Usher Transport
Usher Transport Tony Stinnett With Truck 1 Cropped

Favorite son: Stinnett up for NTTC award named after Usher founder

April 5, 2021
68-year-older Paducah, Kentucky trucker considered William A. Usher—who also hailed from Paducah—a mentor and friend

Tony Stinnett wasn’t the first driver hired by the late William A. Usher Sr., longtime owner and president of Usher Transport, but he may have been Usher’s favorite—almost like a third son. 

“I was very close to him,” Stinnett said.

“He was my mentor, my boss and my friend for many years.”

Stinnett insists he’s doesn’t know why Usher took an interest in his success, but he’s grateful. Their connection surely was strengthened by their shared hometown of Paducah, Kentucky, where Stinnett still lives, and where Usher first helped his father, founder Harlan Usher, build the company into what is today.

And as with many considerations in Usher’s considerable career in the tank truck industry, which included a stint as chairman of National Tank Truck Carriers (NTTC), Usher, who died in 2016 at the age of 86, knew what he was doing.

Stinnett, a two-time driver of the year in Kentucky, is going on 46 years at Usher Transport, during which time he’s logged more than 5 million safe miles; and proven he’s more than worthy of claiming the honor that bears his mentor’s name—the “William A. Usher Sr. Professional Tank Truck Driver of the Year Award.”

“We know Tony’s got what it takes,” said Beau Mosley, Usher’s executive vice president of safety and human resources.

“He’s top shelf and as good as they come, so he’s certainly worthy of it.”

That’s why he was one of eight 2019-20 Professional Tank Truck Driver of the Year finalists revealed in January 2020. NTTC intended to name a winner in May of last year at its 75th annual conference, but that was cancelled due to the coronavirus, leading the association to suspend the program and instead crown one of the current candidates at its 2021 Annual Conference, currently slated for June 13-15 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Stinnett is the best driver Mosley knows, pulling tanks or any other trailers. Many of his accomplishments, Mosley says, are hard to fathom, including a run of safe miles that could circle the globe more than 200 times.

“There is no way you can chalk that up to luck, over that length of time, so it’s definitely his skill level and attention to detail,” Mosley maintained. “He always says: ‘Take your time, don’t get in a rush.’ That’s the philosophy he believes in, and it has proven to be fact. He’s the proof. So he’s a clear standout for us.”

Last cowboy

Stinnett, 68, was born in Western Kentucky, where he resides today with wife Lori. Their home is 6 miles from Usher’s Paducah terminal.

The Kentucky native grew up in trucking. He cherishes an old photograph of himself, still in diapers, playing with a toy truck. His father, Frank, was a truck driver, and Stinnett recalls accompanying him on a run to California, when he was around 10 years old, that felt so long he thought they’d never make it home.

“That made me really respect what he did,” Stinnett said.

And the allure of operating a big rig of his own made him want to do the same. “At one time, it was a profession that was really admired,” Stinnett said. “Truck drivers were like the last American cowboys. Not so much anymore, but at one time, especially in the 1970s, it was a highly sought-after career. There were songs about driving trucks, and movies and television shows, and they all made it seem really exciting.”

On Christmas Eve, 1974, he joined his father—who everyone knew as “Pappy”—as a driver at Usher Transport, and dad and son worked there together until 1983. “It was great,” Stinnett said. “He taught me everything I know about trucking. We ran over the road together, and it was it was an experience most guys never have.

“We had a great relationship. He was more like my best friend. But it was a little harder working with him when we both were dealing with bad road conditions, because he’d be more worried about me, and I’d be more worried about him, and it’s hard to pay attention to what you’re doing if you’re watching out for somebody else.”

Measured pace

Stinnett’s first job was hauling cars for a dealership. After joining Usher, he spent time as a long-haul driver, and even pulled dry vans and flatbeds—back when Usher still had those vehicles—before moving to liquid tankers full time.

In all that time, he’s never found a reason to move to another company.

“They treat you like family,” Stinnett said. “Any problem you have, they’ll work with you, advise you and help you any way they can.”

These days, Stinnett mainly sticks to two dedicated routes, hauling waste from a chemical plant in Calvert City, Kentucky to Cape Girardeau, Missouri; and transporting caustic soda from Calvert City to a paper mill in Midland, Kentucky. Those assignments allow him to make it home most nights and weekends, and give him more time to spend with his four children, nine grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

Usher’s fleet includes approximately 240 drivers, counting the 30 in its rail services division, 400 trailers and 250 trucks. Usher’s drivers primarily are owner-operators, but most of the drivers at its Paducah terminal are company drivers. Stinnett spent 27 years as a company driver before making the switch to owner-operator, a lifestyle change he said gave him more (well-earned) freedom to trick out his prized possession—a 1986 Peterbilt 359 long-hood sleeper, which he says is the ’57 Chevy of heavy-duty trucks.

Stinnett has put well over 2 million miles on the tractor, and still it’s rolling strong.

“It has been meticulously maintained, so it’s in really good shape,” Mosley said. “You would never guess it’s 37 years old.”

The key, Stinnett says, is routine maintenance, which includes replacing every rubber component “every three to four years.” He changed out every hose in the truck last year. There are, however, a few clues to the classic’s age, including its vintage Caterpillar engine, which Stinnett recently had rebuilt. Caterpillar no longer manufactures engines for on-highway trucks, and the engine doesn’t meet California’s strict emissions regulations, so Stinnett isn’t authorized to run his beloved Peterbilt to the West Coast.

But wherever he goes, he’s one of the safest drivers on the road.

“My key to it is just to never get in hurry,” Stinnett said. “When you’re rushing, that’s when things go bad.”

Well-deserved honor

Stinnett refuses to let a situation go south, a steadfast commitment that he’s maintained across six decades. So it’s only fitting he was Usher Transport’s first nominee for the award that memorializes one of its most important figures.

“We have to win it because it’s named after our founder, Bill Usher Sr., who also played a large role in building NTTC into what it is today, and to have an award named after him is very prestigious,” Mosley said. “So we feel strongly we deserve to have one sitting on our shelf—and have one of our drivers named the winner.”

If he wins, and serves as NTTC’s driver ambassador, he wants to lobby for more truck parking, and he’s already brainstorming ways to help alleviate the driver shortage, including luring in younger drivers with “relay” runs in which drivers from different terminals “hand off” cross-country loads. “Younger drivers don’t want to be out so long,” Stinnett said. “That’s out of the question. So maybe relaying a load would be an answer.”

He’s already proven his effectiveness at promoting causes. He helped champion the adoption of electronic logging devices (ELDs) at Usher before the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s ELD rules took effect in 2017.

Stinnett wants to win, too, but not for himself.

Securing Usher’s first William A. Usher Sr. award is the best way he can think of to honor the legacy of a man he so greatly admires.

“It’s the biggest honor I could ever imagine,” he said.

About the Author

Jason McDaniel

Jason McDaniel, based in the Houston TX area, has more than 20 years of experience as an award-winning journalist. He spent 15 writing and editing for daily newspapers, including the Houston Chronicle, and began covering the commercial vehicle industry in 2018. He was named editor of Bulk Transporter and Refrigerated Transporter magazines in July 2020.