ROAD WARRIORS

Throughout years of driving on interstates, backing their trucks up to docks to make deliveries and making their way through difficult weather conditions, two drivers with Wal-Mart Distribution Center in Seymour have maintained an accident-free record.

Gordon Simler reached 3 million accident-free miles last November, and Donn Woolard hit that mark in January.

They are the first two Seymour drivers to achieve that accomplishment, and part of their reward is picking out a new truck cab. General transportation manager Tim Schumpe recently presented the two men with keys to their shiny, new electric blue trucks.

Simler and Woolard were hired March 7, 1990, five days before the distribution center started shipping freight to Wal-Mart stores.

They credit part of their accomplishment to abiding by the company’s safety slogan, “One mile at a time.”

“You get one mile safe, let’s try the next mile safe, and on and on it goes,” Simler said.

Before he knew it, he said, those miles piled up to 3 million without an accident.

“It’s just another day at the office for me. I don’t think about it. I just do it,” he said of being a safe driver. “All I thought about was, for my personal integrity, to try to do the best that I could do to make Wal-Mart glad they hired me, to be an asset instead of a liability to the company.”

Woolard said the milestone made him reflect on all of the miles he has traveled.

“I got to thinking the other day, ‘How many times have I backed into a dock, made a turn, a guy came over too quick?’” he said.

“The biggest change I’ve realized here at Seymour is when we started, back then you could get on the interstate any time you wanted and go anywhere, except maybe Friday night there would be a little bit more people going places,” he said.

“But now, it’s every day. It’s just so busy anymore with the amount of traffic.”

He said it means a lot to him to record that many safe miles.

“These guys I work with, if they just keep going, they’ll be there,” Woolard said. “We’ve got good drivers here, and it’s just that I happened to be fortunate enough to get on early enough that we could get it done.”

Befor

e WalmartSimler and Woolard both had several years of truck driving under their belts before working for Wal-Mart.For Simler, a Harrison County native, truck driving is a family tradition. His grandfather hauled freight for farmers during the Great Depression from the small Harrison County community of Valley City. Simler’s father later took up an interest in that profession.

“That’s just your call of life, I believe. You’ve either got it or you don’t have it, like any other profession,” he said.

Simler went to college and waited until he was 23 to start driving a truck because, at that time, you had to be that age to drive on interstates.

Once he was 23, he had a few driving jobs until his father helped him land a position with Transport Associates in Louisville, Kentucky, where he worked for 12½ years.

When the company did away with fleet trucks, Simler drove for Valeo Sylvania in Seymour, where he met his wife, Kathy.

In 1990, he learned about Wal-Mart Distribution Center opening in Seymour. Even though he said he was leery about applying, he was encouraged to go for it.

“Dad told me, ‘That’s where you better go because these freight companies are in town today, gone tomorrow; in business today, gone tomorrow’ because of deregulation, mainly,” he said.

Woolard, a Sullivan County native, started working on the farm and drove a tandem truck, hauling fruit to major farm markets. That progressed to a semitrailer in 1966, and he later started driving for different people and made a career out of it.

In 1990, he and his wife, Debbie, lived in Carlisle, and she worked at the Walmart store in Sullivan. Drivers who came there from the distribution center in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, talked about the new center opening in Seymour.

‘A better career’

“Back then, I hauled propane and anhydrous ammonia, and that’s one thing you could never get enough of,” he said. “You had to go, go, go, and she thought (Wal-Mart) would be a better career for me. I talked to some of those drivers, and they told me it was a good job. She was with Wal-Mart, so we just decided to apply and was blessed to get on.”The Seymour distribution center started with about 30 drivers and now has 190.

When he started with Wal-Mart, Simler said, he was driving to stores all over, including Michigan, New York, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky.

He said that’s when he piled up a bunch of miles, averaging 3,000 miles per week.

In 1992, the company established set runs for drivers who lived close to Seymour, allowing them to work during the day and be home at night. Simler has since driven to stores in Indiana, and the only time he leaves the state is to deliver to a store in Fern Creek on the south side of Louisville, Kentucky.

“That worked out real good for me because I was used to going home every night when I drove for Sylvania,” he said. “I kind of missed that.”

With his previous trucking jobs and since working for Wal-Mart, Woolard has driven all over Indiana and in Illinois, Iowa, Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Kentucky and Tennessee.

“I’m not on a set run like Gordon,” he said. “I just run anywhere they want me to.”

Safety first

While out on the roads, Simler and Woolard have always made safety a priority.“Years ago, I looked down at cars and saw little children in the back seat watching a movie, playing with something, having a good time. Mom and Dad, they’ve got ideas of a big adventure for vacation or whatever,” Simler said. “It dawned on me that they are that close to a big piece of equipment that could hurt or even kill them.”

That inspired him to be a safe driver.

“There’s an inferred or implied trust in me that I won’t do anything stupid or ignorant to hurt them, and I don’t want to betray that trust that they put in me,” he said. “If I don’t stay on my toes, they could get hurt.”

About eight years ago, Woolard joined Wal-Mart’s Share the Road team, which educates high school driver’s education students on how to share the road with semitrailer rigs.

That involves taking one of the trucks to the school and having the students sit in the driver’s seat to learn about blind spots and safe following distances.

“It’s a very good program,” he said. “It was started by a couple of other drivers. It’s a program I really enjoy.”

Looking back on their careers, Simler and Woolard both said they are happy they chose to work for Wal-Mart.

A year ago, Simler said he thought about moving on to a different job. But Schumpe promised to get him a new day cab for reaching 3 million safe miles, and that was enough to make him stay.

“Wal-Mart has been nothing but good to me, and I mean that with all of my heart,” Simler said. “They are on your side. There are aggravating moments anywhere you work, but they do the best to try to see that it goes away.”

Simler said several people have asked him about retirement, and he always says, “I guess I will retire when I expire.”

But as far as reaching 4 million safe miles, he said, “I’ll be retired before then.”

Woolard said he wants to go a few more years, too.

“I’d like to drive a little bit longer,” he said. “It’s just a pleasure to drive. With Wal-Mart, you can bring your wife along any time she wants to go, so that kind of makes it nice that you can share a little trip with her. I enjoy that.”

The number of years he continues to drive depends a lot on his health, Woolard said.

“If I feel good and I know I’m a safe driver, I’ll continue on,” he said. “When we got married, (his wife) asked me, ‘Is there anything you can do besides drive a truck?’ I said, ‘Oh, I don’t know what it would be’ because I never worked in a factory doing the same thing every day.

“I’m a guy that likes to be outside doing things, so I enjoy this. I’ve met a lot of people over the years, met friends all over. It has been a blessing.”

Pull Quote

“Years ago, I looked down at cars and saw little children in the back seat watching a movie, playing with something, having a good time. Mom and Dad, they’ve got ideas of a big adventure for vacation or whatever. It dawned on me that they are that close to a big piece of equipment that could hurt or even kill them.”

Gordon Simler, Wal-Mart driver on what inspires him as he passes 3 million accident-free miles

Author photo
Zach Spicer is a reporter for The (Seymour) Tribune. He can be reached at zspicer@tribtown.com or 812-523-7080.