I’m beyond moved by the persistence and heart-felt adoration this Legend driver conveys. His inspirational life-story tugs at my heart strings, while his sincere tone and southern charm warms my soul. The cordial answer, “Yes ma’am” was repeated often, reiterating his genuine mannerism.
Our interview with Leniel Kimble, 28-year veteran truck driver from Louisiana, encompassed many highs and lows, impactful memories from his childhood, and the untimely loss of loved ones. Choosing to share his testimony with our reading audience is as powerful as his ability in the fight to live the life of his dreams after facing life-threatening health complications.
Leniel grew up in a rural community where he embraced the country lifestyle. The Kimble family raised chickens, while cows and horses roamed the surrounding pastures. His father, Walter gifted him his first horse at the age of three which sparked his love of riding that later advanced to motorcycles, then onto much larger vehicles. Both of his parents were extremely hands-on with a strict work ethic that was to be followed suit by nothing less than expected. Walter made a career as a construction laborer, while his mother Lucy worked around the clock cooking and cleaning; caring for their full household. Though the ages of the Kimble kids were spaced up to twenty-three years between the oldest to youngest, they were an extremely close-knit family brought up on the true meaning of hard work. Each child was responsible for pitching in on their share of chores and look after one another. No matter what situation a family member faced, they handled everything together, as a team. Fully supportive, kind, and loving. Just as their parents had shown them.
Two of Leniel’s brothers drove trucks for a living. So, naturally he caught the bug, as well. In fact, his earliest memory of trucking dates back to when he was eight years old. He had a brother that drove log trucks and would let him ride with him sometimes. That feeling of peace that only truckers can relate to, never officially went away. I’ve been told there is something about driving a truck that gets in your blood and only grows over time…
In 1983, Leniel graduated high school on a Wednesday, then immediately landed a job working for a Division of the State that following Friday. A year later, he obtained his chauffeurs license to operate a dump truck. He then began driving part-time for a friend that owned a small company, pulling tanker. By the age of 24, Leniel began his career driving a truck and has since accumulated close to 3 million life-time miles.
Over the course of twenty-seven years with the state, Leniel’s job completely merged into transportation which led him to school to earn his license as a mechanic. Before retiring in 2008, Leniel spent the last seven years as their shop foreman. At the time, he and his brother went into business together and purchased a truck to haul grain for local farmers. Only able to drive part-time, Leniel eventually grew enough business to venture out on his own. With twenty years of experience driving professionally, in 2009 Leniel went on the road full-time establishing L. Kimble Trucking, LLC.
Let’s rewind a bit, because there is one major obstacle that Leniel had to overcome before achieving his dream of starting his own business. At the height of his career, instilled with all the education and in-sight possible, from how to pull every type of trailer to the maintenance to keep one in play, fate intervened. In 2007, after adhering to his intuition Leniel went to the doctor for an explanation as to his recent symptoms: dizziness, confusion, and one side of his body felt irregular. His body’s signs were met with the news that he had suffered a stroke.
Leniel let the news sink in and was somewhat relieved to finally have answers. Not knowing while waiting to receive a diagnosis can be the scariest stage. For Leniel, the worst of his condition came two weeks later. Another stroke.
Just when Leniel was at his darkest moment, the stroke had taken his vision. Ultimately, causing him to lose his license; along with all that he had spent his entire life building. Eight months into recovery, Leniel’s eyesight slowly began to return. He speaks in more detail on the emotional journey to regaining his health.
“That was rough for me, because I thought I was going to have to sell everything. And the most haunting part was accepting that I was never going to be able to drive a truck again. But, the good Lord took care of me! I started to improve and with the help and care of my family, I found my way back. I had to take a ton of tests before I was able to start back driving, but my business is bigger now than before I was sick! At one point, I thought my career was over. You can’t imagine how hard that was to swallow. This is my life… driving trucks and working on them. It’s what I love to do! I’m so thankful for the chance to keep doing it still today.”
Shortly after his reinstatement, Leniel found a project that he was able to pour his heart into. With all the grief, sadness, then happiness and excitement from the rollercoaster of emotions, Leniel wanted to take advantage of this second chance. Channeling the passion that was once taken from him, leaving Leniel in an unknown place of vulnerability, he started with a 1985 Peterbilt 359. He stripped it completely down, and totally rebuilt it again from the ground up. Five months later, Big Mama hit the road.
Leniel didn’t stop there. On to his next creation, Blue Diamond. A 1987 Peterbilt 359 dark blue with light blue stripes. Both trucks have been featured in magazines, with one making its debut in a calendar. Leniel enters his trucks in various shows and has taken home several awards, but he states that his trucks will always be working show trucks. Trucks that he takes great pride in. He may have been the one that rebuilt the trucks, but those massive vehicles in return, rebuilt his hope that this is the path that he was meant to be on. He says, “No matter where I go, I always get compliments on my trucks. That makes me feel good when people talk about trucks and mention mine, considering as old as mine are. It makes me proud knowing that I built them myself, with my eyes.”
Providing his clients with top-notch service goes above the typical quality of work. Leniel considers his craft more along the lines of a personal obligation given of himself, trusted to another person. A promise that he will see to it that the level of service they receive on his behalf goes beyond their expectations. Demonstrating this work ethic is the foundation to his success and continued growth, producing returning clientele and referrals. Growing up, Walter exhibited the same attentiveness in his work. Leniel continues, “My father wanted 100% in everything. School, work, it didn’t matter. He expected you to do your best and never believed in being late. He has been the biggest influence on my whole life, because I’ve been the same way since I was a child.”
Leniel’s trucking career is the outcome of such hard work. You name it, he’s pulled it: tanker, refrigerated, flatbed; the list goes on. He currently has a hopper bottom, end dump, step deck, and a landoll trailer used to haul heavy equipment and oversized shipments. He adds, “…but regardless how committed you are to your work schedule, when it comes to trucking you can’t just like it. You seriously have to love it to be successful at it.” Closing in on three decades of experience in the field of trucking, the amount of knowledge that Leniel has gained throughout his lifespan is limitless. Reserved and humble, he says that it all goes back to the basics.
“Be ready to work. Go in early, work the weekends or holidays. I understand that with families it’s not easy, but proving that you’re willing to put in the time will pay off in the long run.
If you get burned out, take a break. Then, come back refreshed and go at it again. In our profession, it’s all about dedication. How dedicated are you?
And second, you must keep the maintenance up on your equipment. Any true truck driver will attest to that. Faithful and proper maintenance on a truck is as important as air is to our lungs. To keep your business alive, your equipment has to be available and ready.
If you keep everything I mentioned in-line, it’s smooth sailing. Work hard, be on time, and keep your equipment up and running at all times!”
L. Kimble Trucking currently runs regional with six trucks and two additional drivers, prominently throughout Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee and occasionally Texas for local brokers, private clients, and several companies direct.
I spoke with one of Leniel’s sisters, Lola and she shared a small bit of her brother’s outlook on life, since his health is back to normal. She says, “After the strokes and having to recover the way he did, Leniel realized that he had a second chance at life. And every day forward he has made the best of each one. All of us are so proud of him and how he represents the Kimble family name. He does so much for our family, the extended family, our community and church family, too. He’s just a good-hearted people-person that enjoys a joy-filled life. And he deserves it! We’re all thankful he’s been blessed with this second chance, just as much as he is!”
As a commendable business man, Leniel presents himself with strong characteristics that are deep-rooted, courtesy of his late parents. He has been a deacon of his church, Zion Travelers Baptist Church since the 90’s where he was originally baptized at the age of thirteen. Aside from work and trucks, he enjoys tailgating during football games in support of his favorite football team, the Jaguars of Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. He also likes to travel, RV style all over the south to neighboring states, such as; Alabama and Florida.
Leniel lost his mother in 1996 to breast cancer. Four years later, his father passed. As the years went by, more were diagnosed with cancer, leaving their loved ones devastated and helpless without a way to help. Leniel wanted to make a difference. He banned together with his family to discuss a plan that would provide a platform where people could find a positive support system, and give back to those suffering. He wanted to commemorate the lives of everyone affected by cancer, past and present.
For the past five summers, Leniel and his family have put on a trucking event hosted at the State Capital Raceway, located in Port Allen, Louisiana to raise donations and awareness for cancer. All proceeds go directly to the American Cancer Society. The show titled, Kimble Trucking for Cancer started in 2013 and has grown to feature up to fifty trucks. For 2017 alone, the truck show raised over $12,000 in honor of cancer survivors, loved ones that have passed on, as well as, family and friends that are still in the fight against the deadly disease.
There is no doubt that Leniel’s message is clear: A second chance is never guaranteed. Live your life doing what you love and take care of your family. Life is short and too valuable to do anything less than the two.