From Military to Hollywood, Skyline Driver Manager has Done a Bit of Everything
Driver Manager Harlan Henson has been with Skyline Transportation for three years, but it’s the resume leading up to this position that’s impressive. He has worked on the set of a Hollywood movie, served in the military, worked on oil rigs all over the gulf coast, driven truck all over the United States, worked as an EMT, and he even dove into the Biloxi Bay in efforts to find a woman who drove her car off a bridge. He’s president-elect of the nonprofit group Bikers Against Child Abuse and has taught children’s church for more than a decade.
“People ask me all the time, ‘Is there anything you haven’t done?’. I guess I’ve done a little bit of everything.”
Harlan grew up in the Biloxi-New Orleans area and went to Ocean Springs High School in Mississippi.
“It was one of the coolest towns a kid could grow up in. Everyone knew everybody and there was plenty to do. It was right on the beach with access to rivers and streams.”
As a kid who grew up around water, it seemed natural that he would be drawn to boats.
“I worked on little crabbing boats and on fishing and shrimping boats. From there, I became a boat engineer on the oil fields.”
As a boat engineer, Harlan carried oil field supplies – like chemicals and fuel – to oil rigs along the gulf coast, working everywhere from Texas to Florida. After that, he served in the army as an Armorer Unit Supply Specialist, and then spent several years as an EMT Intermediate. Then, Harlan received an invitation to return as a boat engineer, but this time in Hawaii.
“I got there and hated Hawaii. It was nothing like I was used to and the culture seemed crazy, but after a bit of time working there, I loved the place.”
It was during that time that Harlan brushed elbows with Hollywood. His boss leased a boat to the movie company that was producing the 1995 science fiction film Waterworld and Harlan ended up running the operation for 13 months.
“They had a captain on the boat but, personality wise, I guess I was the guy to send. I worked with the grips and special effect people responsible for the “Atoll” (the horseshoe-shaped island). We set its anchors and moved the volcano around every day.”
After more than seven years in Hawaii, Harlan woke up one day and found himself “sick of the sea”. He came to Knoxville, TN to be with family. He was working as a manager at Best Buy when he found inspiration for his new profession.
“I was driving down the road one day, noticed a tractor trailer and said, ‘That’s what I’m going to do right there’. I started researching, picked a date six months out and signed up for truck-driving school.”
After graduating from a driving school in Phoenix, Harlan found himself hauling – of all things – boats.
“I delivered boats up and down the east coast and even out to California. Even though I wasn’t on the water anymore, boats were always chasing me.”
When Harlan blew out his left knee, surgery and recovery kept him out of driving for a period of time, which is when he learned about dispatching and logistical operations. When he was ready to get back into his truck, the company asked him to stay in dispatch.
“I worked in operations but still managed to drive. I worked a 7-7 schedule where I would spend seven days in dispatch, grab a load that no one wanted, drive two to three days and still have a few days off before returning to dispatch.”
Harlan enjoyed the freedom that driving offered. He like seeing unique places and was happy not to be at sea. He points out that driving professionally is hard work.
“People don’t realize how hard drivers actually work at what they do without getting a lot of credit for it. Yes, they get paid for doing their job but that’s anybody. Drivers work hard.”
These days, Harlan splits his time between multiple interests. He teaches children’s church, serves as the current security officer for the Knoxville Chapter of Bikers Against Child Abuse (BACA) and goes to the gym every day. About 18 months ago, Harlan was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease and working out is one of his priorities to maintaining a strong body.
“Since I started back to the gym in May, there’s not been one week when I’ve worked out less than five days. You wouldn’t believe the excuses I come up with that I have to shoot down. I’ve never been a weak person and I’m not starting now.”
This December, Harlan will become the president of his BACA chapter, adding additional responsibilities to his already full plate. Formed by a children’s therapist, BACA currently has chapters in every state and at least 13 countries. Next month will be Harlan’s tenth year with the organization.
“We don’t wear capes or save the day, but we empower kids who have been abused not to fear the world we live in. They become a part of our organization, get a road name, wear patches and, most importantly, are assigned two special people called primary contacts. These are people they can call 24/7 whenever they need them.”
Kids are connected to BACA through multiple avenues – from child advocacy agencies, DSHS, foster care groups, the office of the District Attorney, even word of mouth. When BACA receives a call, they conduct an initial interview with a care giver or guardian and the child.
“We know we’re not right for every situation. If we don’t think we can help give a child that courage they need to face the world, then we don’t. In most cases we can – you give them access to a bunch of big, fat bikers and these kids get brave. We’re in the child empowerment business.”
Harlan has also been teaching children’s church to kids between six and thirteen years old for 11 years.
“No matter what kind of week I may have had, I get there and see them all lined up greeting me with hugs – everything gets better all of a sudden.”
Harlan says these kids, both in BACA and children’s church, motivate him to do his best in life.
“It’s the people around me that make me want to lead by example and be the best that I can be. I have all my kids in church, my BACA brothers and sisters, and if I’m not doing my best, they’re all going to see it. That’s what I tell the older kids too, ‘See those little guys over there? They’re watching you and going to do what you do’. I want them to do their best and to lead by example.”