COLUMBIA CITY — As she has done for years, Melody Thompson dons her brown uniform each evening and prepares to start her work day. By the time her shift is over, she will have traveled from Fort Wayne to Indianapolis and back again.
And, each day she strives to maintain another element of that routine which is to make that trip without a traffic accident.
Thompson’s driving record as a semi driver, or “feeder driver” with the United Parcel Service is not just stellar, her company would call it noteworthy.
A uniform bearing her name is framed in the Fort Wayne hub along with a plaque commemorating more than 25 years without an accident — known in UPS-speak as the Circle of Honor.
“Bad roads, good roads, bad weather, traffic jams, road construction — she makes it through it all and home safely every day,” said Chris Jones, a driver trainer supervisor based out of Indianapolis.
“She’s the only currently active female driver on the circle of honor. So, as far as female drivers go, she’s on a very short list in Indiana.”
Thompson, 55, lives in Tri-Lakes with her husband Frank. The couple’s two sons live in Indianapolis and occasionally visit Mom during her lunch break.
The veteran driver’s shift begins at 9:15 p.m. in Fort Wayne. From there she hauls a load in her semi to the state capital, keeps busy at the Indianapolis hub while her trailer is loaded for the return trip and then heads back to Fort Wayne.
Several hours of her shift involve the mundane negotiation of Interstate 69, which connects the two cities. Catching up on the classics helps to break the monotony.
“I listen to audiobooks,” she said.
Thompson began her UPS career as a delivery driver until a change in company policy that allowed heavier packages (150 pounds) threatened her ability to do her job.
“Physically, I knew that was beyond my means,” she said.
At the time, she was delivering in Whitley County, the site of her last collision.
“My one accident was while I was delivering in Whitley County,” she said. “It was on (County Road) 500 South behind Coesse. There was a big dip there and I hit that dip and it (the delivery truck) was like a big beach ball.”
Thompson’s milestone of 25 years of safe driving doesn’t constitute consecutive years, but her accomplishment comes close to that.
According to Jones, she has 24 consecutive years of accident-free driving and one statistic even more impressive.
“She has more than one million safe miles,” he said. Jones touts the company’s record for safe driving and added that each year, UPS takes out a two-page ad in USA Today and dedicates it to the safe drivers donned in brown worldwide.
He also said Thompson is one of only 14 females recipients of the circle of honor worldwide last year.
“We definitely take safe driving seriously,” Jones said.
Thompson decided her career while working in a factory nearly three decades ago.
“There was a guy delivering at a factory where I worked and I thought that would be a cool job because I liked being outside,” she said.
When the weight limit was raised, she saw the feeder driver position posted on the job board and applied. At the time, another woman, her best friend, was also a feeder driver.
Today, Thompson drives from Fort Wayne to Indianapolis and back while her best friend goes west to Chicago, returning to the Fort Wayne hub at the end of her shift.
Thompson said driving safely is not without its challenges, particularly when Indiana weather plays havoc with the roadways.
“At night time, the temperature can drop 10 or 15 degrees,” she said, recalling one shift this past winter when it took her seven hours to make the return trip from Indianapolis to Fort Wayne.
But, she said her safe driving record can be attributed to several factors.
“Their (UPS) training program is excellent, of course,“ she said.
“And, a little common sense helps.”
Thompson also lauds the supports she gets from her husband Frank, also a truck driver, and her church, saying when the roads are bad, “they pray me through.”