Originally created 08/04/06

Cannonball's run



George Pennington doesn't listen to trucker ballads much anymore.

After 44 years on the road, the 76-year-old driver for Club Car Inc. has heard them all. And with 7 million miles logged in those four decades, he practically is a trucker ballad.

"He's been there, done that, got the T-shirt," said his supervisor, Robert J. Johnston, transportation manager for the Augusta-based golf car manufacturer.

Mr. Pennington has been hauling the company's vehicles to golf courses and country clubs throughout North America since the business moved - by truck, no less - to Augusta more than four decades ago.

Already Club Car's longest-serving employee, Mr. Pennington doesn't appear interested in signing off of his CB anytime soon.

His thoughts on retirement: "It's like dying - you don't plan on it. It just happens when it happens."

Mr. Pennington got his start transporting golf cars in 1962 when he left his family's Jefferson County farm to work for Stevens Appliance Truck Co., a small metal fabricator that had just acquired a Houston company that made three-wheel golf cars.

Contrary to Club Car lore, Mr. Pennington says he did not drive the truck that moved the company from Texas to Augusta. However, he did help hand-build the vehicles when he wasn't delivering them. In fact, the 1960s-era three-wheeled model that Club Car acquired several years ago to display at its Washington Road headquarters still has his initials, "GP," etched into the forward-reverse switch assembly.

The Stevens family sold the venture in the early 1970s, but Mr. Pennington remained on staff as Club Car moved through a succession of owners before ending up in the hands of its current parent, Ingersoll-Rand Co.

Through it all, Mr. Pennington has served as the company's most well-traveled ambassador, taking his black-and-gold Freightliner - a 450-horsepower rolling billboard - through the Lower 48 and most of Canada.

He's so well-known to Club Car's longtime customers that many let him stay as a guest in their homes while he's on a run. When he has to bed down at a truck stop (he's partial to one in particular outside Terrell, Texas), he spends the evening reading the Bible and listening to gospel music.

His faith crystallized during his 28 months as a prisoner in the Korean War.

"I've always considered being a POW a gift, a blessing," the Purple Heart recipient said. "You learn to be thankful for everything in life."

To other truckers, Mr. Pennington is known by his CB handle, "Cannonball," a nickname earned during his varsity football days at Wrens High School.

"If they see a Club Car truck the first thing they ask is 'Where's Cannonball?'" fellow Club Car driver Billy Joe Paradise said.

Aside from his length of service - all accident-free - Mr. Pennington has earned the respect of his co-workers for signing up for long-haul routes during the holidays.

"The young fellas need to be at home. When my kids were that size, I would have appreciated it," said Mr. Pennington, recalling the effect his absences had on his four children and his wife, Betty. "A lesser person couldn't have put up with it."

Being a truck driver hasn't always been easy, but Mr. Pennington says he wouldn't change a thing. He has forged a lifetime of friendships while seeing most of the nation's 3.5 million square miles through his windshield.

"The sun is going down on me," he acknowledges, "but it's been a good ride."

And the ride isn't over, yet.

On Saturday, Cannonball Pennington will roll off the Club Car lot in truck No. 430100 bound for Arlington, Texas. The next Friday he'll be headed to Arizona.

On Aug. 17, he'll celebrate his 77th birthday.

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3486 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com.

GEORGE PENNINGTON'S ACHIEVEMENTS


- Inducted into National Private Truck Council's Driver Hall of Fame, 1993


- Named Ryder Transportation's Driver of the Year, 1992


- Has made the equivalent of 281 trips around the world (based on the Earth's circumference of 24,902 miles) and 14 trips to the moon and back (based on the distance to the moon, 238,900 miles)