Mack Anthem® powers third generation of Burns Motor Freight

“There’s only one way into the little town of Marlinton, West Virginia, nestled deep in the Allegheny Mountains, and that’s going straight up and then back down again,” says John Burns, president of Burns Motor Freight.

Forest green Mack trucks have been running up and down the mountainous terrain and throughout West Virginia since 1949. That’s the year John’s grandfather Fred C. Burns bought his first truck, a 1948 Mack Model LJ for $10,000. When John’s granddad applied for a loan, the bank wasn’t interested until a board member vouched for him, saying, “This old boy will work.” He didn’t stop working or buying Mack trucks until he passed away in 2007 and the Mack LJ is still parked at the company headquarters.

And next year, the company will celebrate 75 continuous years of a diverse and successful trucking business. The family-owned company is currently led by the third generation of Burns children, continuing the legacy of their grandfather and fathers, Fred Jr., and Larry Burns.

Larry Burns’ son, Mike, is now vice president of Burns Motor Freight and says his grandfather’s epic work ethic as well as dedication to innovation serve as inspiration to the entire team. Current leadership also includes Mike’s cousins John (president) and Doug (director of safety and recruiting). The cousins have a deep respect for the advice and industry knowledge of their dads, Fred Jr and Larry Burns, as they carry the torch into the new era.

The Mack family connection

While things have changed since Fred Sr. hauled loads with his beloved Mack LJ as a one-man operation, and his wife Lucille did the bookkeeping and dispatch, the third generation continues the deep relationship between Mack Trucks and Burns Motor Freight.

“Granddad and Mack Trucks believed in the same rugged, dependable, hardworking philosophy. And Mack’s tagline, ‘Born Ready,’ sums up both the man and the truck manufacturer,” Mike says.

Today, they have 60 employees, including Kenny Hall, terminal manager, who has been with the company for 48 years. “It’s hard to find dedicated employees like that and when you do, you find a way to hold on to them,” says Mike. They operate 100% Mack Anthems® to haul building products, steel, lumber, wood residue and whiskey barrel components throughout West Virginia and the East Coast.

Mike says they rely on their equipment’s dependability, safety, fuel efficiency and technology. They operate 36 Mack Anthem day cabs with MP®8HE engines and 32 Mack Anthem 70-inch sleepers with MP®8HE engines — all with m DRIVE™. The fleet includes more than 200 open top, curtain side, flatbed and log trailers and they have five new Anthems on order. Mike says he depends on the Mack equipment but also on Mack’s commitment to standing behind their warranties and beyond. “It means a lot that Mack is willing to work with us when the truck is out of warranty,” he says.

Scott Blevins, president of Prestonsburg, Kentucky-based Worldwide Equipment, says the seven-decades-long relationship between Burns Motor Freight and the dealership is still going strong. “I believe their family and customer-focused culture has continued throughout the generations. They are a such a good family, and it shows in how they take care of their customers and employees. When you see a dark green truck on the roads of West Virginia, you know it’s Burns Motor Freight. It’s an honor to be trusted partners with a 75-year-old trucking company,” he says.

Mack Anthem® delivers

Driver recruiting and retention is one of the top priorities of the company. And offering top-of-the-line Mack Anthems goes a long way in attracting professional drivers. When Mike specs a new truck, driver safety and comfort is top of mind. “Drivers rave about the top-of-the line, comfortable, heated seats, the flat bottom steering wheel and the ergonomic dash. The 70-inch, stand-up sleeper is roomy, and we upgrade with media stands and Sirius XM radios. We worked with Mack to increase the length of the day cab for extra room and comfort,” Burns says. The Anthem’s fuel economy is handicapped by the terrain, but Mike is happy with 5.6 miles per gallon for regional hauls and 6.5 miles per gallon for over-the-road.

Drivers give thumbs up to the mirror design for added visibility and the tight turning radius, especially important on the rugged work sites and mountainous terrain. “Our drivers operate on 9% grades and hairpin turns, and the m DRIVE makes all the difference. It puts you in the sweet spot with downshifts and upshifts. Even older drivers, after a few trips, are converted to the comfort and safety of driving an automatic,” he says.

All three Burns cousins say their granddad would be astonished by the modern, high-tech, extreme comfort their drivers enjoy today. Fred Sr. told stories of how he slept underneath the LJ on hot nights to stay cool and on cold nights would place a board across the front seats and sleep with the door open so the legs on his 6-foot-6 frame would hang outside. “Imagine such a thing!” says Mike with a laugh.

Safety and recruiting

Doug Burns, son of Fred Jr., has been director of safety and driver recruiting since 1993 and says the company prides itself on a culture of safety from the top down. He depends on the safety features of the Anthems, especially the innovations such as the turning radius and visibility features.

“My dad always advocated for buying the safest, most durable equipment possible. The relationship between Mack and Burns Motor Freight is based on this shared value. It pays off in a wide range of ways. Younger drivers are attracted to the technology and in today’s tough recruiting market, offering new equipment makes a difference,” he says.

Potential recruits are also influenced by Burns family generational succession. The family-oriented focus was a key factor in transitioning to regional and dedicated routes. The company pivoted from 80% over-the-road to offering more regional hauls and dedicated routes to accommodate drivers’ home time demands.

“Today, we are 90% regional/local with 10 percent over-the-road. We respect drivers’ desire to be home for their families. It’s a different world than the one my granddad and even my dad operated in. Other advantages of shorter hauls and dedicated routes is that you can fuel at our terminals and have easy access to maintenance,” Doug says. They offer competitive pay and benefits packages, uniforms and even allow drivers to take their trucks home.

Customer connections

Mike Burns says they had to adapt to the industry changes and adhere to their granddad and father’s motto of, “Get ‘er done!”

“That’s another bond between Mack and Burns Motor Freight. The ability to look to the future and figure out how to adapt to the market,” Mike says. When a sawmill customer asked them to accommodate their need to drop wood chips through the top, we said sure and went out and bought a trailer to match the need. “We don’t say no, we say, we will try.”

John Burns says every time he passes by his granddad’s LJ after a long day’s work, he’s reminded of the legacy they carry on. “Like our dads and their dad, we offer customers full transparency, commitment to safety and on-time delivery, and they know we will do everything we can to get the job done.”

Family ties

John Burns says his granddad’s spirit runs through the company. “Granddad was a man’s man, an expert equipment operator and along with the trucking business, also operated a 1,700-acre farm.

“He hired truckers with a handshake back in the day,” Burns says.

The second generation, Fred Jr. and Larry Burns, continued to grow the business and John’s father, Fred Jr., was named Chairman of the American Trucking Associations (ATA) in October 2003. Their brother, Tom, operates a separate company.

Both Fred Jr. and Larry Burns continue to offer support and guidance to their sons as the next generation takes the reigns.

“We feel lucky to work with each other and to continue the Mack Truck/Burns Motor Freight relationship. I will never forget seeing Mack Trucks company executives and Worldwide Equipment leaders show up for granddad’s funeral. That says it all,” Mike says.

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