April 20, 2020

Shamrock Foods Driver & IFDA Truck Driver Hall of Fame Winner Phil Trejo  

For the average driver, getting behind the wheel for many years can feel like being on autopilot. For professional truck drivers like Phil Trejo of Shamrock Foods, 100 percent of his mental focus is required to navigate traffic, maneuver around constructions zones and handle treacherous weather—all while handling a 50-foot tractor trailer to deliver product on time to his customers.

“When you’re in a truck, you’re concentrating the whole time, which can be a lot more tiring than the physical work,” says Phil, part of IFDA’s 2019 Truck Driver Hall of Fame Class. “It’s mentally very taxing, which is not something a lot of people think about when they look at this line of work.”

Phil’s mental discipline extends well beyond the hours he’s driving. A daily route from his suburban Denver, Colorado home heading north to Fort Collins starts at midnight, which means his head has to hit the pillow when most folks are enjoying dinner. But while the self-restraint needed to go to sleep at 6 pm every weeknight means this avid sports fan misses watching evening football games, Phil enjoys the consistency of this route, which he’s had for six years. Knowing what’s ahead of him each day, each week and each month helps reduce much of the day-to-day stress many drivers experience.

While Phil’s long tenure at Shamrock means he can pick his routes, he’s no stranger to expecting for the unexpected. Like the time he pulled into downtown Boulder at 2 am for a drop-off and was met with 1,000+ riotous students celebrating the CU Buffs football win on Pearl Street. With no choice but to slow down and start unloading at the customer’s location, Phil became a temporary bouncer as waves of students jumped onto and into his truck to take selfies, while police threw up their hands in mercy. On another late night drop, he was greeted at the locked backdoor of the restaurant by a drunk with a wad of cash in his hand asking, “Can I get a drink? I’ll pay for it.” 
The Denver-Ft. Collins route that Phil now drives Monday through Friday provides him a sense of stability, something he never grew used to as the son of an Air Force veteran from Texas who met and married a Brit. His parents moved from England to Mississippi when he was just six weeks old, followed by dozens more moves to Germany, New Mexico, England and Arkansas. Phil later put himself through college in Colorado Springs, where the family moved when his father retired.

With zero interest in entering the trucking or foodservice business upon graduation, Phil was eight months into his job hunt when a friend working at Shamrock convinced him to consider driving as a career. “I had never even sat in a big truck before, let alone driven one,” says Phil. “At that point, seeing one go down the highway was the closest I had ever come to knowing anything about trucking.”
As was the norm when he started driving for Shamrock in 1990, training was basic. Without a commercial driver’s license, Phil learned by practicing in a parking lot. One day a manager who was licensed to do road tests took him around the block and simply said, “You’re good.”

“I was terrified,” he says of driving outside the confines of the parking lot for the first time. “I had never been in traffic before. But it was a Sunday, so I had that going for me. We learned on the fly back then.”
Winging it in those days also meant navigating without Waze or delivery instructions. Drivers were sent off with a road map and told to ask for directions after arriving at their first stop. He says: “I’d go up to Nebraska, find my first delivery and then have to ask the customer if they knew where the next place might be. They’d say, ‘Do you know where the old fire station used to be? Well if you find out where it used to be, make a right.’ That’s how they thought about these things in the old days.”

To become a member of IFDA’s Truck Driver Hall of Fame, drivers must have at least 25 years experience with no chargeable accidents, nor any moving violations within the five years prior to nomination. Phil’s exceptional record is more notable given the tough terrain in Colorado, where traversing the Rocky Mountains is, as he likes to say, “good for skiing but not for driving.” When the inevitable snowstorms roll in, chaining up a truck – which is now strictly enforced – takes considerable time, adding to the pressure of making those on-time deliveries. And he’s fallen on ice during 2 a.m. key-drop deliveries, which is unsettling when no one is around to help and it’s time to get to the next customer.

Still, Phil says he’s been lucky considering some of the risks his job poses. His drive to Ft. Collins is typically cloudless and wide open. The town has a laid-back attitude and friendly customers. While his six-year route might get rote to some drivers, Phil finds his own self-motivation by setting goals each day. “I go through my whole route in my head and set times for when I want to be at what stop,” he says. “I get upset with myself if I don’t meet those times. No one else knows what they are, but I do and that’s all that matters to me. If I ever don’t care it would be a tough job to do.”

Being recognized as one of the best in his profession in IFDA’s Truck Driver Hall of Fame was a significant moment for Phil. “You put a lot of effort in and don’t know if anyone notices, so when you get a big national award like that, it really means a lot,” he says. “You don’t even know if anyone knows how good of a job you’re doing or even what you’re doing, so it’s evidence that you’ve done well.” 

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