Billy Stone, a truck driver for Air Products in Conyers, has logged 3 million miles on the road with no accidents or incidents. Stone has been driving for the company for 35 years. Air Products will honor Stone with a grandfather clock, a large plaque and a monetary gift. The company is planning to host a cookout in June so Ston'es co-workers and family can celebrate with him and company dignitaries can recognize his achievement. Staff Photo: Sue Ann Kuhn-Smith
CONYERS -- Billy Stone has reached an important mile marker in his 35-year career as a truck driver. In April, Stone logged his 3 millionth mile with no accidents.
Stone said he didn't realize he was close to hitting that milestone until a little over a year ago when his supervisor told him he needed only 180,000 more miles.
"I had no idea how close it was, and I kind of wish he hadn't told me," Stone said. "It put a lot of pressure on me and I really started watching my P's and Q's."
Stone tried not to count down the miles, but when his supervisor told him on April 25 he reached 3 million miles, Stone was exhilarated.
"I looked straight up to the Lord and said, 'Thank you, Lord!'' he said.
Stone, 67, drives a team-operated truck for Air Products in Conyers. He and a partner generally head out on Monday morning and deliver liquid air products, such as nitrogen or argon, to customers throughout the Southeast from Louisiana to South Carolina. Unless they have stopped for fuel or to grab a meal, the truck is continually rolling. In other words, Stone will drive for 10 hours and then he'll rest or sleep while his partner drives for 10 hours before they switch again. Stone and his partner return home Friday night or Saturday morning before heading out again.
"Working out of Conyers, I log about 5,500 miles a week," he said.
Stone said he accumulated the lion's share of his last million miles when he was driving out of a terminal in Kansas.
"I would run out of there about five, six or seven weeks at a time and then I'd come home for a week," Stone said.
He would pick up product in Kansas, transport it to the East Coast before heading back to Kansas to carry another load to the West Coast.
"It was just back and forth all the time," Stone said, pointing out he was usually delivering liquid helium that was loaded on ships and sent all over the world for MRI machines and other uses.
Driving a truck is family tradition for Stone. His father was a truck driver. He died when Stone was 7, so Stone's uncle -- also a truck driver -- took him under his wing and allowed him to travel with him during the summers.
"My father taught my uncle to drive and my uncle taught me," Stone said.
Out on the road, Stone listens to country music, and through satellite radio, is able to keep up with races, football games and baseball games, the Atlanta Braves in particular.
While logging 3 million miles is an accomplishment of dedication and perseverance, the real achievement is that he drove these miles with no accidents, fender benders, or even a broken taillight.
"Accident-free means any preventable accident -- even here on site," said John Hardy, site manager for Air Products and Chemicals Inc. in Conyers.
Hardy said any type of preventable wreck would cause a driver to lose one year's worth of miles, which could amount to between 80,000 and 100,000 miles. He said it generally takes a driver between 10 to 12 years to reach 1 million miles.
"Billy is one of just three drivers in the whole history of our company to reach 3 million accident-free miles," Hardy said. "That is about 30 to 40 years of effort."Air Products will honor Stone with a grandfather clock, a large plaque and a monetary gift. Hardy said Air Products is planning to host a cookout in June so his co-workers and family can celebrate with him and company dignitaries can recognize his achievement.
Hardy said Air Products enjoys a strong reputation for having one of the best safety records among large chemical companies, and Stone's accomplishment underscores this record.
Stone is obviously a careful driver, but he knows his job is dependent on others on the road.
"Any day you can have an accident; you don't want to, but it could happen. You could just look away for a second and something happen," he said.
"It's a never-ending challenge," he said. "Every move you make, you'd better know where you're going and watch the other guys on the road. ... If you watch out for them, you'll stay out of trouble."
Stone said he's noticed more and more distracted drivers, especially since the advent of cell phones and other technology.
"I can see them on their cell phones and can see them texting and I can see them wobbling around, and I know what they're doing," Stone said.
Stone has seen horrible accidents on the interstates during his 35 years on the road, some that still haunt him.
His word of advice for drivers who encounter large trucks on the interstate is to give truck drivers room to move.
"So many ride too close and like to stay beside the truck," Stone said.
He explained that trucks are not as agile as smaller vehicles and truck drivers need to know they can move quickly when they need to avoid obstacles in the road.
When Stone isn't driving a truck, he still enjoys driving. His vehicle of choice is his Harley-Davidson Ultra Classic motorcycle.
"I rode it to Anchorage, Alaska, summer before last and I will be taking a trip in the first of June to Nova Scotia," Stone said. "It's really relaxing out there to me."
Stone also enjoys working in his yard at his Stockbridge home, hiking in the mountains and deer hunting.Above all, though, Stone loves spending time with his family
"When you're off, I really enjoy my time off, and you realize that time is too short," he said.
Stone said he is so grateful for his wife of nearly 50 years, Barbara.
"As long as I've been driving, I've missed out on a lot of ball games and events with the children. I always made a good living, but my wife raised our children," he said.
Billy and Barbara Stone have two children and four grandchildren.