By Adam Ganucheau/NEMS Daily Journal
SALTILLO – After more than 5 million miles logged, Tupelo truck driver Carlton Fry is parking his big rig for good.
Fry retired last week after nearly 42 years of driving an 18-wheeler for Vanity Fair and Wrangler with no major accidents.
“I tell people all the time that it will be a huge lifestyle adjustment when I stop driving,” Fry said. “I don’t know any other way, but I am excited to see where retirement takes me.”
Fry started driving trucks when he was 23 years old, traveling to ports in places like Gulfport, Miami, Panama City, Fla., and Charleston, S.C. Working for Wrangler and Vanity Fair, he mostly carried shipments of jeanswear from port to warehouses.
“Carlton is quite the character and has been such a great driver for us,” Vanity Fair Saltillo terminal manager Keith Horton said. “It was always good to have someone that truly enjoyed his job. He was a great employee and we will definitely miss him.”
Fry turned 65 this year and made the decision to retire. He is accustomed to driving five or six days each week and getting to spend only a day or two with his wife, daughter and granddaughter, so things will be different for him now.
“I plan on spending a lot of time at the lake with family,” he said. “When I would come home and be with family, I wouldn’t want to leave them after a day, but I knew I had to. Now, I don’t have to do that.”
His wife, Peggy Fry, is just as excited to have her husband at home. She said the worst part of him being away were isolated incidents like when their daughter needed medical attention at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis and he was on the road.
“He was driving when we met, so I haven’t known any different,” she said. “I’ve been looking forward to this day for a very long time.”
Fry often reminisces of his time on the road – he laughed as he recalled stories ranging from a squirrel hanging from an overhead road sign to fending off prostitutes at truck stops in the middle of the night. He said he enjoyed being on the road and never really got bored, even on 12- or 13-hour trips.
“I think being so high off the ground kept me alert and interested,” he said. “Being that high up, you get to see a lot more than you can from a regular vehicle.”
Company policy did not allow his wife or even a dog to travel with him in the trucks, so he was always on his own. He hardly ever listened to the radio, even. He kept himself entertained by singing oldies to himself while rocking his head back and forth to his own beat.
Besides usual blowouts, flat tires and minor accidents like clipping overhead power lines, Fry avoided any major accidents, which he chalks up to one thing – his faith.
“Most people say ‘God is my co-pilot,’” he said. “My saying is, ‘God is my pilot.’ He is the one that has kept me safe all these years.”
In addition to going to the lake with his family, he plans on traveling the country in different ways. Fry has looked into becoming a part-time tour bus driver and an RV delivery man – both jobs would allow his wife to travel with him.
“We are looking forward to traveling the country together,” she said. “It will be nice to get to spend time together. That’s what it’s all about.”
Fry says the couple’s first trip will likely be to the Florida Keys, one part of the country that he has never traveled to. He might even sing oldies on the drive down, but this time his wife can join him.