The sky had changed into a “sea blue color” and the hail, rain and leaves were swirling in front of the truck as it struggled to move forward in the wind. The wind kicked the 34,000-pound truck around from all sides.
“If it wasn’t a tornado I drove through, it was damn close,” said Bob, the driver of the 18-wheeler. He was on Missouri highway 7, east of I-49 and southeast of Kansas City, Missouri. The commercial truck driver had just dropped off a load in Springfield, Missouri and was on his way to Kansas City, when the weather began to change. “Never saw it coming,” Bob said of the storm after he safely arrived in Kansas City.
I recently had the chance to sit down and talk with Bob, one of more than three million professional truck drivers in the United States. He has been a commercial truck driver for four and a half years.
Before becoming a professional truck driver, Bob spent 21 years in the US Navy and almost 20 years as a Defense Contractor supporting the US Navy and Marine Corps. After about 40 years of serving the country and the military, Bob felt like it was time to move on and find a job that felt less demanding and hectic, yet still challenging. He liked the idea of being able to see the country and to have more control in his work. “I also feel a sense of purpose and can serve people behind the scenes,” Bob said. “I like the challenge. It takes a lot of planning and time management to ensure I pick up and deliver loads on time, every time,” Bob said. “It’s also fun driving a big rig.”
Truck driving is a trades job and requires certain skills. Training must be completed at a certified Department of Transportation (DoT) training facility located at a college, technical center or a school operated by a private company. Bob located a training facility located at a private company through an online search. The first step was to pass a written driver’s test in order to receive his learner’s permit. The second step was to complete the required classroom and behind-the-wheel driver’s training, which took about four weeks to complete. After the training was complete, Bob took a driving test that was witnessed by a State Certified licensing agent with the DoT. When he passed the driving test, he earned his commercial driver’s license (CDL) and was ready to start his new chapter, driving a big rig.
Bob is an over-the-road (OTR) trucker which means his job can take him away from home for weeks at a time and his days might be 10 – 14 hours long. He might start his day early in the morning or in the evening. It depends on when his next pickup or delivery is scheduled. When scheduling his pickups and deliveries the dispatchers and planners at the company have to allow the mandatory rest periods for the drivers.
Bob drives a Freightliner Cascadia. The truck has two fuel tanks that each hold 100 gallons of fuel. Bob averages about 2,500 miles per week and about 125,000 miles a year, with mileage between about 5.5 to 7.5 miles per gallon. He has been to all 48 contiguous states and has picked up or dropped off freight in 47 states. He has driven through, but not picked up or dropped off freight in Vermont.
Amazon, UPS, and FEDEX are just a few of the companies he has picked up or delivered freight, which is commonly referred to as freight of all kinds. (FAK) He has carried dry freight such as garage doors, steel, bulk minerals, corn, wheat, electronics, beverages, truck motors and much more. For the past year, Bob has carried mostly dairy products. He can carry almost anything he is asked to carry, including hazardous cargo and liquids, which requires the special endorsements that he has on his license.
With the help of today’s modern technology such as a trucker GPS and Google Maps, Bob says he doesn’t get lost, although he has gotten turned around a little bit a couple of times. But usually he finds his way to his destination without too many problems. He does have to be careful and watch for low over bridges, tight turns, and weight limits. Curvy country roads in the mountains with no shoulders can be tricky for truck drivers. “I always worry about dragging the trailer tires off the shoulder and getting pulled off the road,” Bob said. Many of those roads don’t have guardrails. And with traffic on the road, “I have to have my eyes in four different places at once,” Bob said.
Although Bob doesn’t care to drive into the large metropolitan areas like Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles, driving past the large cities at night is one of his favorite things to do. “Love the lights,” Bob said. The city lights aren’t the only lights he loves to see. He likes to drive on cool, clear nights, “Especially out in the open plains where I can see the entire sky full of stars,” Bob said.
During this time of COVID-19, Bob said his job has only changed because of the changes around him. Shipping companies have different requirements and Bob has to be ready. It can be tricky keeping up with the changes since the rules can differ from state to state and company to company. There are fewer cars out on the roads now, and especially at night, which has made driving a truck easier and less nerve-racking. He has dedicated his life to helping and protecting the country and feels good helping to keep the country going at this time. “I think helping others makes everyone feel good and being able to help keep this country going in a crisis, well, I just can’t be happier that I am able to do something as important as being a truck driver right now.”