Some people are just good eggs. Mark Joiner, logistics manager at Beasley Timber, in Hazlehurst, GA? He’s a good egg. How do I know? Because David Bohannon said so, and he sure as shootin’ knows. We’ll get to that…
Bohannon’s life behind the wheel has been pure as the driven truck. Now 53 and currently working full-time for Beasley, he’s spent 35 years hauling consumer products, pine straw, logs, and more. It’s been a long, enjoyable ride, with no regrets, as a third-generation trucker.
When American Trucker caught up with him recently, he was taking a well-deserved breather.
“This is the first day I’ve had off in 10 days,” he said in a thick-as-honey Southern drawl as charming to hear as it is challenging to decipher, especially over the phone.
He wasn’t complaining. Far from it, since, according to one doctor, he shouldn’t even be alive after suffering the second of two heart attacks a couple of years ago.
But he is alive, and stronger than ever, something his grandfather, James Yarborough, would be proud of. It was he who put young David in his first truck when he was driving for a living.
“My granddaddy drove back when they had one axle on the trailer,” said Bohannon. “The first truck I ever drove I was 15 years old. I told him I wanted to learn to drive a truck like him. He said, ‘It’s sittin’ out there in a field, so go drive it there if you want.’ So I did and learned to drive in that field.
“He taught me about trucks and truck stops. He always went to the same truck stops on his runs. He never stopped at a new place or nothin’ unless he broke down or somethin’. Those old cabovers handled good. To me, some of those old trucks are better than some of the new trucks we got today.”
Once Bohannon learned how to drive the truck in the field, making money was next. That was no problem, because his father, Billy Bohannon, was a driver himself and a business owner.
“My dad had a land-clearing business but was also involved with trucks because when they cleared a place, they would load the wood on trucks and I would haul it to the mill for them,” he said. “That’s how I got started so young. If I’d ever gotten stopped, I’d have been in trouble because you had to be 18 to get your license back then.
“My dad also drove for five or six years, hauling corn from the fields.”
Bohannon the younger made his first run at 18 to New Jersey and got hooked on the life.
“I took up trucking real hard. I was one of those long-haul drivers, so I didn’t come home for five or six months at a time. Sometimes I’d leave home in June and wouldn’t return until Christmas,” he said. “Go from Atlanta to California and back and then turn around and do it again. Then maybe to Washington State, to Chicago and back to Georgia. I was like my granddaddy. He wouldn’t come home for five or six months either.
“I run within a 500-mi. radius now, hauling logs. The company has 15 mills,” he continued.
Now living in Nichols, GA, the burly Bohannon takes pride knowing his grandfather was over-the-road for more than 55 years. He made his last run at age 78.
“For the last 20 years of his life, he worked for the same company I work for now, Beasley,” he said.
For many years, Bohannon drove trucks but also bought trucks. At one point, he owned several, employing his brother, James, for a while as a driver. David has extensive knowledge of heavy equipment as well as truck mechanics, mostly self-taught, so he was able to keep expenses down while keeping his trucks on the road.
There were few potholes in Bohannon’s career until 2013, when one day something went wrong.
“I’d just come in from a run and wasn’t feeling right,” he recalled. “I didn’t know what to think. Down here we don’t go to doctors like everybody else does. Turned out I’d had a heart attack. When I finally did get to a hospital, they give me about a week to live. I had major blockages. My main artery had ruptured right below my heart. I guess the good lord let it close back up. The doctor said this is the toughest cowboy he’d ever seen, because I shoulda been dead.”
Driving as a profession for many decades meant endless hours in the cab. Listening to music went a long way to whiling away the hours. Bohannon did more than listen. He sang along, better than any other trucker.
“My whole family sung,” he said. “I started singing when I was 10 years old.”
In time Bohannon would sing in front of people, playing guitar as well, in a little band called the Backroads Country Boys. The music is country-western, of course.
“I said I’m doing what George Jones and Merle Haggard said to do, which is help fill their country music shoes when they’re gone,” he said. “It’s enjoyable. I have a buddy who owns a place in Patterson, Georgia. It makes me feel good to be up on stage.
“You see your truck-driving buddies and their families, and some old people who have nowhere to go. I was gonna stop after heart surgery but they made me keep it up.”
The reason they did was way more important than simply enjoying hearing him sing.
In 2016, after another heart attack, Bohannon needed quadruple bypass surgery.
“I stayed in the hospital and had to wait seven days,” he noted. “They told me I got to hang in there, that if I wanted to live I had to fight. I had the surgery and came out saying I was going back to work. They said, ‘If you’re of a mind to do that, we’ll help you.’ And they did.”
First Bohannon needed to get his strength back.
“The doctor told me, ‘If you want to get back in the truck, you have to get back on stage and get those lungs pumping, because you have a lot of buildup inside your lungs,’” he said. “I did that three weeks after bypass surgery. I was still really weak. They had to put a chair up on the stage for me to sit in to sing.”
Next came getting back behind the wheel. That’s where Mark Joiner, the good egg, came in.
“The doctor told me, ‘If you can get someone to put you in a truck, I believe it’s a go.’ After my surgery, Mark and Beasley gave me a chance to come back to work. A lot of people wouldn’t hire a bypass patient, especially with what I went through.
“I got back in the truck and have been gaining ground ever since. I told Mark I’m going to show people that someone can almost die twice in a row then get back up and do their job.”
LIFE WITH A LONG-HAULER
Though they’ve only been dating for two years, Mellissa Smith vows she’s in it for the long haul with boyfriend David Bohannon, which is good, because he’s literally a professional long-hauler.
Not that it’s been easy for Smith, but she is thankful that Bohannon’s away time has shortened from months to weeks, and sometimes only days.
“With previous employers and relationships David had been gone for many months at a time,” she explained. “But when he and I started dating, he was an OTR driver, with the business taking him away, at most, for a full week each time he left and occasionally into the weekends.
“A relationship with a truck driver was a first for me, so I knew that opening myself up to nurturing a romance with David in his line of work would be challenging. I quickly learned how committed he was to his work, even after 34-plus years of driving. I knew the importance of David concentrating on his driving abilities while conducting business.
“It was important to me that he not have any unnecessary stress, so in the beginning especially, I made a conscious effort not to bring up big issues while he was out on the road. We had plenty of time for communication and spent that time over the phone getting to know more about one another. After all, communication is a very important tool to a healthy relationship’s start.”
Smith helped Bohannon when he was at his lowest point, almost dying from two heart attacks, so she is delighted to see him back on the road—and back on stage. She takes great joy seeing him sing and entertain people.
“It is very gratifying watching David sing in front of an audience,” she said. “He loves music, and people love to hear him sing. He has a real god-given talent, and of course I stand beside him supporting his singing. I, too, love music. When he’s up on that stage singing, or wherever he’s singing, David’s mind is relaxed from the business of his career, and he is living his second dream.”
Seeing what she saw when Bohannon was hospitalized, Smith doesn’t take anything for granted. She wants nothing more than to grow their relationship.
“We make plans for the future, being together,” she said. “But we live enjoying every day, hour and minute of time we have when he is not on the road.” — M.C.