Chris and Shawna Frantz are an Owner Operator team from Niles, Ohio that has been with PAM for over 22 years. PAM put them together back on May 8, 1996 and it stuck in a major way. As Chris likes to put it, “When most guys sign on, they get a bonus. I got a wife!”
This husband and wife team drove together as Company Drivers for six years and have worked together as an Owner Operator team for the last 16 years. This is their story.
Shawna started with PAM back in 1995 after six and a half years as a medical assistant. She made the leap to truck driving because she “just needed a change.”
“The thing that appealed to me about driving was freedom,” she says. “Freedom! It was just a calling. I started checking out the truck driving schools and there was only one that would allow me to go to school on weekends, and continue working during the week. That one was in Newton Falls, Ohio.”
When she started at PAM, Shawna was initially frustrated. She wanted to team with experienced drivers but the company kept on matching her with people who had just one or two months more experience. Then, PAM paired her up with Chris, a driver with six years of experience at the time.
Prior to becoming a professional truck driver, Chris worked in law enforcement. He went to truck driving school in Middleton, Ohio, and signed up with an Owner Operator going coast to coast hauling refrigerated freight. There for a year, he next started hauling steel for another company and did that for five-and-a-half years before joining PAM as a solo driver.
When he signed up, they asked him, “What do you think about running with a woman?” And he said, “Well, I’ll try anything once!” (At the time, there weren’t a lot of women truck drivers.)
“It was just a dumb stroke of luck that they put us together,” he says.
Chris and Shawna worked together for three years before they got married. “Companies were having problems teaming men and women together and they weren’t going to do it anymore,” says Chris. “We were living together already and I said, ‘We’ll fix that, we’ll just get married!’ We get along well. 22 years. Seven days a week, 24 hours a day. And we have no problems, no issues.”
What makes it work, according to Chris, is that nobody’s the boss. “Once somebody starts acting like they’re [the boss], then you start having problems,” he says. “We’re a team. I handle the truck side of it, the maintenance and things, while she handles the bookkeeping and finances. I have 100-percent confidence in her. She’s better than any male partner they ever put me with.”
Becoming an Owner Operator Team
After six years as Company Drivers, Chris and Shawna worked up the courage to take the plunge and become an Owner Operator team.
“I kept hearing him say, ‘Aw that’s my dream truck,’ looking at one going by. ‘That’s my dream truck!’ I kept listening to that and I thought, ‘OK, we’ll make this happen,’” says Shawna.
“It was her idea,” remembers Chris. “She cashed in one of her 401(k)s for the down payment on our first truck, a two-year-old 2000 Freightliner classic with 68k and a full warranty. We figured that was the best deal we could get.”
Today, Chris and Shawna drive a 2017 Western Star Ultra-High 82” sleeper. It has a 505 Detroit with a 13-speed transmission — a good amount of pulling power. According to the dealer, who is right around the corner from the PAM terminal in North Jackson, Ohio, there are only two of these trucks in the U.S. “We’ve never had anything this high end and didn’t think we could ever afford it, but the guy at Western Star gave us a deal that we just couldn’t pass up,” says Chris.
Advice for New Owner Operators
By all standards, Chris and Shawna have been highly successful as an Owner Operator team. In the last 16 years with PAM, neither has had an accident or any freight claims. How do they do it?
First and foremost, Chris and Shawna emphasize safety as a key to success. “I think I go like a granny out there,” says Shawna. “I barely get above 64/65. You have to watch your mirrors constantly.”
“The truck we just traded in had 610,000 miles on it,” says Chris. “Original brakes, original clutch, because, we don’t drive aggressively. Why create a situation where you increase your chance of having an accident? Somebody may do something, have an accident, and then say ‘Ok but, I was right.’ If you’re sitting there wrecked, who cares if you’re right? The question is could you have avoided it? I think you have to have a lot of patience. I think as you get older you develop that.”
“We don’t tailgate,” says Shawna. “We don’t run with other drivers. Even if somebody cuts you off, just back off. Give yourself that stopping distance. Back off.”
A second pillar of success per the Frantzes is pre-trip inspections. “When it’s mine, I’ll look it over. I want to know,” says Chris. “I have probably turned in more trailers for fixing expired Federal inspections than probably anybody else.
“I know what the DOT is looking for when you’re out here. It’s the little things. I make sure my windows are clean. I make sure that my lights all work. I listen for the air.”
“He’s constantly going around at night,” says Shawna. “Every light on the trailer he’ll wipe down, that he can, so that we’re seen.”
“You’d be surprised at the brightness between a dirty light and a clean light,” says Chris. “You’re going down the road, the DOT sees that it’s dirty and stuff like that and all these trailers are dirty. Then one goes by [clean], they know the driver did that. If a guy cares enough to get out and clean all the lights on the truck, that guy’s got his act together.”
Lastly, Chris and Shawna counsel Owner Operators to be mindful of their money. “I think a mistake a lot of these guys make is with the money,” says Chris. “When you’re an Owner Operator, that money is not yours, it belongs to the business. You’ve got to reinvest a good chunk of it.”
An Inspiration for All Drivers
Chris and Shawna are a successful couple with a fantastic story that truly inspires. While not everyone will meet their future husband or wife through truck driving like they did, their achievements as Owner Operators is within reach of all drivers, provided they demonstrate the same level of focus and dedication.