Jeff Davis knew what he was going to do with his life at 5 years old, he said. He was going to drive trucks for a living.
Davis, 52, Ottawa, now works for Walmart Logistics, 3300 Highway K-68, Ottawa, as a truck driver and has reached one of the company’s top milestones: three million safe miles.
He reached the three million safe mile mark in May 2014 after being with the company since August 1991, but not without a joke to congratulate him.
“We knew that I was close [to the 3 million mile mark] so [the distribution center] had the Kansas Highway Patrol waiting for me over by LeLoup,” David said. “As soon as I crossed that, they came up there and pulled me over and escorted me back to the warehouse. I was thinking ‘Are you kidding me?’ but it was kind of funny because when I do the driving championships, I know a lot of the highway patrol already because they help out with the judging, so when I saw that, I thought this has got to be a joke. I wasn’t worried that I was doing anything wrong because our trucks only go 65 miles per hour ... but they pulled me over and said, ‘I want to be the first to congratulate you on your three million miles.’”
Walmart has one of the safest driving fleets in the country by industry standards, with 2.11 million miles driven per preventable collisions, according to Walmart’s website. The fleet only has had 376 reported incidents since January 2013, according to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration’s website. Crashes are listed through the FMCSA’s website regardless of the carrier or driver’s role in the crash.
For accomplishing his milestone, Davis was rewarded in September with a custom-built Freightliner just for him, where he was able to pick everything he wanted in and on the truck, except for the color, he said. Davis is the only driver in Walmart’s fleet able to drive his truck.
“It was kind of a relief because you knew that you were going to get the three million mile truck and everything, so probably about the last year, every little thing you thought you were going to maybe get involved in an accident or something so it was a load off your shoulders but I was happy,” he said.
Davis’ electric blue truck features a TV, heated and cooled leather seats, a microwave, a refrigerator, a stereo with a subwoofer, and a padded steering wheel among many other custom features. It also comes with one special unique feature — an angel, he said.
“I got a little angel on my sun visor from my mom,” Davis said. “It says ‘Son, please drive safely.’”
In addition to receiving a custom-built truck, Davis also was rewarded with a special ceremony at Walmart Logistics in Ottawa surrounded by his family, friends and coworkers with a barbecue and cake.
Since Davis has received the truck from Walmart, he has put more than 41,000 miles on it, he said.
Not only is Davis rewarded at Ottawa’s Walmart Logistics, but the entire group of drivers is often rewarded by reaching safe driving milestones.
“Safe miles around here are a big thing,” Davis said.
If the group drives a certain number of safe miles, Walmart offers prizes for the drivers that range from a thermos to a quilt to cookouts and many other items. Drivers also can be rewarded weekly with a drawing. The driver’s name who is drawn is rewarded with a paid day off that week.
“It’s a nice place to work,” Davis said. “They take care of you. They expect a lot out of you, but if you do your job and everything well they usually reward you later on.”
Davis’ other accomplishments include Walmart Driver of the Year at the Ottawa distribution center, Kansas Motor Carriers Association Driver of the Year, Walmart Driving Championship participant for more than 20 years, Kansas Truck Driver State Champion for eight years, two-time winner of Walmart Nationals, and fourth place in the American Trucking Association competition against other companies and trucks in the United States.
Davis also has been a member on several committees including the Kansas Road Team, a try-out team that goes around the state giving safety talks, the Accident Review Committee and the Truck Buying Planning Committee where Davis is allowed to meet with people from International and Freightliner and voice his ideas and changes he would like to see.
“That’s the nice thing about Walmart,” he said. “They let you have a say-so. We have grassroots meetings all the time, so we’ll go in there and tell them different ideas on what would work easier for us and that’s why I like working here also is because they will listen to you and listen to your ideas.”
Davis’ grandfather and father were both truck drivers. His dad worked for Ottawa Walmart Logistics when it opened in 1995 until 2013 when he retired.
“I used to ride with [my dad] all the time and him and my grandfather, that’s what they always talked about with different stories and things they had done so that’s kind of how I got into it,” Davis said.
Right after he graduated high school, Davis got his start in truck driving with an oil field in Great Bend, his hometown, hauling oil field equipment and moving drilling rigs, he said. After that, he began driving a truck for Orscheln Farm and Home where he worked for the company six years.
During his time with Orscheln’s, Davis would make several trips to Loveland, Colorado, where a new Walmart distribution center had just been built.
“I’m kind of a neat freak and, when I worked for Orscheln, I used to go out to Loveland every other week and pick up fence posts and barbed wire and I kept seeing this clean, brand new equipment and I thought, ‘Wow, I would like to work for [Walmart] because everything is so nice and neat and clean and their drivers wore nice, clean uniforms and they looked professional,” he said.
When he told his wife about his possible job change, she agreed to move to Loveland where Davis was hired immediately. He began team driving, he said, where he and another person would make three trips per week to California. Davis continued team driving for a year and a half and then was able to drive on his own.
One of the biggest reasons he chose Walmart was the people, he said.
“Everybody’s so nice and friendly and they care about safety and the equipment is always in tip-top shape and you don’t have to go out there and worry about blowing a tire or something going wrong,” he said. “It gives you that sense of security that you’re going to have a safe trip and you’re going to make it home safely and safety is their number one goal here and that’s mine also.”
Davis was able to transfer back to Kansas when Ottawa’s Walmart Logistics opened in 1995.
Day in the life
Davis works Monday through Friday and the occasional Saturday when the company is busy, he said. He drives a set run where he drives the same route every day.
Of the 169 drivers employed by Ottawa’s Walmart Logistics, Davis is one of about 20 who are able to go home each night. Most drivers leave at the beginning of the week and return at the end, he said.
On a typical day, Davis drives about 600 miles round-trip. He makes a stop at the Walmart at the Legends Outlets Kansas City and then stops in Council Bluffs, Iowa. He also picks up two backhauls a day on his return trip, he said. A backhaul is stopping at a vendor and picking up a load of products such as dog food, motor oil or water and bringing it back to the warehouse to be distributed out to stores.
As of Feb. 17, Davis had made 3,947 deliveries to Walmart stores and 3,232 backhauls in his 23.5-year career with Walmart.
The most challenging parts of driving a tractor trailer are during [heavy] traffic and bad weather, Davis said. Those two elements affect safety.
“You kind of feel like you’re driving for everyone else,” he said. “You kind of know what they’re going to do because you read people’s actions.”
Davis follows a strict set of safety rules, ones that he tells to other drivers.
“Be cool, calm, steady and have a positive attitude,” he said. “Don’t let others determine your attitude. Keep your tractor in tip-top shape. Keep windows and mirrors clean. Having a clean truck helps with that positive attitude. Always perform a thorough and perfect pre-trip inspection. That will give you the confidence you need for a safe trip ... I treat all motorists with respect, the way I would want to be treated if I made a mistake and I strive to be the best of the best. I don’t want to settle for anything less than safe.”
In his 34 years of truck driving experience, the trucking industry has changed with technology, Davis said.
“Trucks have ABS brakes now,” he said. “The trucks are so much nicer than when I first started driving. They’re more reliable and they don’t break down.”
“We have an on-guard system that slows you down, so once you get within 200 feet of a vehicle, even if you have the cruise on, it starts backing you off so you don’t come up on anybody,” he said.
To be a Walmart driver, applicants must have a Class A Commercial Drivers License with a Hazmat endorsement, over the road tractor trailer experience in each of the last three years and safe driving record commercially and personally in the last three years, according to the company’s website. For more information on driver requirements, see careers.walmart.com/career-areas/transportation-logistics-group/drivers/
Davis thinks he will make it to four million safe miles — a feat only reached by two other drivers in Walmart’s history — in the next seven years. After Davis retires, his custom-built truck will be sold and no other driver in Walmart’s fleet will be able to drive it.
“In fact, I might even make five million miles because I plan to retire when I’m 67, so if I could drive another 15 years, I think I could make it.”