Somewhere off a stretch of Interstate 81 in Toms Brook, Virginia, it’s snowing. “I’ve never minded driving in snow,” Imlach Group Professional Van Operator (PVO) Ron Pieper says from the warm confines of his roomy sleeper cabin, “but I’m two years away from retirement—so these days I’m extra careful.”
At 65, Pieper has driven through millions of miles of weather since he got into the business at age 13, cleaning up the yards and sweeping floors at a moving company in California. Later, he’d start making runs with his dad, who drove a truck from 1968 until his passing in 2005. “I guess you could say I’m second-generation,” Pieper jokes with a grin. Eventually, he bought his own truck and became a PVO in 1978.
But for all the weather Pieper’s seen, nothing could prepare him for the storm that came in 2020. “I had a trip scheduled when everything was closing down in March and went right into the thick of it into the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s eerie when your normal commute is two hours, but you can do it in 45 minutes. Then I got into the city and there was no one on the streets.” He stares off for a few moments, recalling the imagery of ghost towns he’s traveled through since. “It was like something out of a science-fiction movie.”
While day-to-day duties didn’t change for Pieper, processes did. He was diligent in ensuring he and his crew monitored their health and temperatures for any symptoms and maintained heightened levels of sanitation.
Masks were worn in the cold of the East and the heat of the West, inside and out. Clients had to be quarantined in one room of the home, typically per their request, while crews performed the job at hand. For Pieper, that last one hurt the most.
“I’m a people person,” he says, “and the hardest thing is not having that contact with the customer and being able to build those relationships face-to-face.” But Pieper gives a lot of the credit to those customers, saying their cooperation made a tough situation easier to navigate. The agency he works for also helped things go smoother, safely.
“Imlach Group and Atlas® Van Lines have been amazing—the entire team. But Vicki Imlach? God bless her. She went out and scoured the internet when PPE supplies were scarce and found them. Whatever we needed,
she’d find it.”
Though the past year unfolded unlike any other as Pieper and his crews wondered with uncertainty what the next day would bring, he says an uptick of sorts started in late summer, and with that and the experience he had working throughout the pandemic, he’s found his rhythm again.
On being an essential worker during a global pandemic, Pieper takes a moment before he speaks, stroking his silver beard pensively.
“It was humbling. You never look at yourself that way, you know? You’re just out here to do a job and help people get through the second-toughest thing in their life (moving). It was scary there for a while, but then you start to feel a little bit like a hero. My mother was a healthcare worker, and I support all of our frontline workers putting their lives on the line. Being deemed essential along with those folks? There’s definitely a sense of pride there.”
It didn’t always feel that way, though, especially when traffic returned and “certain hand gestures” were being delivered from the cars below.
“There was no applause for us like there was for others, but that’s OK—that’s not us. We’re a rare breed,” he says with a wisdom adopted only through years in the industry.
“My fellow brothers and sisters out there in the household goods industry, they’re one of a kind because they give up so much. We may not have been moving essential supplies to hospitals, but we were moving people. Real people already going through the stressful experience of moving. I hope we were able to help them get through what the pandemic made an even more difficult time. I think we did.”
Ron Pieper’s Essentials for Life on the Road
Ron’s wife, Joy, has been riding with him for the better part of decade, which he says has been nice. When asked how she’s adapted, he says, “You mean how have I adapted!” Nestled somewhere alongside them is their dog, Boo. Ron calls his 11-year-old sheltie mix a cantankerous old gal and has one piece of advice to strangers: “Do not try to get in the truck!”
Ron says his feet can’t hit the floor properly if he doesn’t have his Nespresso® in the morning. On his favorite flavor, he says he goes for the Intenso because he likes an “intense cup of coffee.”
“I never leave home without my cigars,” says Ron. If someone were to draw a caricature of you, would a cigar be there? “Oh, absolutely.” Also, a good glass of Kentucky bourbon—after hours, of course.