Overdrive's 2023 Trucker of the Year- John Schiltz

Overdrive’s 2023 Trucker of the Year: John Schiltz

John Schiltz, a 57-year-old trucking enthusiast from Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, has had a remarkable journey in the trucking world. His life has been intertwined with trucks since childhood, as his father was an over-the-road trucker. At the tender age of 8, John had his first seat time on the family farm’s truck. As he grew older, he started hauling agricultural commodities like sweet corn, cabbage, and green beans locally in Wisconsin when he turned 18.

Despite his passion for trucks, John had two separate stints in the Army, totaling 17 years, where he worked as a heavy-truck mechanic. In between, he drove for various outfits, including Bradley Farms in Sun Prairie. He recalls hauling crops as far as Arkansas in a day cab, often spending nights sleeping on the seats of his truck.

His second Army stint included two tours in Iraq, during which he served for eight months in 2003 and a year from 2004 to 2005. Unfortunately, due to medical reasons, he had to retire as a disabled veteran in 2010. John’s dedication and service in the military earned him a Bronze Star during one of his deployments to Iraq.

After leaving the Army, John followed his true passion for trucking. In 2010, he purchased his first truck, a 2000 Kenworth W900, and started contacting former employers. One such employer, Phil Seston, connected him with Hartung Brothers in Madison, Wisconsin, where he began his trucking journey as a contractor, hauling green beans and raw vegetables. He eventually transitioned to moving large equipment for the company, particularly cucumber harvesters, which required long hauls from Texas to Indiana and back.

In the early years of his trucking venture, John had limited business experience, but he was determined to keep his truck rolling. He understood the importance of maintaining his truck due to his military background, which instilled a strong sense of discipline and responsibility.

During this time, John met his wife, Sarah, in 2010. They got married a couple of years later. With her background in accounting, Sarah took charge of managing their business’s financial aspects. She studied accounting around 2016-17 and continues to handle the books for John and their company, Veterans Transportation Services LLC (VTS).

The Schiltzes have always placed a strong emphasis on truck maintenance. They experienced a significant setback when John’s second truck, a 2008 Kenworth T660, repeatedly broke down due to issues with the emissions system related to the Caterpillar engine’s ARD head. After multiple repairs and a $10,000 bill, Sarah contacted Caterpillar and explained their business’s dire situation. The company responded by covering the tow and repair costs. However, the problem persisted, leaving John distraught and financially drained.

During this challenging time, an old friend from John’s early farming days, Alan Kelly, stepped in to offer his support. Kelly went above and beyond to help John, even selling his grain bin to provide the funds necessary to purchase a 1999 Kenworth W900 that was rumored to be for sale in the area. He selflessly extended the financial lifeline that allowed John to continue his trucking business. The Schiltzes were able to repay Kelly in the first year, highlighting the importance of friendship and support in their journey.

John still drives the 1999 Kenworth W900 that Kelly helped him acquire in 2013. In 2019, he invested in a new Cummins N14 crate motor and restored the truck’s body. Both John’s W900 and Sarah’s 2013 Kenworth T660 are meticulously maintained. They conduct regular inspections, change oil, and keep extra parts on hand to minimize downtime.

The Schiltzes are known for efficiently managing their trucks, limiting idling using an APU and bunk heater. They also pay close attention to tire pressures to ensure even wear and extend tire life. Both trucks are geared similarly and have the same size tires, allowing them to optimize fuel efficiency and achieve impressive miles per-gallon figures.

The Schiltzes run their business nationwide, hauling various freight, including raw vegetables during harvest seasons and flatbeds, RGNs, or step decks throughout the year. They have expanded their business through direct customers and brokers, with Plainfield Trucking significantly providing work during harvest times.

Their commitment to delivering on time and securing cargo safely has earned them a strong reputation among brokers and customers. Brad Trnka, president of the Centerline Freight Services brokerage, lauds the Schiltzes for their exceptional service, communication, and punctuality.

Despite the challenges the trucking industry poses, the Schiltzes continue to thrive. Their willingness to spend weeks on the road, particularly during harvest seasons, has contributed to their success. The couple’s strong work ethic and shared dedication to their business make them a formidable team. As they move forward, John and Sarah remain focused on their goals, dreams, and a future filled with opportunities in the trucking world. Their story is an inspiring example of resilience, determination, and the power of teamwork in the trucking industry. John Schiltz’s motto, “A quality carrier isn’t expensive; a quality carrier is priceless,” reflects the principles guiding their journey and leading to their success.

More photos and storyline: Overdrive




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