INDIANAPOLIS—Ron Baird waited 57 years for this moment.
And when the G&D Trucking/Hoffman Transportation driver’s well-deserved time in the tank truck industry spotlight finally arrived, he embraced it in the state he’s always called home—and where his love of trucking was born.
The 76-year-old native of Thorntown, Ind., was crowned the 2020-21 National Tank Truck Carriers Professional Tank Truck Driver of the Year on Monday at the JW Marriott Indianapolis, ending more than 18 months of suspense after the driver of the year program was suspended last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“It’s indeed a great honor to be selected as this year’s Professional Tank Truck Driver of the Year,” Baird said after accepting the William A. Usher, Sr. Trophy and donning his championship jacket with help from 2018-19 winner Barbara Herman. “I feel like it’s a lifetime achievement, and I’d like to thank the Hoffman family and (G&D/Hoffman director of operations) Jerry Curl for nominating me and supporting me through all of this.”
Baird emerged from an elite group of Champion Finalists profiled by Bulk Transporter in a series of stories leading up to the 2021 Annual Conference in Indianapolis, including Grammar Logistics’ James Ellis, Liquid Cargo’s Ron Evans, J&M Tank Lines’ Darrien Henderson, Highway Transport’s Alen Smailovic, Quality Carriers’ Abdul Standfield, Trimac Transportation’s Ed Stasyshyn, and Usher Transport’s Tony Stinnett.
“Every driver here is worthy of this award,” Baird said. “Our goals are the same: Protect the motoring public, protect the reputation of the tank truck industry and our individual companies, drive like a professional, dress like a professional, treat everybody with courtesy—and try to improve the image of tank truck drivers.”
Baird first drove a truck on his family’s Indiana farm at 5 years old, taking the wheel while older family members collected hay, and he graduated to big rigs as a teen. He began driving professionally as soon as he turned 18 years old in 1963, and bought his first truck—a 1960 International Harvester Emeryville—before he was 19.
Baird’s first experience hauling dry bulk was with Parker Feed Service, who recruited him to drive a cabover Ford straight truck because they heard about his farm prowess. And after buying his Harvester, he went to work for Paddack Brothers.
That first truck purchase led to 34 years as an owner-operator. During that time he spent 11 years hauling foodgrade products for Kreider Truck Service and 12 years with Dyna Bulk, before it was bought by Bulkmatic. At one point, Baird had 13 trucks, three trailers, two of which were pneumatics, his own shop and a wash rack.
Baird also ran heavy equipment for the U.S. Navy’s construction division in 1969 and 1970, and spent two years hauling classic cars for the rich and famous—which paid well but took him away from home for too long—before going to work for G&D/Hoffman in May 1998, when the company still had only 28 drivers.
He now boasts more than 7.1 million accident-free miles.
“I’ve pulled tanks for 55 years, with 23 years as a company driver, it’s been a great provider for my family, and I enjoy it—still to this day,” Baird said. “My No. 1 goal every day when I get up is to get there safely and not hurt anyone, or cause anyone to get hurt. Safety is my first priority because I know in a split second, I could lose the privilege to do the job that I love.”
Baird’s love of trucking also drives him to compete in trucking shows, where he’s collected more than 180 awards as a charter member of the National Association of Show Trucks. He’s also a 2019 America’s Road Team finalist and 2017 recipient of the American Truck Historical Society’s Golden Achievement Award.
In addition to his trucking achievements, Baird serves as a church deacon and bus driver, volunteers with St. Jude’s and assists Word War II veterans—while still making time for his nine grandchildren, and four great grandchildren.
“Everything he does is above and beyond for a professional driver,” Curl said. “He’s the first one to help, he’s the first one to offer assistance, and he just does everything right all the time.
“You can tell the words he speaks are true in his heart.”
Past winners of the William A. Usher, Sr. Trophy include:
- 2013-14—James Starr, Groendyke Transport
- 2014-15—Bobby Weller, Hahn Transportation
- 2015-16—Darryl Nowell, Eagle Transport
- 2016-17—Todd Stine, Carbon Express
- 2017-18—Paul Emerson, Foodliner
- 2018-19—Barbara Herman, K-Limited Carrier
- 2019-20—Program suspended due to pandemic