Life as a Trucker – The Mark Harter Story
By the time Mark Harter hit high school in 1990, he had already received his Ph.D. in trucking (if there was such a thing).
As a kid, Mark loved everything about trucks. Any chance he had, he spent it building model trucks, taking photos of trucks, reading trucking magazines, books and brochures, and on several occasions, he skipped school to attend truck shows. On family road trips as a child, he would keep a list of every truck model his car passed on the highway. If the TV show Jeopardy hosted a special edition on the trucking industry, our money would be on Mark to win. From Day 1, Mark was destined to be a truck driver.
While in high school, Mark constructed a wind tunnel — nearly 12-foot in length — based on Bernoulli’s Principle in his family’s garage, in order to test the aerodynamics of 1:32 scale model tractor-trailers. Mark took his passion for the industry to a whole new level…and it paid off. Mark won his high school science fair, then entered the 1992 Central Indiana Regional Science Fair and won the top prize. It earned him a trip to compete at the International – yes, International — Science and Engineering Fair in Nashville, Tennessee in 1993. While he didn’t win, he made an impressive showing.
What’s even more impressive though? Mark’s results from his wind tunnel were not far off from what truck makers were gathering at their state-of-the-art facilities. To say the least, it caught the attention of engineers at a few truck manufacturers. In fact, he was told there would be a job waiting for him after he graduated college by one company. But working a desk job wasn’t where Mark’s heart was.
“All I ever wanted to do was work with trucks,” he said. “After high school, I worked at a Mack dealership in Indianapolis for a while, but I knew as soon as I turned 21, I would get my CDL and become a driver.”
And that, he did. As soon as Mark passed his CDL test, he went to work for PGT Trucking, a flatbed carrier based out of Monaca, Pennsylvania. Even as a new driver, Mark made his presence known. Mark would do whatever was asked of him, taking any load available and going just about everywhere he was asked.
“I loved everything about driving a truck,” said Mark. “I’ve been to 48 states and seen just about every piece of interstate in the country, and unless you’re a truck driver, who else gets to experience that? I’ve gotten to see some of the most beautiful scenery you can imagine. There’s nothing quite like the open road.”
Later in his career, Mark went to work for Horseless Carriage Carriers, a transporter of antique and classic automobiles based out of Paterson, New Jersey for a few years before going back to work for PGT.
Mark took pride in his International 9400 and covered wagon tractor-trailer he drove for PGT. He put in a lot of time and effort to make sure his truck was always in tip-top shape. He even entered it in the National Association of Show Trucks (NAST) Billy Bob’s Texas Truck Roundup in 2002 and placed second in his class.
“Placing in a contest like that is extremely difficult in a company truck,” said Mark. “But I put my all into making the truck look its best at all times. How nice your truck looks is a reflection of what kind of driver you are and it establishes a good image for your company and how the general public views truck drivers and the trucking industry. I took pride in my job and what I drove.”
But Mark’s life on the road tragically came to an end in 2005. While out on his motorcycle one night in downtown Indianapolis, Mark was involved in an accident, and suffered numerous injuries including a fractured neck and skull, roadrash. His brain swelled, pinching the optic nerves, leaving him legally blind. In his right eye, Mark is completely blind; and he has limited vision out of his left eye.
Mark’s driving days were over, and it left him in a dark place mentally. A time like that called for good friends to step in and help. For Mark, Craig Zwiener was there for him every step of the way. One day, the two were sharing ideas on what Mark should do with his life and brainstormed the idea of starting a nonprofit to help raise awareness of blindness and blinding eye diseases, as well as funding for vision research. It was an idea that took off. The name? Eyes on the Road.
“It started off as a distant thought, then we dove deeper into it and made it into reality,” said Mark. “I contacted the Schepens Eye Research Institute, an affiliate of Harvard Medical School, located in Boston, Massachusetts with the idea of reaching out to the trucking industry and drivers to raise awareness and prevent and cure blindness. We wrote up a proposal and pitched the idea to them.”
When life gives you lemons, you make lemonade, and Eyes on the Road gave Mark a new sense of direction.
Through the program, Mark was able to stay connected to the trucking industry, while experiencing some unbelievable moments. Mark is a big fan of the IndyCar Series and the Indianapolis 500. His idol? Roger Penske. In May 2007 at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Mark got to meet with Roger and share his story — from his accident to starting Eyes on the Road. A connection was made.
Mark decided to reach out to the racing community in the hopes of furthering his cause and not long after meeting Roger, Mark sent Jay Penske, Roger’s youngest son, who also owned an IndyCar team, a heartfelt letter. Mark wanted to inquire with Jay about carrying the Eyes on the Road logo and message on his teams IndyCar. Jay’s response? Sure thing. And he did it for free.
But why take Mark’s unpaid sponsorship when plenty of other charities would pay for a spot on the car? Well, Jay had talked to his dad and Roger remembered meeting Mark — he liked him and believed in the charitable work he was doing so he vouched for him.
“The Penske’s are amazing people,” said Mark. “Jay was so kind to help support my cause and we became friends because of it. His cars carried the Eyes on the Road logo for nearly five seasons. Anything I needed, Jay was there, it was incredible.”
After several years working on the program, Mark looked for avenues that would put him closer to what he truly loved — the trucks of the trucking industry. After meeting with long-time friend Duncan Putman, a trucking photographer and journalist, the two decided they would create a website to showcase their own trucking content. The concept was to develop a platform to share their photography, allowing people interested in trucks to view ‘Cool Photos of Cool Trucks’ along with feature stories the two would produce. It’s a great website, and we think you should check it out.
There may be no one else out there as dedicated to the trucking industry as Mark and through thick-and-thin, Mark will always be a trucker.
First Pitch Wonder
Mark, a lifelong Cleveland Indians fan, had the opportunity to throw out the first pitch at the last Cleveland home game between the Indians and the Red Sox last fall. Melanie Saunders, the former Director of Annual Giving at Schepens, and one of Marks closest friends, who helped get Eyes on the Road rolling, had the highest bid at the Women in Trucking auction for a chance to throw out the first pitch for the Indians game. Rather than throw out the pitch herself, she decided to give the honor to Mark, who was thrilled to have the chance. When the MLB learned of Mark’s blindness, they almost denied his opportunity, but he proved he could safely get to the mound and throw the pitch.
“It was one of the greatest moments in my entire life,” said Mark. “To be able to share that experience with Melanie made it even more special.”