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All the road running

Charlie McLain caps off a career of hauling for Co-op
By Glen Liford, Editor 10/1/2021

 

Glen Liford, Editor
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When Charlie McLain decided to try his hand at driving a truck in 1973, he had no idea where the road would lead. 


Charlie was 26 at the time, and he knew he liked trucks. His business selling used cars at a local car lot was not making him rich, so he decided to give trucking a chance. Over the next decade or more, he says he hauled nearly everything you could think of. 


“I drove over-the-road trucks for a while,” says Charlie. “I hauled cars, green beans, watermelons, you name it. Finally, I started moving fertilizer for Cherokee Fertilizer and some other [businesses].” 


In the mid-1980s, he and business partner Tim Pettus bought a local trucking business and began working for Tennessee Farmers Cooperative and several Middle Tennessee Co-ops. He started shuttling fertilizer for Co-op from Poplar Corner to LaVergne and then to Co-ops throughout Middle Tennessee. Later, he added hardware products and feed to the list of commodities his trucks carried.


“When I started, I was used to finding towns pretty easily,” he recalls. “But all the Co-ops go by county name, and I had to learn which towns went with which counties.”


During the rush of the spring season, Charlie says he was practically a regular Co-op employee. He would show up at a local store, and the employees would be out spreading fertilizer or delivering product. He would simply show up, get the truck unloaded, and then head off to the next stop. He worked with the Co-op employees to ensure the farmers had what they needed, when they needed it. 


“Wayne Lannom, who worked in the LaVergne Fertilizer Department, would call the stores and tell them to hurry and get me unloaded because I had a lot more to do,” he says with a laugh. “Jim Holland [another Fertilizer Department member] always told me ‘Just do the best you can and don’t worry about it.’ The Co-op folks were super good to me.”


After almost four decades in the driver’s seat in service to Co-op, he has been only one of many truckers who worked behind the scenes to keep products moving throughout the system — from warehouses, fertilizer plants, and feed mills to the local Co-ops. Their importance has been highlighted in recent years as a shortage of drivers has threatened to hamper product deliveries. 


As Charlie looks to retirement in 2021, he says his age and health has made his decision to leave easier, though he hopes he isn’t giving up his profession completely. 


“I plan to be semi-retired,” he says. “I may still do some driving if they need me.” 


He has enjoyed roaming the Tennessee backroads and small towns and taking in the scenery along the way.


“I’m sure I am going to miss going to all those places,” he says. “I hardly ever took the same route twice. I’m afraid I will be like a coon dog looking for something to tree.” 


 
 
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