UPS driver Ralph Lendi, of Tinley Park, at 8 million miles — and going strong
By Mike Nolan email@example.com May 7, 2013 10:42PM
UPS driver Ralph Lendi, of Tinley Park, stands by his truck at the UPS terminal in Hodgkins, Illinois, Thursday, April 25, 2013. Lendi has been driving for the parcel company for 42 years. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: June 9, 2013 6:01AM
Ralph Lendi’s “office” has a plastic bin filled with Tootsie Rolls and Bit-O-Honeys in arm’s reach and tunes from the 1950s and ’60s pouring out of a satellite radio receiver.
The days are long, and the Tinley Park man is always on the move — literally.
With a little more than 42 years driving a truck for UPS, the package delivery company, under his belt, Lendi has covered, the company estimates, around 8 million miles. Amazingly, he’s never been in an accident, making him one of company’s safest drivers.
The miles he has compiled equal 321 trips around the Earth or about 16 round trips to the moon, and the number of accident-free years he has attained ties him for the fourth-best driving record among UPS’s roughly 102,000 drivers across the country.
At the top of the pyramid, with a half-century of accident-free driving, is a trucker from Livonia, Mich.
Lendi might not have as many years in as that guy, but “I think I am at the top” as far as miles driven without at least a fender bender.
The 70-year-old Lendi covers 506 miles each day in his semi truck, leaving UPS’ terminal in Hodgkins and meeting a fellow UPS driver coming up from Tennessee in Seymour, Ind., which is north of Louisville and home to musician John Mellencamp.
There, they swap loads, with Lendi’s cargo continuing south while he brings the other driver’s trailer up to Chicago.
Lendi has been driving the Seymour route for eight years. During one point in his career, he spent 16 years pulling triple trailers — a string of steel boxes stretching more than 100 feet behind him.
That’s a far cry from when he started, when UPS had one office, in downtown Chicago, and the trailers he hauled were less than 20 feet long.
When he started driving for UPS, much of the interstate highway system wasn’t completed.
“When they built the interstates, it changed the whole world of driving,” he said.
Although getting around on two-lane “farm roads” wasn’t easy, drivers seemed to be more civil and courteous then, Lendi said.
“Now, people just want to go and get where they want to go as fast as they can,” he said.
While he has an unblemished driving record, there have been some close encounters and days when Lendi comes home with nerves frazzled by what he’s seen on the road.
“People are so aggressive nowadays,” he said.
He also shakes his head when he sees people behind the wheel, including those he terms “these new-breed” truckers, who think nothing of sending or responding to a text message while speeding down the road.
“It’s not worth your life,” Lendi said.
He said there’s no special secret to how he’s racked up so many miles without a wreck.
Going with the flow of traffic — which, at times, means not exactly following the speed limit — and keeping a safe distance from the vehicle in front of him are common-sense rules that have served him well, Lendi said.
Each morning before he starts his shift, Lendi checks fluid levels in his truck and inspects the tires. If something isn’t in top-notch condition, repairs are ordered.
“Our shop is terrific,” he said.
Lendi gets a new truck about every three years, and the one he’s now driving — a plaque on the driver’s side door denotes his 42 accident-free years — arrived in mid-January and already has nearly 62,000 miles on it. It’s shared with another driver who, after Lendi returns each day from Seymour, takes it for a round trip to Indianapolis.
Lendi and his wife of 27 years, Marsha, have four children and eight grandchildren. His wife owned a realty and property management company but recently retired, he said.
Lendi, however, said he’s nowhere near contemplating stepping down for good from the cab of his truck.
“I like what I do,” he said.