Every September, America takes a week out of the year to honor professional truck drivers, both men and women, for their hard work and dedication to providing an essential service to the American economy. Please join Freightliner's Team Run Smart in celebrating truckers all over the country who work hard and run smart to keep America moving.

As part of the celebration, we feature the profile on Craig McCue, business owner and part-time owner-operator:

I grew up in Coquille, OR, which is a small town very near the southern Oregon coast.  I have been fascinated with trucks since I can remember and growing up I dreamed of being a truck driver.  Any chance I had I would watch the log trucks, chip trucks and lumber trucks go through town.  Exciting huh?  Life has a funny way of not working out exactly like you thought it would.  At 13 years old I worked for a small trucking company, Milk-E-Way Trucking, washing trucks.  I learned to drive trucks at 18 while on a small all-volunteer fire department.  Each week after fire practice I would grab one of the guys that knew how to drive the tender and we would take it out on the town for about ½ hour.  It was a 1984 Kenworth with a Detroit 6V92 and a 15 speed transmission.  After a few weeks of this I had a pretty good grasp of operating this structural firefighting water tender.

I went to work full time for a few years for Milk-E-Way Trucking as a driver in my early twenties.  I drove a 1972 GMC cabover with a Detroit 318 and a 9 speed, 1980 Freightliner cabover with a Detroit 8V92 and a 13 speed as well as a 1986 Freightliner cabover with a Detroit 8V92 and a 13 speed.  We were considered local as we were home almost every night.  We primarily hauled plywood and dimensional lumber from the mills throughout Oregon to a treating plant on the coast, and then on to an export dock for export to Hawaii and the south Samonan Islands.  We also hauled hay, sack feed and bulk grain for the local dairies in Coos County.  I gained a lot of experience and spent most of my driving time negotiating highway 101 in Oregon.  We only ran in the state of Oregon, so there is a lot of this country that I have yet to see.  I completely loved the job but unfortunately I couldn’t make a living due to the lengthy wait times to load and unload so I decided to attend college.

During the summers at college in Klamath Falls, OR, I worked for a wildland fire suppression company driving their 1981 Freightliner cabover with a 400 Cummins and a 13 speed.  This truck or water tender as they are called, hauled 4,000 gallons.  We worked wildland fires in Oregon and northern California.  It was great work but seasonal.

After graduating from college, I found that I really missed driving and fighting structural and wildland fires, but I was finally making a decent living.  In 2004 when the opportunity came up to purchase my present truck I jumped at it.  The truck was built by a family friend who died suddenly of a heart attack and I purchased the complete business from his estate.  It is a 1990 Peterbilt with a 400 Cummins and an 18 speed.  It hauls 4,000 gallons of non-potable water and is equipped with a 750 gallon per minute pump.  We are dispatched by the U.S. Forest Service and work wildland fires in Oregon and Washington.  We are available on a national basis but so far haven’t left the Pacific Northwest.

We can be on a fire for a day or a month or longer, it all depends on the situation.  We fill the tender from pre-determined fill sites, typically we draft from creeks or ponds, but we can also fill from fire hydrants and overhead tanks.  We haul the water to pre-determined drop points and fill portable tanks called port-a-tanks and wildland fire engines.  They use the water from the port-a-tanks to supply hand crews that are working the active fire line.  We also water roads for dust control and we do direct fire suppression when required.  This would consist of utilizing the front, rear or side spray nozzles to spray water directly on a fire burning on the side of the roads.  I can shoot water from a side spray nozzle about 20 feet high and about 40-50 yards out.  Sometimes we are assigned to work heli-tack support. 

In this capacity we would water the helicopter landing zone before take-off and landing to keep the debris from blowing around and damaging the engines.  We also fill large port-a-tanks that the helicopters will then use to draft from to fill their tanks.  Sometimes we work in combination with a wildland engine to apply AFFF foam to structures in front of the fire path to protect them as the fire burns through the area.  The work is a lot of fun even though it is long hours in hot weather.  It is extremely satisfying to participate in protecting our forests and working outdoors and seeing the natural beauty you don’t see working in an office.

Today, I’m not a full time truck driver. I am a business owner and part-time operator of a seasonal business that I love working. I work full time at Bulk Handling Systems www.bulkhandlingsystems.com as a mechanical engineer designing garbage-recycling plants worldwide.

If I had the resources and/or financial backing I would really love to operate a truck hauling business, hauling emergency supplies to aid in our natural disasters.  I would haul the supplies needed immediately after a tornado, hurricane, flood or fire to assist those communities affected, free of charge.  I could operate my water tender in the summer when not hauling relief supplies.  There probably isn’t a need for this as supplies always get where they are needed, but it would be a very satisfying endeavor.

I like all styles and makes of trucks.  I have spent more hours in Freightliners than any other brand, but I like them all.  I’m not really into the super customized rigs, they are fun to look at but I wouldn’t want to own one.  A little more discrete would be my style.  I do love to learn about the new technologies being used such as the DD15 engine paired with the DT12 transmission.  And it’s always interesting to read about the MPG’s being achieved by Henry.  He is definitely an industry leader in that category and hopefully he’ll be instrumental in boosting the average MPG being obtained from the truck and engine manufacturers in the future.

When not working, my wife and I enjoy camping and riding motorcycles when time allows which isn’t very often.  We both love traveling when possible.  I enjoy being outdoors and love the Oregon coast, its’ rugged beauty is difficult to beat.  I also love learning about U.S. history.  I am certainly an anomaly because I don’t like sports of any kind and would prefer doing almost anything before watching sports.  Between my day job at Bulk Handling Systems I maintain all the administrative work for Sasquatch HI-MT Water, Inc., and I do some of the smaller maintenance on the truck on weekends when required.

I owe my success as an owner-operator to learning the business while working the job during my college years and my desire to never give up.  When I do fail I learn from it and try to never repeat the same mistake.  I am always trying to plan ahead and anticipate what obstacles may be coming up and how to get over or around them as easily as possible.  A big part of my learning is the Freightliner Team Run Smart website.  There is so much great information available from actual owner-operators, company drivers and industry experts.  It’s interesting how many times I will read an article and think to myself, wow, I never thought of that before, but that’s a great idea I need to incorporate into my business.

My advice to other owner-operators:

  1. Learn everything possible about what you want to do.  Knowledge is power.  Never stop learning and try to think of new creative ways to expand your business by leveraging the knowledge of others.
  2. Align yourself with other successful people in your industry; you will learn a ton from them.
  3. Don’t try to do everything yourself, utilize the knowledge and expertise of other trades and professions such as a great mechanic, top-notch accountants and bookkeepers.
  4. Never compromise your value system; it will never work for the long haul.  Listen to your gut, if it doesn’t feel right then you should think a few dozen times before you do it.

Comments (11)

Craig McCue

Business owner and part-time operator of a seasonal business.

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There is always a disaster some where.

April 23, 2016 18:03:58 PM

Disaster relief is something I would love to do and the only thing stopping me is money. it's the story of many peoples lives. Proper funding is very difficult and the Powerball doesn't seem to want to shine its' light my way.

Operating my tender on wildland fires is a ton of fun. Yes it can be dangerous but I would bet your operation presents more danger due to your increased exposure all year long in LA traffic and the chance to end up in the wrong neighborhood.

We have come close to blistering the paint on the truck a few times from the intense heat, but have never come close to needing to deploy our shake-n-bake which is our fire shelter.

On one fire several years ago I did find myself in the wrong place at the wrong time. I was up on a plateau trying to hold a fire line as a retardant plane flew by dropping its' retardant load about 100 yards in front of me (which is a very pretty cool operation to watch), when I heard gunshots. Seems we were too close to an unknown pot garden and the crazy grower was shooting at the plane. Fortunately he hadn't seen me as I was very close to the shooters location, but on the opposite side of a thin stand of timber.

The pilot realized what was happening to him and radioed back to fire camp requesting federal law enforcement assistance. I didn't take the time to radio for help because when I heard the gun shots I went from zero to high range in a hurry. Law enforcement came up and took care of the crazy dude so we could get back to work. Fortunately that type of incident hasn't happened since and I'm happy to say most of the time it is far less exciting. Probably 90% of the time we are just behind the fire front providing water to those individuals that are working the active fire line.

September 21, 2013 11:20:03 AM

With such variety in everything you encounter, I'd imagine it does not get boring for you too often! I love the fact that you would love to do disaster relief, should you run into a large sum of money. That is one of the things my wife and I have thought of as well, should we ever hit the powerball. Your operation sounds like something an adrenaline junky like myself would get a kick out of. Keep up the awesome work and thank you for all you do in the face of danger!

September 19, 2013 18:22:57 PM

Unlike the stories we hear and unfortunately some have experienced with being treated like trash from shippers and consignees, I can honestly say we have never experienced that at any incident. They are always very happy we have arrived and the only question we have occasionally been asked upon arrival is "What took you so long"? Sometimes we get that question even when we are early.

Upon dispatch we are given a designated arrival time and we are usually early to allow us to get our RV parked and un-hooked from the tender, get through the check-in process and get our vehicle inspection complete. All of the government paperwork must be complete and in order before going to work. We arrive dressed in the proper attire and with the tender full of water and ready to go!

September 18, 2013 17:57:31 PM

Craig, It was a pleasure working with you. Thanks again!

September 18, 2013 15:51:28 PM

Craig ,
You have led a interesting life in the trucking industry . Your current operation sounds very interesting and I bet they are really glad to see your unit roll on to the scene.

September 18, 2013 12:09:48 PM

Thank you everyone for the nice posts, like Paul said it means a lot! I want to also thank Heather Dunn for working so hard to put this series together this week. It gave me the opportunity to be a little more active on this site.
Yes my operation is definitely unique and a ton of fun! Unfortunately it doesn't allow me to be engaged in the transportation industry full time which I would prefer, but I still get to stay involved and run a business. Like I said, life has a funny way of not working out exactly like you thought it would.
I really enjoy this website and I've learned so much from everyone's posts. Who knows, with proper planning and some luck my next truck for Sasquatch HI-MT Water Inc., likely will be a Freightliner Severe Duty truck.

September 18, 2013 8:27:59 AM

Great advice for the owner-operator Craig. I love hearing about different types of trucking operations out there. Yours is truly unique!

September 17, 2013 9:06:18 AM

You have a great operation.

September 17, 2013 8:01:01 AM

Craig great article! What you do fascinates me from a distance as I do not want to be that close to a fire. Keep up the good work and let us know what is going on in your dual life.

September 17, 2013 7:38:57 AM

Awesome article Craig, that is a very diverse career, and special service you have provided! You have a lot of good advice for not only the new drivers but also the vets out here, thank you for your service and keep the dream!!

September 17, 2013 5:39:15 AM