December 2006
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Bonnie Plant Farms Drivers Test Skills

 
The seven drivers that participated in the first-ever Bonnie Plant Farms Truck Rodeo are (from left) Kenneth Watts (Sonora, KY station); Justin Faulk (Athens, AL station); Shane Hartwig (New Summerfield, TX station); Matt Green (New Berlin, NY station); Robert Moorer (Athens, AL station); Steven Monday (Union Springs, AL station); and Jason Evans (Spartanburg, SC station).  
In First Annual Truck Rodeo

 By Ginny Farmer

Nearly $2,000 was given away in cash prizes at the first-ever Bonnie Plant Farms Truck Rodeo, held Nov. 7, 2006, in Union Springs, AL. The event persisted through the threat of rain, sending some of the company’s trusted drivers through an obstacle course of orange cones and testing both their physical and mental skills.

Seven Bonnie Plants drivers participated, with Justin Faulk of Athens, AL, being the first-place winner, receiving $1,000. In second place was Steven Monday of Union Springs, winning $500. Third place and $250 went to Matt Green of the New York station. Also participating were Shane Hartwig of Texas, Robert Moorer of Athens, Kenneth Watts of Kentucky, and Jason Evans of South Carolina.

"Overall, the event was a success," said Tate Gatlin, safety director for Bonnie Plant Farms. "Though we might not have had as many participants as we would have liked, the ones who did participate had fun and learned something along the way."

 
  Tate Gatlin (far right), safety director for Bonnie Plant Farms, does a walk through of the obstacle course with the drivers and judges.
Each participating driver’s day began with a written test. Then each man took his turn on the obstacle course in an order determined by random drawing.

Before any trip, drivers are required to inspect their vehicles and keep up with their observations in a written log, and this test was no different. Although participants were not timed during this portion of the contest, they were judged on their ability to complete the inspection successfully. Each driver used the same truck for the course, a Bonnie truck that is no longer used on the road.

Once the inspection was complete, the driver was set to begin the obstacles. First up was straight-line driving, followed by an offset alley, diminishing clearance, serpentine course and right-angle turn. Tires and bumpers were watched closely by both the drivers and judges in hopes that all cones remained untouched and upright. The judges were on the lookout for scraping or jerky movements. The final test of skill required the driver to dock the truck.
Once the inspection was complete, the driver was set to begin the obstacles. First up was straight-line driving, followed by an offset alley, diminishing clearance, serpentine course and right-angle turn. Tires and bumpers were watched closely by both the drivers and judges in hopes that all cones remained untouched and upright. The judges were on the lookout for scraping or jerky movements. The final test of skill required the driver to dock the truck.

 
Third-place winner Matt Green begins his run of the serpentine portion of the course.  
Completing the obstacle course without grazing or toppling the cones was a difficult task, something Matt Green learned the hard way as he knocked over cones in what Gatlin said was probably the most difficult portion of the course – the serpentine cones.

"Backing up through the serpentine was pretty tough," Green said. "It was tougher than I thought it would be. I didn’t think I would hit a cone."

Originally from Troy, AL, Green works out of New Berlin, N.Y.

"My dad and step-dad worked here all their lives," Green said. "It’s fun getting out and seeing the country and making money."

Green said winning the prize money was his motivation for participating in the Truck Rodeo, and though he didn’t place first, he still managed to get a piece of the pie at third place.

 
  Roger Waller judges Justin Faulk’s pre-trip inspection. Faulk went on to place first and win $1,000 in the truck rodeo.
Gatlin said most of the participants had recently completed the spring driving season (from February to June), and they all have been working for Bonnie Plant Farms at least two years. He said he hoped the obstacle course would show the drivers what skills they need to work on.

Gatlin hopes the course will also be useful in training new drivers. He said the company currently has about 300 drivers all over the country. There are 48 stations in 38 states, with most drivers working the spring season, although some in southern states have fall routes.

Drivers can work 14 hours a day by law, with 11 of those hours being drive time. Each driver must keep up with time spent on and off duty, sleeping and driving, in a logbook that is turned in every two weeks.

"They have to manage their time well," Gatlin said, adding that fatigue and accidents are a major concern of any driver. However, most accidents occur in parking lots, he said.

The Truck Rodeo’s obstacle course was built based on guidelines from the National Trucking Association, which holds its own annual truck rodeos. Gatlin said he hopes to someday be able to send drivers from Bonnie to the national events.

In order to participate in Bonnie’s Truck Rodeo, a driver must not have had any chargeable accidents on record, Gatlin said.

More training opportunities for drivers are added each year, said Gatlin, who has worked for Bonnie for three years.

"It’s a constant challenge to keep things going," he said. "But I think we’re improving. We’re only going to continue to grow."

Most Bonnie Plant Farm trucks are not large enough to require a driver to have a commercial driver’s license, Gatlin said. Drivers are recruited through universities, newspapers and Internet advertisements, but many drivers hear of the opportunity simply by word of mouth. Gatlin said Bonnie drivers come from all types of backgrounds. Some have worked in farming all their lives, while others have degrees in education or accounting.

The procedures of the contest will change slightly for next year’s Rodeo. For this first event, participation was open to all drivers. Next year, a maximum of two drivers from each station can be nominated to participate.

The contest’s judges this year were Roger Waller of Agri-AFC, Marie Cook of AFC, George Duberry of Nationwide Agribusiness and Cal Phillips of AFC’s Grain Division. Gatlin said he appreciated Waller, Cook and Duberry’s assistance in setting up the course, and noted that Cook was "very instrumental in the layout and design of the Rodeo policies and procedures."

"I would like that thank everyone who participated in the event and hope to see each of them back next year," Gatlin said, adding that thanks should also be given to Nationwide Agribusiness for co-sponsoring the event.

Purchased by Alabama Farmers Cooperative in 1975, Bonnie Plant Farms was first established in 1918 by Livingston and Bonnie Paulk. It was in the 1970s that the company first began to use greenhouses to expand its product from field-grown vegetables to include container plants. As the home-garden market grew in the 1980s, Bonnie kept up with the demand and continues to grow annually.

For more information on Bonnie Plant Farms, visit www.bonnieplants.com.

Ginny Farmer is a freelance writer from Auburn.