CHASING DESTINY - Mike Landis
Legend Nominee: Mike Landis
Throughout history, Pennsylvania has earned a number of nicknames within our nation’s most thriving industries for its production in coal, oil, and steel – but the Keystone State will be forever known as the birthplace of independence and the U.S. Constitution. Referencing the term, keystone and its correlation to the state indicates significance in a direction of formalities.
Fact one: its architecture describes the central wedge-shaped stone in an arch which holds all the other stones in place; Pennsylvania's initials were carved into the "keystone" of the arch supporting the Pennsylvania Avenue Bridge.
And two: Pennsylvania's vote for independence was noted as the keystone vote; the supporting vote for a new government. Most importantly, as the middle colony of the original thirteen colonies, Pennsylvania's geographic location greatly impacted the evolution of our country on the basis of economic, social, and political structure.
This Legend driver’s family history is similar to Pennsylvania’s beginning… born and raised in the prominent state his roots extend three generations into the trucking industry. During our interview, we discuss his family’s principles and the imprint upon his future at an early age, revealing the cornerstone is parallel of the infrastructure that led to the creation of our great nation. His strong interest into the trucking industry has taken on a new platform, wanting to improve his profession as a truck driver he has accepted the personal responsibility as shepherd – per say. His veins pump with a passion for trucking, born into the business his intentions in seeking fair treatment and legitimacy for his fellow drivers is a calling that he has sanctioned with a humble heart and honest intentions.
Owner operator, Mike Landis, founder of Landis & Sons, LLC (based out of Lancaster, PA) rotates between many hats. One, CEO of the United States Transportation Alliance (USTA) – a nonprofit organization created and composed of professional truck drivers declaring an end of unethical treatment and over-regulation within the trucking industry, as a whole. The group’s initiative began with only a small few, whom were actively involved in taking their voices directly to Washington, D.C. speaking with various government agencies, legislators, and industry stakeholders on their behalf of real experiences, how current rules and regulations affect commercial drivers, and suggest implementing changes to help keep our roads and truck drivers safe. Today, USTA includes over 200 members and growing.
Secondly, since obtaining his own authority in 2015, Mike has paved his way as an independent business owner starting in LTL hauling refrigerated freight and tanker trailers on the side. Within two years, he was pulling tanks full-time with another driver leased on to him. Combined with his deep-rooted pride for the industry, his decision to stand up for the American truck driver grew evident as his mission became clearer.
Mike’s father drove trucks for a living, and his father before him – dedicating over 40 years to the business. His other grandfather on his mother’s side also drove delivery trucks for UPS, with a career expanding over 20 years. An extension of relatives further down the line of succession drove as a husband and wife team. Trucking has served as the heartbeat of Mike’s family history, dating back decades when old school values were all the instruction drivers needed to base their work ethic upon.
Back when the ability of performance from each driver was never questioned – the job was always completed. The former days of running long hours, hands-on, no distractions of cell phones, etc. – all represented what driving a semi-truck was all about. No fancy equipment or accommodating conditions, such as; heat and air conditioning, or automatic transmissions. Often the drive was bumpy, miserable, and miles away from home. The profession of a truck driver was not pursued as an easy pay check, but rather as a lifestyle for only the self-driven individuals willing to sacrifice quality time with loved ones, in return provide an honest living one can be proud of.
When in talks with other drivers during the beginning stages of establishing USTA, Mike’s agenda was to bring unity to the trucker community and discuss issues and possible solutions that need to be addressed with decision makers. His need to preserve the authenticity of the industry for the sake of future drivers, today’s drivers, and the old school drivers ultimately pushed him to the stage of frontrunners, leading others to discover their voice against transgression while raising awareness for road safety. Stating,
“I am a proud American that loves this country. My family has devoted themselves to providing for this nation I call home. I feel like it’s our duty to speak up when people try to make our industry less than or worse than we have built it to be. Most of the people putting these rules in place aren’t the ones affected by the changes. USTA wants to show them that truckers are intelligent professionals that deserve to be heard… we are the ones that have been driving these roads day in and day out. We live and breathe safety. Trucking is our livelihood and how we support our families. When people higher up try to ruin that, we have a right to speak up.”
Mike explains how his childhood was short-lived. The oldest of 3 boys, at age 11 he landed his first paying gig cleaning and emptying the trash at a local car garage for two hours every other day. By 14, he was hired at a small restaurant working several positions: cashier, cook, and eventually working his way up to shift leader. He, along with co-workers helped drum up business at the local diner, making the place a popular spot known for their customer service and hospitality. Taking on the responsibilities of an adult, Mike’s fun personality resembled his natural age, while his work ethic mirrored his father’s – wise beyond his years.
Once 16 and licensed, he began working at a fab shop building performance stages for bands. During this time he learned how to weld and gained a deeper insight into mechanics. Building and working with his hands came second-nature from shadowing his grandfather, who was a skilled mechanic and drag racer. This early experience helped Mike advance as a teenage welder at the shop, surpassing men twice his age.
Although receiving high praises for his work, the moment he turned 18 and became licensed to operate a semi-truck, Mike let his trade of welding fall to the wayside. After all, it has always been about trucking… growing up, if he wasn’t in a truck, drawing or building a truck, he was thinking about one. Particularly, a Peterbilt day cab. He says, “I had this vision as a kid that one day I would have my own Peterbilt truck. It’s just something that I knew I would achieve it was just a matter of timing.”
As a hobby, Mike turned to riding dirt bikes. The thrill of racing was passed down to his own boys, Chace and Gavin – both ride regularly with no bigger fan in attendance than their father. Family traditions carry on year after year, but a desire to fulfill a legacy requires a passion for purpose. Wanting to be a professional driver was just the brink of Mike’s plans. He wanted to continue what his family had started, by accomplishing his goals as a driver and maintaining the professional image his previous generations had honored, while also raising the bar in the process.
Within his 15 years of driving experience, Mike has accumulated 1.8 million safe miles to-date. Having obtained his CDL at age 18 he was still permitted to drive a semi-truck across state lines until the age of 21. He settled for a driving job at a company in town delivering animal feed to local farmers. Working on double shifts, Mike took the night shift rotating with a 30-year veteran driver who was extremely particular about sharing his truck space due to lack of respect for the equipment from other drivers. Mike came on to the scene speaking the same language – the two were paired up – quickly earning the recognition of his co-pilot.
Taking that learning experience with him to his next venture, Mike spent the summer months working for a chicken hauling operation. The plant was located in New Jersey, but he found work in the shop welding trailers when he was short on local runs. He moved on to transporting milk directly to farmers, (finally) driving a Peterbilt day cab. Working as a company driver, meant Mike had to split the driver’s seat with other drivers during his off days. Wanting to keep the truck in tact just so, he refused to slow down, running mile after mile.
Invited to ride along on a trip with a driver out to Iowa, Mike jumped at the opportunity. Pulling flatbed and an oversized load back, he was hooked. He soon began driving for the same company running their local work and joining his friend when able – learning the flatbed lane, preparing himself for his 21st birthday. When legal, he was granted the reigns to a Peterbilt with an extended bunk and given the green light to run over-the-road.
“I was living my glory days. I didn’t know many people my age doing what I was doing. My dreams were beginning to unfold right before my eyes! All of my hard work was paying off, doors were opening for me. And I have yet to slow down… I keep setting goals, one at a time. That’s all we can do… look out for each other and keep truckin.”
Using the savings bonds gifted to him from his grandfather that drove for UPS, Mike’s choice to pursue a career following in his footsteps came to fruition. November 2006, Mike purchased a 1988 Peterbilt 362 cab over becoming an owner operator, leasing on with the same company pulling flatbed. The first truck of many, dubbed his “OG” it remains in his possession with intentions to restore for the third time. Currently in 1999 Peterbilt 362 cab over, Mike is known within the trucking community as a cab over king – favoring the models for their unique and timeless design – easily recognizable and classic.
Mike is home every weekend to spend time with his sons. When he is not on the sidelines cheering for them during race events, he tends to enjoy racing dirt bikes himself. Of all his accomplishments ascending from a long line of trailblazers, as he moves toward making his own mark within the trucking industry, I inquire as to what type of legacy can we expect from him…
“I am no different from the men and women before me, family members and truck drivers. We don’t do any of this for notoriety, we do it because we love what we do for a living. Driving a truck is what you make it… for people like me, it’s our life. I just want to be known as a standup guy that did the right thing. I think that is the definition of a truck driver… someone who is honest, hardworking, treats people fairly and wants that same respect. That’s the type of message I hope can live on through me.”