Truck Driving Back in the Day

White truck at Talladega

Story by Ed M.

Back when I started trucking, 40 years ago, it was tougher to get into the trucking industry than it is now. There weren’t tons of online ads for schools that would readily place young drivers into work. To get a job, companies wanted experience… and how do you get experience if you can’t get a truck driving job?

Personally, I started out by hauling garbage on a residential route for two years.  The pay was quite low, but it was a driving job and gave me experience! Then one day, I came across an opening with a dealer for aerial man lifts and other construction equipment.  This would become my first truck driving job, but the type of work was different from what’s available today.

Private Carriers for Truck Driving

The company I was hired by was a private carrier.  That means they were a company that made money on their own products, not solely by the transportation of those products. They owned their own trucks to transport the product they sold. Because all their products came from them, some deliveries were local and some took truckers on the road for a week or more.

Also, as part of the job, I had to familiarize myself with the company’s entire product line. Nowadays, with freight rates as low as they are, most private carriers have gotten rid of their trucks and just use trucking companies for their hauling. There are a few private carrier jobs are out there today, but they’re tough to find.

The Money Comparison

At the time though, a private carrier sounded like a great place to start my truck driving career.  I wanted that job so bad! 

I even agreed to a pay level that was a notch below the “way too cheap” that I got at my old position… but did I mention that I really wanted that job?  I liked the idea of hauling machinery, and the thought of travelling and driving a semi thrilled me!

They told me what would be the hourly wage.  Lower than what I had been making after two years of hauling garbage?  I thought about it briefly but didn’t question it.  The redeeming part: I would get paid overtime. And there’s always a lot of driving in the trucking industry. After seven years there, the wages had improved to a quite respectable level.

Truck Driving Training Is Better Nowadays

Then, finally, I got the call. I was a tractor trailer driver. I loved my job!  I would go anywhere at any time.  But there were a few problems. I had been “trained” by a fellow that had only driven for a couple months and could not shift. The key to shifting a 10 speed or 13 speed manual transmission is the cadence, or rhythm, along with the proper engine RPMs.  Neither of us knew anything about that! So I learned to shift by trial and error… with a lot of errors.

My truck was also in marginal-to-poor condition, and with limited experience, I didn’t always recognize faulty items until more damage had been done. Back then, I wasn’t alone with these problems.  That’s why much of today’s training and testing is in place now. You might feel overwhelmed by it, but in the long run it’s safer and everyone is better off.  The truck owner, the general public, and YOU!

The Bright Side

Curved road into the mountains, shot from a truck
One of the benefits to trucking is the scenery.

The rewards of being a truck driver far outweigh the disadvantages.  You often find yourself looking forward to your next destination. It may be somewhere that you’ve never been.  Or maybe you’ve been there and have a memory of something that made it a great run.  A bright and colorful autumn day?  Maybe a smooth ride with no traffic – just you, beautiful scenery, and time to settle into some deep thoughts while driving there?

The sheer variety of a truck driving job is why I love it. And if the trip doesn’t have enough variety, you have the freedom to change that; drive a different road, or drive it at a different time of day than usual. 

Even after forty years, I still feel blessed that, not only do I get to see some beautiful and interesting things, but I get paid for it!  My pay now is based on a per mile basis. It can be much more than other jobs if you want to put in the time to run more miles. That is a balance that each driver is faced with. More money, more time away from home and family.

But, it isn’t all about the money. I don’t have to look at factory walls or an office cubicle.  I don’t have to constantly be watching the clock and wishing for quitting time. Instead of dealing with office politics and the same people day in and day out, I constantly get to see new people and meet new friends.   Sure, you’ll meet some real jerks. But you know, sometimes I think they’re jerks because they work all day in office cubes or look at factory walls!  And either way, you get to leave after your delivery to them.

Advice to New Truck Drivers

So… what advice would I give to someone new to the business or someone thinking of becoming a truck driver? Here are 11 pieces of wisdom:

  1. Learn how to shift well. If you have trouble shifting, it seems to take your attention away from everything else. You’ll be primed for an accident!
  2. Keep your family happy. That may mean not being out for long periods. If they can get along without you for a few weeks, they may decide that, even psychologically, they can get along without you… period.
  3. If you can’t see where you’re going when backing up, get out and look! I still do on occasion, after 40 years.  I would rather look like an amateur and get out to look, rather than an amateur that gets out to assess the damage after I back into something.
  4. Treat the shipper and receiver like they are feeding you every day, because they are!
  5. Truck driving, especially when you’re gone for days, isn’t just a job. It’s a lifestyle. Where you go, when you sleep, when you get home, and even when you are home can all be affected by your job.
  6. Try your best not to leave home with your spouse worrying about money. And the best way to avoid that is good financial management. Bills cause worries; worries cause undue stress; and when you put in long days, it’s hard to make sound decisions. Then you don’t sleep well, and it’s harder to deal with the next day.
  7. Watch your health closely. There are very few driving jobs where your health improves working there. Most go the other way. Sitting in a truck seat for long hours each day doesn’t offer much in the way of exercise. The lack of good physical activity, coupled with the stresses of life, and fueled by the poor quality foods available on the road, can cause health issues.
  8. Try to plan ahead for the unexpected. Unexpected things don’t just happen to other people!
  9. Treat the public with respect. You don’t know what other people are dealing with in their lives. That old man that’s driving way too slow ahead of you… he may have just come from his wife’s funeral.
  10. Always, always, be observant.  Get in the habit of always watching everything and then making a mental note of it. When you become passive, things go wrong.
  11. Check out a prospective employer. What’s their reputation among other drivers?  If they have a high turnover of drivers, will you be any different? Do they guarantee miles if you are paid by the mile? Ask  You don’t want to be half way across the country and sitting because they don’t have a load for you.

That’s my story.  Enjoy your ride and be safe!

 

About The Author
Contributor: Ed Maas (CDL instructor and truck driver for 40+ years).

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