I couldn’t write these stories if I didn’t believe in the man. He had to be a folk-hero type, a man who knew his industry and one who little ones could learn from.
Oh, he told me the stories over the years, and I thought them remarkable…so much so that when I told them to our grandkids and saw their reaction, I decided to “put them out there,” in books.
You see, Paul Wesley Gates was born in Humnoke, Arkansas, in a one-room house aside a field, where his parents worked long hours, picking cotton. According to him, it was ‘so far back in the boonies, they had to pipe in sunshine.’
He’d eventually have 2 brothers and 4 sisters, but one died. It was a tough life and they were poor.
At 17, his formal schooling ended, when school officials suspended him for inadvertently burning down a copse of trees adjacent to the school. He’d hastily discarded a cigarette….all the more embarrassing because Joel T. Robinson School was named for a relative of his.
That’s when he went into the roofing business. But he hated spreading hot sticky tar on roofs in 110 degree Arkansas summers and when the conveyor truck delivery man took out mailboxes, hit the sides of buildings, and screwed up deliveries, the boss fired him.
That’s when Gates became a trucker. He slid onto the seat of a cab and never left—for the next 30 years.
Two years into that job, he was foreman, running a crew at 19.
From there, he joined the Navy as one of the Seabee construction crew and went to Rhode Island which became his ‘home port’ for the next 52 years.
But he’d go lots of other places, too.
He began trucking for a Rhode Island company, hauling freight and a few years into the business, he bought his own big rig …and then a second one. He was training men, too, who’d became his driving partners in a career that saw him travel every state in the United States—except one.
He was now officially, an owner-operator, hauling households (a “Bedbug Hauler,” as they say in the industry.And don’t our little ones squeal in delight over that?!)
When his 4 year Seabee stint ended, he joined the Army National Guard and rose to Sergeant First Class. In that capacity, he traveled the world, using his trucking skills in other lands like Sicily, Spain, Germany and Guatemala, building airstrips, hospitals, and schools.
Because he had exceptional talent in shooting (all that hunting as a young ‘un, getting supper for the family, paid off,) he took his National Guard’s combat pistol team to Arkansas for annual competition, even coming in 4th. in the nation one year. He did this for 20 years.
And, remember his shortened schooling due to a cigarette tossed aside? Well, that same man went on to get his GED and Associate’s Degree, in college. He gave up smoking, too, in his 30’s. He’d learned, by then, the value of both an education and being physically-fit (he still jogs.)
So, this is just a small capsule summary of the trucker behind this series. Was he an exceptional trucker, too? You bet. He was named one of Atlas Van Lines’s Elite Fleet of truckers, drivers who logged millions of miles without accident.
That meant he didn’t just drive well; he avoided accidents, as well.
So, trucker, sailor, soldier, marksman, world-traveler, patriot… and a darned good American. Just some of the reasons he’s the Model Trucker for the Grandpa and the Truck stories…