What was your career path? What do you like about truck driving as a job?
After leaving an HRTM (Hotel, Restaurants, and Tourism Management) position and living in Fort Myers, Florida, I moved with my family back to my hometown outside Kansas City. In Florida I had been running one of the many golf communities’ food and beverage establishments, dealing with hostesses, servers, and of course the members. I was making just under $40,000, and the benefits were mediocre. Also, I was always working when I wanted to be with family. Missing dinners and weekend events like mass and ball games weighed heavily on me.
After we settled in, an uncle, my older brother, and a long-lost best friend all offered me different employment opportunities to get my feet on the ground, but I wanted to secure something on my own, which I did. I attended a job fair in a suit and tie with a dozen finely-crafted resumes on beautiful parchment, and I approached the twelve most appealing exhibitors.
After a week, I began calling on those businesses to no avail. Getting a job on my own was more challenging than I thought, but I finally succeeded! The gig was as helper on a regional ice-delivery truck, but it only paid a meager minimum wage. I was excited and anxious because I had never worked in that environment, and even though it was income, it would cause us to tighten our belts. However, it wasn’t long before I heard the driver’s seat calling me!
Of the several drivers employed by the ice distributor, only one was solid. I mostly rode with the others, all probationary seasonal drivers, and they were terrible. One guy would always “accidentally” take the wrong turn, which would create two, three, and four-hour detours just to boost his hourly check. One driver would fiddle around on his cell phone for ten to fifteen minutes when he parked at each account, and then he’d do it again before departing. Another driver organized trysts at different truck stops or large fueling stations.
I’d had enough of other people driving me around, taking advantage of the hourly pay schedule. Without talking to my boss, I decided I had to get my CDL Class A license to improve my employer’s businesses and my own.
The licensing office provided me a study manual for a Commercial Driver’s License, and after reading it several times over the next week, I returned and passed the CDL written exam.
The next day, my boss scheduled a Department of Transportation Medical Examination that I also passed.
I was now allowed to drive a commercial vehicle with any employee holding a valid, current CDL Class A license, to develop familiarity with the trucks’ maneuvering.
A couple weeks later boss let me drive a tractor-trailer on an out-of- town route, and I loved the experience!
After two more months of on-the-job training, I scheduled a CDL Class A driving test and was sorely disappointed when I failed not once, but twice. The third time proved successful, though, and I blew that air horn loud and clear!
The license increased my pay from minimum wage to $10 dollars an hour, which wasn’t much of an improvement, but the new job gave me the opportunity for a lot of overtime during the warm months. I knew eventually I could be making the same money the slackers were making and even more.
Plus, the truck is like being in a traveling office. My experience with it has been as if I am my own boss. I enjoy moving around and seeing different places and people. The road offers a degree of freedom nothing in my past could match, and freedom is the American way.
What does it mean to be successful in this job?
Less than a year of driving for the ice company was enough. I attracted the attention of another local distributor, with better pay and more hours at home. I was now offered a base pay as salary in addition to one percent of all my freight, averaging over $20 per hour. Plus, they paid nearly 80% of my insurance, with 2 weeks of paid vacation and six paid holidays. They also matched my 401k up to 5% and provided two volume-based bonuses a year.
I have been with my current employer four years, and truly enjoy what I do because of the balance of pay versus home-time. You need to understand that balance between pay and home time to be successful as a truck driver. Drivers who offer lateral moves in the industry occasionally tempt me. There are many driving jobs available, tens of thousands according to the American Trucking Association.
The available jobs also span a variety to types. In addition to local wholesale DSD (Direct Store Delivery), there is regional team driven DSD, over-the-road, dedicated, and owner-operator, just to name a few. Granted, most of them only make money if the wheels are turning, which means less home time. Some of them, like mine, have to do with hands-on freight. This gives the driver a direct impact on the market through making and cultivating business relationships, and friends, at all his accounts.
How do you balance money and mileage with the home time you want?
I was blessed to have had the invitation to work for the family with whom I am currently employed.
It is physically demanding, but I only work Monday through Friday, arrive home an hour or two prior to dinner, then spend the weekend with my wife and our babies.
I make $50,000, which is not a lot compared to the $75,000 some regional OTR drivers make, and less than half the six figures that dedicated OTR drivers make.
But to me, home-time is more important.
The concern for money has arisen numerous times in the past, but when we talk it out—for our family—having time with our children is priceless. My wife and I simply schedule our budget a bit tighter when times are tough.
What advice would you give to a new aspiring truck driver?
My younger brother approached me recently. He was down and out—if it weren’t for bad luck, he’d have no luck at all. He was ready for a new job and wanted to hear about driving so, I told him:
You can do whatever you want to do, but you have to determine who you are and what you want out of life, because the world is thine oyster.
Money? Money is easy! Sign up for a dedicated OTR gig and live in a truck for five years and don’t spend a dime! Before you know it, you would have the capital to start a venture of your own, if you wanted. Home time? Just as easy! Go downtown and sign up for HUD Section 8 and live off the government. If you do it right, you probably won’t have to get off your couch.
Most of us probably want somewhere in between, however. That is where you will have to do some soul searching and figure out exactly what it is you desire the most and whether or not you possess the constitution to affect that end. In the truck driving industry, you can have a measure of both money and home time, according to your willingness, but do your research and learn which companies will offer you that balance you seek. Whichever road you choose remember, keep on truckin’!