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Epilogue | Robert E. 'Bones' Mills

Trucker relished the open road for 56 years

SEFFNER — In 1969, Robert "Bones" Mills bought a blue Peterbilt rig with light blue pinstripes, the envy of other over-the-road truckers.

He had someone paint the Roadrunner on the front louvers, over the grill.

But the coyote is right there, too, a fraction of a second behind.

For 56 years behind the wheel, Mr. Mills drove — and lived — as if there were no time to spare.

And he watched America change. Two-lane roads grew to four lanes, which gave way to Interstates. Mom-and-pop truck stops gave way to "service plazas" that closely resemble one another, like the food court at any mall.

His comfort increased, from metal springs he could feel beneath the seat cushion to air suspension. Air conditioning kept him cooler. CB radios allowed him to chat with other truckers.

Mr. Mills died Dec. 10. He was 77.

"Those guys in the 1970s and 1960s were your hard-core truck driver," said James Mills, Mr. Mills' son and a trucker himself. "They were out to take the money and run. Those guys and that time period were like your outlaw bikers."

Mills estimates his father drove millions of miles and through every state except Hawaii. He returned to his home in Johnstown, Pa., to a wife and five children.

In one memorable run in the mid 1970s, Mr. Mills took a load from Johnstown through Washington State and up the Alaskan-Canadian Highway. In Anchorage, Alaska, he dropped off a load of steel for the Alaska Pipeline. His seven-week trip, which included a swing through California on the return leg, paid $25,000.

He made frequent runs to Texas, where he hung out with other truckers waiting for the right load back.

"They would go to a terminal and play gin, drink beer and wait for a load to come up," said James Mills, 47. "They could pick and choose where they wanted to go. A guy would come in and put a load on the board. If it paid good, he'd take it."

CB radios alerted him to police lying in wait or the next weigh station.

"They took back roads if they were heavy. They had bear reports if there were cops out."

Mr. Mills went by the handle "Quack Quack 1" — a bond with three other truckers also named Quack Quack.

He made friends easily, introducing himself in a gravely voice with the word, "Howdy." A rangy 6-footer, he ate only meat and potatoes —never pizza or submarine sandwiches or dessert. He smoked unfiltered Lucky Strikes and liked his steak burned.

Other truckers knew where they stood with Mr. Mills. "If my dad liked you, he liked you, and if he didn't he told you how it was," his son said.

He could take a hard-running lifestyle to extremes, and once drove for three days straight.

"Drivers back then had their ways of staying awake," his son said. He rested only after friends conficated his keys.

Yet in 56 years, Mr. Mills had no accidents and incurred only one ticket, for illegal parking.

Born in Johnstown, Mr. Mills came by the nickname "Bones" because of a childhood anemia that left him thin. He learned how to drive a truck at age 13, and started work unloading them at 16.

He married Alice Pemrod New Year's Eve, 1953. He became an owner-operator and began hauling steel around the country. He drove part-time for several years, and continued to work unti 2005. Mr. Mills and Alice moved to Seffner in 2006. She died two years later.

The trucking industry has changed since the 1970s. The Motor Carrier Act of 1980 deregulated the trucking industry and drove prices down, as new players underbid the rest. More recent federal regulations have found truckers limited to 11 hours of driving a day, their positions monitored by GPS devices.

"After he retired, I would come home and tell him the rules and regulations," his son said. "He said, 'They took the fun out of trucking.' He's glad he got out of it when he did."

About two years ago, Mr. Mills was diagnosed with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, a likely result of his smoking. His son asked him if he had any regrets.

"He said, 'No. I would live it again the same way.'"

Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

. biography

Robert E. 'Bones' Mills

Born: Sept. 22, 1933

Died: Dec. 10, 2010

Survivors: sons Steve and his wife, Jan, James and his wife, Cindy, Rick and Dan; daughter Vicky Nazarak and her husband, Louis; brother Richard and his wife, Barbara; seven grandchildren; one great-grandchild.

Trucker relished the open road for 56 years 12/18/10 [Last modified: Saturday, December 18, 2010 7:56pm]
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