunt until he retires.
This week, though, retirement is far from his mind. He has a 1,900-mile trip to complete, and he is looking forward to getting home, where he can show the new truck to his family. His wife, Florence, and his eight-year-old grandson, Kadarius, have seen photographs, but they are eager to see it in-person.
“I run hard so I can enjoy the family life when I get home,” Hansley says. “They come first.”
Driver profile: Kimberly Bracknell
Kimberly Bracknell hails from a long line of truck drivers, with both her grandfather and her uncle logging thousands of miles behind the wheel. After years in the restaurant and corporate industries, she was tired of the day-to-day monotony, and in 2006, she decided to follow in her family’s footsteps.
From the very beginning, she loved the office view, loved the freedom, loved the career. Then, she was assigned the 2014 International ProStar. Bracknell, 39, had always driven Freightliners, and she loathed the International so much that within six months of driving it, she was seriously considering another job.
The room makes all the difference. It seems like a minor thing, but it’s major. You have room to move around. You don’t have the stress of being cramped up and feeling claustrophobic. ~ Kimberly Bracknell, driver
She was surprised in late August when she learned she was going to receive the 2015 Freightliner Cascadia Evolution, the latest member of the J. B. Hunt Transport Services fleet. She was in the top two percent of drivers in the southeast region, they told her. She deserved to be recognized for her safety record and driving accomplishments.
She immediately felt at home in the new truck. And now, there is no place she would rather be.
Bracknell drives over-the-road (OTR), spending three weeks out and three days at home in Cincinnati, Ohio. She drives an average of 400 miles per day.
The main thing she appreciates about the Cascadia Evolution is the abundant storage and living space.
Bracknell was diagnosed in 2007 with stage IV non-Hodgkin lymphoma, and she was given only six months to live. Doctors said she might never walk or drive again, but she refused to see her diagnosis as a death sentence. Throughout her treatments, she maintained her positive outlook, and she is now in remission. The first thing she asked her doctor was, “When can I go back to work?”
The Evolution’s ample space helps Bracknell stay healthy on the road, she says. She has more room for cookware, her cooler, and healthy food, allowing her to eschew truck stop fare for nutritious meals like soups and salads. With the International ProStar, her only exercise was walking, but now she has room to carry 15-pound weights and exercise bands, which she can use in the privacy of her truck to maintain her strength.
The truck’s roominess has provided an extra, unexpected health benefit: She is sleeping better than ever and feels more rested.
“The room makes all the difference,” Bracknell says. “It seems like a minor thing, but it’s major. You have room to move around. You don’t have the stress of being cramped up and feeling claustrophobic.”
Then there are the practical benefits. Because she covers such a large territory and is on the road so long, she needs clothing for all types of weather. Now she can bring sweaters, thermal underwear, and clothes for every occasion.
She also has high praise for the truck’s performance. The miles per gallon are better than the International and the truck pulls great, she says. Now, when hauling light loads, she averages approximately 8 miles per gallon. The worst mileage she has seen was 6.2 miles per gallon, when hauling a fully maxed out load of 79,000 pounds.
All the J.B. Hunt drivers are giving it looks,” Bracknell says, laughing. ‘They’re like, ‘How did you get a new truck? Wonder if they’ll give me one?’ ~ Kimberly Bracknell, driver
She has only two minor quibbles: She would like a mount for her flat screen TV, and she prefers the International’s Wingman collision mitigation radar to the new Meritor OnGuard.
But all in all, Bracknell is pleased with her new ride. It makes her feel like J.B. Hunt officials have paid attention to drivers’ complaints and care about their comfort and happiness.
The flashy package is catching the eyes of her colleagues as well.
“All the J.B. Hunt drivers are giving it looks,” Bracknell says, laughing. “They’re like, ‘How did you get a new truck? Wonder if they’ll give me one?”
And these days, leaving the industry is far from her mind. She likes the new truck, she likes the recent pay raise, and she likes the consistent miles she gets from the company.
But most of all, she likes being on the road, far from the boredom and stress of a corporate desk job.
“It feels like freedom,” she says.