By Jennifer Wulff
September 17, 2001 12:00 PM

It was enough to make any kid want to get shipwrecked. In the 1979 film The Black Stallion, 11-year-old Kelly Reno finds himself cast away on a desert island with a hot-tempered Arabian horse. Slowly the two make friends; soon enough, Reno is galloping bareback along the shore, yelping with delight.

Now, most days, Reno sits atop 325 horses-that’s the power under the hood of the Kenworth 18- wheeler he drives throughout Colorado, hauling heavy construction equipment for Wagner Rental Company. “I’m a certified truck driver and very proud of that,” says Reno, 35. “What bothers me is these people, when they do figure out who I am, the first thing out of their mouths is, ‘What the hell you doin’ drivin’ a truck?’ I basically look at them and say, ‘You know what? It pays the bills.’ ”

His film work paid them for a short while. With no acting experience, Reno, whose mother had heard about an open audition for equine-minded boys like her son—Reno had been riding horses on his parents’ 10,000-acre Colorado ranch since he’d learned to walk—turned out to be “a natural” when he was cast in Stallion, says his costar Mickey Rooney, 80. “He was so willing to try anything, and he was great with horses.”

And willing to travel: Stallion was shot in Canada, Sardinia and the Italian mainland. “We went to places we never would have gone, stayed in fabulous hotels and did some fun things,” says his mother, Ruth, 58, whose husband, Bud, a cattle rancher who also accompanied their son on location, died in 1996. “But when we came home, we were still ranchers. He still had to do chores like everybody else.”

Though Reno was offered more roles, he took just a few, the most notable being an encore as Alec Ramsey in 1983’s Black Stallion Returns, shot in Morocco. His paychecks were a big perk, but, as he said to his mother when another location shoot was going to disrupt their family life, “there are a lot of things more important than money.”

After graduating from high school in 1984, Reno got a new agent and tried to make his way into acting again, but his plans were derailed by a near-fatal highway accident in 1985. His pickup truck was hit by an 18-wheeler, and Reno suffered two collapsed lungs, bruised kidneys and several broken bones, putting him in a wheelchair for eight months. (He still has a 14-in. steel plate in his left leg.) “I lost a couple of jobs over it,” he says. “In eight months—Hollywood forgets you fast.”

In the truck with him, but escaping serious injury, was girlfriend Lynette Turtle, 32, whom he married in 1986 and with whom he has three children: Ryan, 12, Raelyn, 8, and Justin, 7. They divorced in 1996, and a year later Reno met Annette Crump, 35, a nurse he wed in 1998. “We got married on horseback,” says Reno, who lives with Annette and her son Jesse, 9, 15 miles from Lynette on a ranch near Pueblo, Colo.

After working as a cattle rancher for 15 years, Reno got his trucking license in 1996, graduating at the top of his class. He chose trucking because “the pay was good and I needed the work,” he says. While he has toyed with the idea of trying to act again (“His eyes light up,” says Annette, when he spots an old costar on TV), Reno isn’t about to park his rig just yet. “I’ve been there, done that,” says Reno, who is still asked for autographs on the street. “I have a loving wife and four lovely children, and I’m happy where I’m at.” Besides, he says, “if I never do anything but be a truck driver, I can always tell my grand-kids, ‘Look what Grandpa did when he was little.'”

Jennifer Wulff

Vickie Bane in Pueblo