Farmers’ children grow up on tractors and around big trucks. Getting behind the wheel and driving comes natural.
Terry Barnes knew nothing different, spending his childhood on the family farm near Pomona. He was driving a tractor well before he was old enough to get a driver’s license. Driving was a way of life.
Not much changed after he left the family farm. Barnes began a career at United Parcel Service in 1980 as a clerk, and eventually became a driver, delivering packages. He spent the past 30 years navigating a UPS box truck through all kinds of weather and road conditions. As a UPS driver, he recently logged his one millionth mile without a wreck.
“I am very fortunate,” Barnes said. “It is something not too many people ever [accomplish]. I am proud of it.”
Barnes recalled his time on the farm, which set his perfect driving record in motion.
“Being the only child on a farm, you get on a tractor ... that was my summer,” Barnes said. “That is one of the most influential times in my life on my driving. That affected my driving and my work ethic. I have been around big trucks all my life.”
Barnes learned at an early age to drive straight as farmers always had straight rows of crops.
“What do you concentrate on? Straight ahead,” he said.
He recalled there were no umbrellas to hide the sun, or radios to help pass the time. Not much has changed today. Barnes remains radio-less in his brown UPS truck. And he has yet to venture into the world of smart phones.
“I am a dinosaur,” Barnes laughed. “I am basic.”
But what’s not basic are his driving instincts.
“You have to think about what the other person is doing,” Barnes said. “Your mind always has to be thinking ahead. That is the key. We are not just driving down the highway.”
Barnes makes deliveries in every condition imaginable. He said even when you know the road like the back of your hand, conditions can flip in an instant.
“When it gets dark, things change,” Barnes said. “You don’t have that line of sight where you use landmarks. Then you really have to be on your toes. There might be an intersection coming up or a curve on a windy road. You have to be aware of that.”
He is a rural route driver, meaning many of his stops are on county gravel roads. His route is in the Wellsville and Edgerton area. He said it is in a little square touching four counties: Franklin, Miami, Johnson and Douglas.
“I see how each county handles their roads,” Barnes said. “They all do it different. We are all-weather [drivers]. They close I-70 down [for ice and snow], but they don’t close down the rural roads. We are expected to be out there.”
He said the worst weather is sleet.
“It is like walking on marbles,” Barnes said. “You have ice underneath. When you are out driving, you have to be [cautious].”
Barnes said today’s drivers have a different temperament than when he first started.
“The closer you get to Kansas City, the more road rage you get,” he said. “The drivers today on a two-lane highway don’t want to be patient and wait for when their opportunity arises [to pass]. You are holding me up. They are going to pass even though they have a double yellow line. That is when you have to know the [mentality] of the people behind the wheel.”
He said drivers’ attitudes toward others is something that needs to improve.
“People need to be more considerate of other drivers as a general rule,” Barnes said. “We are part of the road. People need to realize we have a schedule to meet. This is my livelihood.”
He taught his own teenage daughters to drive and to keep their emotions under control when behind the wheel. He added that is a bit tougher because of his Irish blood. Barnes admitted he was a tough teacher, but in the end it paid dividends when both passed their driving tests with ease.
“I won’t check them off until they are ready to drive,” he said.
EYES OF MERCY
Barnes one day came upon a wreck on 199th Street in Edgerton. It was during December when the weather was nasty.
“It was foggy and a crappy day,” he recalled. “I was going east and I seen this car. There was a big ditch. The car did a Dukes of Hazzard and went airborne. It flipped.”
He immediately stopped and found one young woman unconscious. He put a hoodie around her to keep her warm. He said she soon became conscious and told him about another person in the wreck.
“I found the other girl and put a blanket on her,” he said. “I called 911.”
He came upon another wreck, south of Baldwin City, where a van ended up in a ditch. It was carrying chemicals, which leaked all over the road. He pulled the injured driver away from the chemicals. He noticed later the sleeves of his uniform had holes where the hazardous materials touched his arm.
“I have seen house fires,” Barnes said. “I stumbled upon broken glass [after a break-in]. We see all that.”