“Every gearjammer knows his name/they swear he’s got icewater runnin’ in his veins/foot like lead, nerves like steel/he’s goin’ up to glory ridin’ eighteen wheels”
If you recognize the above song lyrics from “The Legend” by Jerry Reed, then like me you probably first saw Smokey and the Bandit in 1977 and thought Cletus “Snowman” Snow and Bo “Bandit” Darville were the coolest two guys on the planet. The third coolest guy, of course, was the Rubber Duck, as portrayed by a tough but sexy Kris Kristofferson in Convoy — a movie based on the song of the same name by C.W. McCall.
My own father (normally a conservative businessman) even hopped on the trucker bandwagon, bought a CB radio and started referring to himself as “The Road Toad” and my mother as “Carrot Top”. Fortunately for my embarrassment level as a child the CB radio and trucker culture craze waned after a few years, but I’ve never gotten over my love of trucker songs and movies, and I’ve never stopped wondering what it’s really like to be a long haul trucker.
Professional truck driver and fellow blogger Peter Parkour has pulled his rig over long enough to tell My Cool Job what it’s like to drive a semi through every state in the Continental US. If what you’d like to know isn’t covered in the interview below, then be sure to visit the ? a Trucker page on his blog. I’m going there right now to find out if truckers still say things like, “Copy that good buddy, thanks for the big bad bear story, I’m 10-10 on the side”.
When people ask you “what do you do?” how do you describe your job?
I’m a trucker (18 wheels baby), an over the road truck driver. I cover the 48 states in my route. Just about everything that you can find at the mall or your local Wal-Mart (or any other store for that matter) got there by way of truck. The only things I don’t hall are hazardous materials (in reportable quantities) and items that need to be refrigerated. I leave those items to be taken care of by other hard working truckers.
What are the things about your job that you love?
Being a trucker is kind of like being a paid tourist. I travel all over the country (USA) visiting places I otherwise never would have. There are so many beautiful places I get to travel to, and I’m always on the lookout for critters along the way. There are so many animals out there I’ve never seen before. Every day is an adventure.
I also get to choose what state I take my days off in. I live in Arizona, but my job has given me the opportunity to go to a family reunion (deer hunt) in Kentucky, as well as visit my dad in Florida on a fairly regular basis. Before I got this job I had never made it to a family reunion, and it had been years since I was able to visit my dad.
Another aspect of my job that I love is working with my wife. She’s a trucker too and we drive as a team. That may seem like torture to some, but to us it’s pure bliss. People sometimes ask “how did you get your wife to become a trucker” and I have to break it to them, it was her idea. She got me to be trucker. The best move we ever made, but it’s not without its drawbacks.
What are the things about your job that you hate?
One thing I hate about my job is that it is very time consuming. We are out on the road for three weeks at a time, and in return we get three days off. A trucker’s day consists of up to eleven hours of driving, which you have 14 hours to complete. Then you have to take 10 hours off. With two of us in the truck we’re always on the go.
The biggest/hardest side effect of being on the road all the time is being away from loved ones. When I started this job I couldn’t wait to get away from the family, and now most of my time off is spent visiting them. I never thought I would be one to get home sick, but boy was I wrong.
I don’t really hate parking the truck and trailer, but it is the hardest part of the job. Think about it. How many times have you parked your car and it’s off center and/or crooked in the space? Well now imagine your car is approximately 70 feet long, eight plus feet wide and it bends in the middle. Now keep in mind when you park a truck it’s almost always being backed into its space, which is approximately the same width as a car parking space, and you have to have it centered and straight in order to park/dock your truck for unloading.
What education, training, vocation or just plain luck would someone have to have in order to get a job like yours?
All you need to do to become a truck driver is obtain a class “A” commercial driver License. In order to do that you’re going to need a truck and trailer to take the driving portion of the test, and of course there’s a written test (multiple choice).
The driving portion of the test will include a rather sizeable drive (compared to the drive taken to get a regular driver license), and performing a number of “yard skills” which consist of different parking techniques (the hardest part of truck driving is the parking), and any other tricks your state might require you to perform.
One of the tricks Arizona required was a serpentine maneuver. You had to back the truck and trailer between some cones, in a zigzag pattern, backwards, while staying inside a designated area. As hard as that sounds it turned out to be one of the easier maneuvers.
The written portion of the test is very lengthy, and unlike the regular driving test, you can’t just rely on common sense. “Multiple choice” has never been so misleading. You really have to know your stuff.
I saw many a driver go back time and time again to retake both parts of the test. The written portion tended to be the highest hurdle.
There’s also a verbal portion where you walk along with a DMV officer telling them how you would go about performing a pre-trip inspection on your truck and trailer. This portion of the test usually takes approximately 30 minutes. There’s a whole lot of stuff that needs your attention on that truck and trailer, but you don’t have to be a diesel mechanic. You just have to be able to recognize warning signs before they become problems.
Due to all of the above most people go through a truck driving school. Most last between three and four weeks, but the class my wife and I went through was a 15 week course (four days a week, seven hours a day). You can learn to drive a truck in three to four weeks, but there is so much more to learn, so we were both glad we took the longer class.
One week was dedicated to studying for the written portion of the driver test. One hour every morning was spent practicing our pre-trip inspection. Three weeks were spent in the classroom learning tons of stuff about trucking. The last eleven weeks were spent practicing yard skills and learning to drive a truck and trailer out in the real world.
The three and four week classes usually cost somewhere in the range of $3000 dollars. The 15 week class cost closer to $7000. The good news, most companies that hire new drivers will help to pay for part or all of your school expenses (with the understanding you stay with said company for a set period of time). There are also programs out there for folks that just can’t come up with the money in the first place.
What is the funniest story you can think of that involves your professional training or your job?
A semi (pun intended) funny story I’ve heard time and time again (it’s common among husband/wife team drivers) goes a little something like this:
The husband pulls into a truck stop to get fuel. While fueling he cleans all the bugs off the windshield. After fueling he goes inside for a restroom break. After said break he returns to the truck and gets back on the road. After traveling for about an hour and making really good time he receives a call from his dispatcher. The dispatcher informs the driver that his wife is back at the truck stop, and she’s not very happy. *rim shot*
Often times when one driver is driving, the other is sleeping. The back of the cab (the sleeper) is separated from the front of the cab by a curtain to allow privacy and darkness for a good day or nights sleep. It’s also good for hiding the fact that your co-driver has gotten out of the truck while you were away. Since the driver believes their co-driver to be sleeping they never open the curtain as a courtesy to the would-be sleeper.
The jimsmuse bonus for those who made it this far. Enjoy, good buddies!
Bonus #1: Smokey and the Bandit Highlights Reel.
Bonus #2: Convoy by C.W. McCall
Bonus #3: A clip from the movie Convoy featuring some hardcore trucker CB banter!
Bonus #4: Red Sovine trucker-song classics Phantom 309 (a spooky ghost story about a phantom trucker) and Teddy Bear (a tear-jerker about a crippled kid who talks to truckers on the CB…it literally makes me sob every time I hear it!)
Bonus #5: The Rabid Child — believe it or not, They Might Be Giants wrote a song about CB radios back in 1989. Strange, but fun!