Passion Passed Down

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We all talk about what our parents and grandparents have taught us which is the legacy they leave behind.  With the passion for trucks and trucking passed down from one generation to the next in multi-generational families, individuals are taught from little on how to work hard, maintain equipment, and have pride in their truck.  Chris Burke (44) of Clarkesville, GA is no different with what he learned from his dad, which he is passing down to his son, Brady.

As a second generation of truckers, Chris, along with his brother Taylor, are both following their father Bobby who started Burke & Sons, Inc. in 1977.  Since Chris was a toddler, trucking was all he ever knew and all he wanted to do.  Any opportunity he got to ride along with his dad, he took.  By the age of 15, he was already driving a truck under the watchful eye of his father.

Recalling a story, Chris told me about a time when he was driving on Hwy. 441 south, shortly after it had got dark.  He was 15, and he and his father had swapped seats, once they crossed the state line into Georgia from North Carolina.  At night, the DOT would do random license checks and that is just what they were approaching while Chris was driving.  His dad mentioned it was too late to swap seats, so they rolled on.  There were definitely sighs of relief when they were waved through without getting their license checked.

Back then, the requirements were less restrictive, regarding having two years of experience for the insurance companies, so there wasn’t a need for Chris to drive for a different company to gain his experience.  He received all his experience prior to obtaining his CDL at age 18 in 1995, which allowed him to start driving for his dad’s company right away.  His father had always owned cabover Peterbilts and Internationals, so for Chris, driving one of these trucks full-time was in his comfort zone.

In 1997, Chris’ father retired and turned the reins of the company over to Chris’ older brother Taylor.  At that time, Chris was young and didn’t want anything to do with the business and paperwork end of things.  He was content to just keep trucking as a company driver.  Chris caught the show bug after attending MATS in Louisville, KY for the first time in the late 1980s, but it wasn’t until 2000 when he didn’t just attend, he entered his 1985 Peterbilt 359 in the show.

Having always been a fan of the older trucks and growing up with them, it was no surprise when Chris eventually bought a 1989 Peterbilt cabover in 2004.  The truck was owned previously by Adams Motor Express in Carnesville, GA.  If you haven’t heard of them, they are a company who have always had, and still have, very nice trucks.

After a few years, Chris’ father Bobby came out of retirement and began driving part time in the afternoons.  This cabover was the only one he would drive.  After he was diagnosed with cancer for the second time, he took his last trip in the cabover to North Carolina, then retired for good.  The Burke family’s foundation was shaken when Bobby passed away in 2011.

In 2016, Chris and Taylor had a discussion and concluded that being brothers is way more important than working together at the same company, so Chris started RBL Carriers, LLC.  Chris wanted to see what it was like to own his own company.  Taylor is an important part of Chris’ life and someone he looks up to, not only in life, but in business, as well.  Even though Chris now has his own business, his trucks will periodically haul loads for his brother.

The cabover had a mishap in 2016 when a car pulled out in front of Chris and it was totaled.  Fortunately, they were able to keep the truck as is without having to get a salvage title.  The plan all along was to restore the truck from the ground up.  Realizing that this project was going to take a long time to complete, it was decided that the company wasn’t going to work on it, so it was picked up and taken to Brent Mitchell of Full Pull Truck Accents out of Tunnel Hill, GA.  Full Pull completed all the cosmetic work while Mike Lee out of Cleveland, TN did all the paint work.  In 2020, the truck was picked up and brought back to the shop where Chris and his son Brady finished it.

That cabover, now restored, is what caught my eye in May of 2021 at the annual Semi Crazy Truck Show in Waynesville, NC.  Plans were discussed to photograph the truck in Clarkesville, but schedules weren’t aligning until the opportunity finally presented itself back in May at the 2022 Shine In The Pines Truck Show in Dublin, GA.  The truck is, as previously mentioned, a 1989 Peterbilt 362 with a Big Cam Cummins, 13-speed transmission, 3.55 rear gears, and a 240-inch wheelbase.

The truck has a RoadWorks visor, Hogebuilt quarter fenders, and a 22-inch bumper from Truck Bumpers of Atlanta.  Also on this truck are the words “Dad’s Last Ride” as a rolling remembrance to his father, who shaped Chris as a man, a father, a driver, and a business owner.

Today, Chris and Heidi, who have been married since 2007, remain living in Clarkesville.  They have a blended family made up of Chris’ son Brady (20) and daughter Lindsey (25), along with Heidi’s children Tanner (20) and Ansley (18), as well as their daughter together, 14-year-old Jazlyn.  The cabover is only semi-retired, as it is parked out of the weather, but it is road ready should they ever need a spare truck.

The company runs three trucks, hauling feed with their van trailer, and commodities such as Kubota equipment and lumber with their two flatbed trailers.  Heidi handles the bookkeeping as well as being the glue that holds it all together, including keeping Chris motivated and supported.  Chris’ son Brady has laid claim to their 1987 Peterbilt 359 (also pictured), which boasts a B Model Cat hooked to a 15-speed over transmission.  This truck was purchased in 2008, and Brady has taken great care of it since he started driving.  Currently, with the driver shortage, Brady is helping Taylor at Burke & Sons to fill one of his seats but will be piloting the 359 again.  In the meantime, Chris is running the 359.

Truck stories are always swapped amongst friends and family and, to Chris, the most memorable for him is the trucking he was able to do with his family.  The times he was out on the road with his father and brother, all the times Brady rode along when he was little, and the opportunity to go trucking with Brady now, driving his own truck, are his favorite memories.  Truck shows are also a favorite for Chris and Brady to attend together.  Truck shows for Chris are a way to meet up with friends, talk to like-minded people, have a great time, and check out the cool older trucks.

With a “clean truck” mindset, Chris doesn’t like to ride down the road in a dirty truck.  He said if he knows he is coming up to rain, he will wash it, because “it has to look good getting dirty.”  His desire for a clean truck and the pride he takes in his trucks is evident every time he stops, because he is always wiping or polishing on something.

Special thanks from Chris to God as he would be nothing without him, to his wife Heidi for putting up with this crazy lifestyle and long hours, to his parents for his upbringing, and to his kids for learning to understand when he was away from home it was to provide the best life for them that he could.  Big thanks to Chris’ father Bobby and his brother Taylor, as they are the biggest influences in his life (his father taught him everything about trucking including how to maintain his own equipment).  Taylor learned the same and was a role model for Chris with his work ethic, likeness to his father, the family man he is, and the way he continues to still push Chris to keep succeeding.

Thank you, Chris, for your time to photograph the truck and being able to tell your story.  One can learn to love trucks, but the passion that is passed down gets ignited in one’s soul that continues to burn.  As always, to all the drivers out there doing the deal, truck safe.

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