The town of Manito, Illinois, is nestled among a patchwork quilt of corn and beans, tied with ribbons of waterways and back roads. In other words, it’s in the middle of nowhere. With a population hovering at just over 1,500, the town doesn’t boast of much. The only notable thing about Manito is their annual popcorn festival, a novelty borne on the whim of two local women in 1972.
Gene Tisdale Jr. was born in this rural farm community. His father woke with the sun each morning to deliver gas around the Manito area—mostly to farmers who didn’t want to interrupt their day by going to town. In the afternoons, he’d leave for his second-shift job at the Keystone foundry. Meanwhile, Gene’s mother made the house a home for Gene and his
Those were simpler times, growing up in Manito. Gene recalls a childhood free of worry and full of adventure—sometimes, maybe a little too much for his mother. At three years old, Gene learned to operate the front gate latch. After that, it was anyone’s guess where he was off to.
Living in a small town had its advantages—Gene could run around and do as he pleased without the trepidations of big-city living. Bicycles were the trusty vehicles of choice, and Gene’s mother rarely knew where he was (nor did she worry). He recalls meandering around town, stopping occasionally to visit friends or a neighbor weeding their flower bed. When summer temperatures reached their afternoon peak, the community pool was the place to be. On rainy days, the pool hall was the hangout. But if the weather was really nice, Gene headed out of town for an afternoon at the fishing hole. Life was good.
During his teen years, Gene’s mother took a job with The Pekin Daily Times, where she spent the next 33 years as the Community Editor. Her dedication and faithfulness are something Gene looks up to and greatly respects. She was a praying woman who walked with the Lord and sought His guidance in raising her family. She disciplined, nurtured, and put up with many shenanigans raising five children.
The Military Years
Gene worked his way through high school stocking shelves at the town liquor store. Upon graduation in 1982, he enlisted in the army and moved to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri. The fort was a significant change of pace for a small-town boy, and Gene kept busy with basic and then specialty training (also known as AIT—Advanced Individual Training). After 18 months, he received orders to go to Germany — not ideal since he and his wife were expecting a baby. After some discussion with his commander, Gene applied for Jump School.
With a new career direction, Gene transferred to Fort Bragg, North Carolina, for another 2.5 years. Life at Fort Bragg was a bit more exciting and adrenaline-filled—jumping out of planes at 800 feet will do that! Gene was now a heavy equipment operator; he ran bulldozers, road graders, and front-end loaders to maintain the army airstrips. The army would drop equipment and personnel in the target location and get to work.
”Don't take anything for granted! Enjoy the time you're in, no matter how difficult, because you'll learn something that will get you through life later. Someday, you'll look back and say, "Well, that wasn't as tough as it seemed."
Gene served during peacetime. While he didn’t see any combat, he did see lots of trees. Chuckling, Gene recalls a “tree incident” at Fort Bragg that he’ll never forget. Around the fort, drop zones are named after WW2 locations. On this particular night, Gene’s group was slated to hit the Normandy drop zone. As the plane approached the target, Gene’s jumpmaster nervously scanned the surroundings. Command gave the green light to jump, and though the jumpmaster disagreed, he instructed the men to go (orders are orders).
Out into the night they went, about thirty men in total. Of those thirty, one man (not Gene) made it to the drop zone unfettered. Gene and the rest of the crew landed in the trees! After untangling themselves, they scrambled to a nearby road where the general was searching for his missing troops — not exactly a flattering outcome! They loaded up, chutes and all, and returned to the base.
Upon leaving the army in 1987, Gene came home to begin a new chapter in his career: trucking! Or so he thought. This was before CDL licenses, and (in Gene’s words) he was young, dumb, and stupid. He joined a company that provided little to no training—they’d stick two inexperienced guys in a truck and send you on your way. Needless to say, this method did not work for Gene.
The Walmart Years
After the trucking debacle, Gene worked several jobs before landing at Walmart, where he spent the next 17 years. After four years as a hardware associate, he accepted a managerial role as Assistant Manager in the meats department. His best shopping advice? Buy the meat with yellow tags that say, “we’re about to expire” and save a few bucks! Over the course of his employment, Gene worked at the Lincoln, Galesburg, Pekin, and Peoria Walmarts.
His turning point was when the atmosphere began shifting away from customer service. Walmart started using self-checkouts, and that was Gene’s signal to check himself out. To this day, if given the option, Gene uses the old-style checkout because he enjoys talking with the cashier. In his words, “They don’t pay me to check myself out.”
Over the Road – In A Camper
After Walmart, Gene and his wife discussed their options. Where to next? As it turned out, the answer came from a little Scamp camper they had fixed up. Gene’s wife wondered if they could make a living off it, so she did her research and shared the findings with Gene. Before long, they were off on their next adventure: “workamping.”
The Tisdales sold their Scamp, purchased a fifth wheel, and took off for Santa Cruz, California. When they reached the golden state, they “set up camp” at the campground where they were employed and toured the surrounding area in their off-hours. After four months in Santa Cruz, they traveled to Mission Bell Resort in Mission, Texas. Mission Bell was a far south snowbird resort and grew busy during the winter. Next, they moved to Cotulla, Texas, working as security guards in the oil fields.
In this stint, Gene and his wife worked opposite shifts at a 24-hour security gate. This assignment was challenging—not a simple life like they were used to. When the oil field started fracking, trucks came and went every two minutes, and their job was to check them in and out. In the busy season, they could check up to 75 trucks per night! After four months, they decided it was time to go home.
Back in the Truck
Back in Illinois, Gene landed at a small company that offered paid CDL training in exchange for a year’s commitment. But during a trip to Washington State partway through his training, the company shut down! His almost-employer had leased their trucks from a larger carrier, so Gene and the other drivers found themselves under a new company. Three months later, Gene left for Bertis-Carlson, a smaller carrier in Galesburg. While there, he discovered his two loves in trucking: flat-bedding and training! He especially enjoyed the camaraderie with his students and found that teaching actually provided more learning opportunities. It was here that Gene trained Mike Zimmerman, who eventually moved on to Nussbaum. Mike started telling Gene about Nussbaum’s culture and how it was a great workplace, but Gene wasn’t ready to give up flatbed. But then, he heard that Nussbaum was starting a flatbed division!
Shortly after Christmas in 2020, then-recruiter Saige Anderson was searching for qualified flatbed candidates to fill the new division. She asked Mike Zimmerman if he had any leads, and soon after, she was on the phone with Gene. Because of his prior experiences at other companies, Gene was hesitant to make a hasty decision. But after some serious soul-searching and discussions with his wife, Gene felt it was the right move. The rest is history! Gene officially joined the Nussbaum Family in February 2021.
Paying it Forward
Gene is a tremendous asset to Nussbaum, running flatbed and jumping headfirst into our training program. Gene enjoys sharing his knowledge and lessons learned with the next generation of drivers—it’s his way of paying it forward. And as always, he enjoys meeting
Today, Gene and his wife live in Canton, Illinois. His three sons are grown with families of their own, and Gene has fifteen wonderful grandchildren to spoil. Gene loves the grandpa side of parenting—with your own children, you have to discipline, but with grandkids, you get to spoil them and send them home.
When he’s not driving, Gene enjoys being outside and working with his hands. Woodworking is a favorite pastime, and he’s made a few furniture pieces over the years. Gene also enjoys motorcycle rides when the weather is nice. When he’s sick of wheels, he’ll take the kayak for a spin and relax on the water.
Don’t Take Anything for Granted
Since joining Nussbaum, Gene has achieved Certified RED status. For him, the program is worth it simply because it makes him a better driver. Gene likes to achieve, and Certified RED is structured to help people achieve their goals and better themselves.
If Gene could give advice to the world, it would be this: don’t take anything for granted! Enjoy the time you’re in, no matter how difficult, because you’ll learn something that will get you through life later. Someday, you’ll look back and say, “Well, that wasn’t as tough as it seemed.”
Life is full of lessons, so keep going forward! Looking back doesn’t get you anywhere, but looking forward gets you anywhere you need to go.