by Dennis Dalman
Even though it’s long been her driving passion, Joyce Sauer never set out to become a trucker.
But while growing up on a farm in Collegeville, she became adept at driving all kinds of heavy farm equipment. During a recessionary period circa 1980, jobs were hard to come by, and Sauer decided to work as an over-the-road trucker for an area company. Her first job involved hauling railroad ties to the Duluth area.
Years later, in 1996, she and her husband, Todd Brenny, also a trucker, started their own company. They met when Joyce was general manager of an area trucking company and Todd was an over-the-road trucker for the same company. At first there were only three employees in a small Waite Park office. Later, the company moved to St. Joseph, where it remains, having flourished for 22 years. It now employs 100 people.
Brenny Transportation is lauded widely for its expert truckers, for its meticulous attention to customers’ needs, for its unwavering support for employees and for its extraordinary safety records.
Sauer-Brenny was the featured speaker May 3 for the weekly Coffee and Conversation get-together at the Sartell Senior Connection. She shared anecdotes and insights about her years in the trucking industry and gave many safety tips for drivers on how to avoid accidents with trucks.
Joining her in the presentation was Sarah Wishnefski, public-relations director for Brenny Transportation.
One day in the mid-1990s, Joyce told her husband she was ready to quit the trucking business. She had become fed up with the disrespectful ways truckers were treated by so many people, including at times by some trucking firms.
She and her husband agreed if they continued in the trucking business and started their own firm, they would work very hard to see truckers are treated with the utmost respect and doing outreach educational efforts to inform the public how truckers and the work they do is often completely ignored or dismissed with the worst forms of negative stereotypes.
Their work paid off, and Brenny Transportation is now recognized far and wide as a model business for its professionalism, safety, employee satisfaction, local charitable fundraising work and community connectiveness. It has been honored with a slew of awards. They include being named one of the Top 100 Employers in Minnesota six times, the Good Samaritan Award, Champion of Business by the St. Cloud Area Chamber of Commerce, two Drivers of the Year awards, first-place Minnesota Business Ethics Award and countless safety awards for the business and its truckers.
One of Brenny’s biggest customers is the Sartell-based Dezurik Inc., a maker of giant valves. Brenny has had a contract for all of its 22 years to haul valves all over the world for Dezurik.
Brenny had a very important long-term contract with Verso paper mill in Sartell until an explosion there forced the closing of that company. The explosion, which killed a Verso worker, was a terrible shock to the staff and crew at Brenny, said Joyce Sauer-Brenny.
Brenny truckers also haul items for – to name a few – Ron’s Cabinets, Park Industries, Cold Spring Granite. The truckers hauled hundreds of loads of granite to New York City for use in building the new World Trade Center.
Locally, Brenny drivers are constantly busy – everything from hauling bridge beams for the new Sauk Rapids bridge to hauling dairy cases for Coborn’s grocery stores.
Truckers and the work they do, said Sauer-Brenny, are practically invisible to the public – out of sight, out of mind. People, she added, would be stunned if they fully understood how lives are touched by truckers. Without trucking, many of life’s functions would cease, some of them within a day or two – hospital services, fuel-pump gas, food and drugs, virtually all the give-and-take of commerce.
There are more trucks on the nation’s roads than ever, Sauer-Brenny said, adding more people means more trucks.
In the United States, there are currently 3.5-million trucks who drive, collectively, 279 billion miles a year. The safety records for that many truckers, that many miles, is astonishing, she said.
Truckers generally make between $70,000 and $80,000 per year, but it can be a tough life, with truckers often away from their families on those long miles. And that is one reason why there is now a shortage of truckers.
Sauer-Brenny and others are meeting with legislators, school officials and other officials to help kick-start an interest in the profession. Another ongoing problem is a shortage of overnight parking spaces for truckers to rest. Truckers have electronic-recording logs that keep track of the time each day they drive. After 10 hours of driving, a trucker must cease driving and get sleep. Some truckers have no choice but to break the law when they cannot find a place to park their truck and get the required sleep.
Another more recent challenge is roundabouts. It is very difficult for some trucks to maneuver around them without taking up both lanes. Sauer-Brenny urges people to be courteous and to hold back, giving the truck extra space when they see a truck at a roundabout.
Drug testing is also required for all truckers. Sauer-Brenny said in the 22 years of Brenny Transportation, there has never been a trucker who failed a drug test. She also said she thinks all professionals should be drug-tested as long as truckers are singled out for testing.
Some trucking companies have a 100-percent turnover rate in truckers every year. Brenny has been fortunate, with its 80-percent retention rate, Sauer-Brenny noted.
Driverless trucks, so-called, will not be seen on roads for at least 10 to 15 years, she said. Electrically-powered trucks are already being used in some companies.
Wishnefski played for the audience a video tape of a Lakeville trucker who addressed safety issues.
He said in his 29 years of trucking, he has witnessed from the cab of his truck an increase in unsafe-driving practices: car drivers using cell phones, texting, eating while driving, weaving rapidly lane to lane and speeding.
The trucker shared safety tips:
Do not tailgate a truck. It takes a truck almost 200 feet to come to a stop, twice as far as the stopping distance of a car.
Never attempt a “squeeze play.” That means trying to “squeeze” past a truck when it is making a turn.
Do not drive for any length of time at the side of a truck. If you want to pass a truck, do it as quickly as is safely possible. When pulling into the lane in front of the traveling truck, make sure the front of the truck is visible in your rear-view mirror. That is because there are four “blind spots” a trucker cannot see while driving: up to 20 feet in front of the trucker’s cab, on either side of the truck trailer and up to 200 feet in the rear.