Why the hell do I want to be a trucker?
I have worn many different hats since I started working at the age of 12. After nine years of dedicated service and then getting laid off from my last job that I thought I would retire from, I had to give some serious thought to what occupation would carry me through to retirement or maybe beyond. Considering going back into the police field or maybe starting my own business, the options were staggering. The only type of job that I could think of that required the fewest hours of training and still be able to bring home a decent pay for honest work was in the trucking industry.
Most people probably think of truckers as nothing short of glorified bikers or the rough and tumble bar fighting, speed taking, law breaking, bad ##### that are usually portrayed in the media. This is not completely true. There are more professionals out there than you would think. You will more often than not find that truck drivers are level headed and very knowledgeable people. Consider this; if it weren't for truckers, you would not have drive-through restaurants, have clothes, sleep on sheets, wipe your butt or have most of the modern conveniences brought to your neighborhood store that everyone has come to expect. The trucking industry keeps this Country's economy going strong. I have to say that I am proud just knowing that I am getting started, even at the not so tender age of 44, in this important occupation.
How in the world does a person like me, who has never driven a big rig before, get into the field of truck driving? The first thing that you have to do is get a Class A, Commercial Drivers License. How do you get this license? You must first pass the written test from the Department of Public Safety. The book that covers the information needed to study for this test is somewhat overwhelming, if you have no experience at all in the world of truck driving. You must also pass a real live driving test with a real live eighteen wheel truck. The Examiner is just like you remember from when you took your driving test when you were sixteen. The Examiners take their job VERY seriously and don't want a bunch of goof ball people out there driving 80,000 pounds of heavy metal at 60 plus miles per hour on the highways. There was no possible way that I would be able to pass these tests without some kind of training. Where in the world do you go to find such a school? After a lot of looking and study, I found out which truck driving school would be the best for me to attend and gave them a call. The next day I was enrolled. The school is NOT cheap. I had to cash in an I.R.A. in order to pay for the school, but I'm glad I did. The pay off should be worth it. It took right at a month to complete the school and to pass the Examiner's tests to get my class A CDL. There were some real hard knocks to my ego too. I am really not as smart as I thought I was! You don't realize how hard it is to learn something new until you haven't learned anything new in a long time. I was beginning to think that this old dog had no new tricks left in him, but after a few swift kicks to my own behind, I got the job done.
Now, with my brand new, Oklahoma, yellow, Class A CDL firmly planted in my wallet I am ready to go to work. Hmmm... During the training I got several job offers from several trucking companies... There are good points and bad points to all the different companies... WHICH COMPANY DO I CHOOSE?
The Internet is full of all kinds of useful and useless information about all the different trucking companies that are out there, so I found no credible answer there. I talked to different drivers from different companies and was just as confused about what to do as I was when I first started looking. I talked with the companies' recruiters and they all said pretty much the same thing, "their company was the best." So, it was soon apparent that I will simply have to trust my gut. This makes me very nervous. Gambling is not my forte. I wish I had a mentor to guide me through this decision, but I don't know anyone in the trucking business that I could trust with such a decision.
After much worry and sweat, the company I finally decided on was Swift Transportation. Why? Again, I will have to simply say I'm trusting my gut. The bad rumors that I heard and read about Swift are not any worse than any other company's. The Swift Recruiter actually gave me her cell phone number and she remembered my name when I called her back. There is a Swift company terminal right in Oklahoma City. Swift's equipment is apparently new and well kept. The reasons for my decision are small but are enough to sway me to choose Swift.
Right at this moment in my life I have to say that I am nervous about my choices and excited about them all at once. It is kind of like being a little kid again and having the future to look forward to. I had forgotten how powerful those butterfly feelings in your stomach were. It is really invigorating to be embarking on a new adventure!!! I love to travel the open road. Having no boss breathing down my neck is a fun thought. Giving my wife, mom and friends the opportunity to share the ride with me is nice. Getting paid well for doing an honest day's work is a bonus too. Many, many ideas, perks and problems are flying through my brain. I truly hope that I am making the right decision but I won't know until I take the truck by the wheel and drive.
At the time of writing this, I will not go to orientation for another three weeks. This is a good thing. It is important to me to spend some time getting everything at home prepared for my long durations away. Making sure the security alarms and cameras are fully functional, fire alarms are working, guns are loaded, locks are working, batteries are replaced, vents clean, cars are all oiled and lubed and getting everyone prepared for me to be away from home for the next few weeks. I want this to work out well for me and my family. It is not that I will not be able to orchestrate some things over the telephone, but it is important to know that my loved ones are ready for me being gone during my training. It is kind of like when I went into the Army Basic Training.
It takes money to make money.
I'm so excited! Tomorrow I will start my orientation with Swift Transportation. On my last blog, I talked about my decisions of why I wanted to become a trucker. Here I wanted to discuss the hoops you have to jump through to become one.
The Government requires each driver to have a class A commercial driver's license. Most big trucking companies out there want their drivers to have a hazardous materials endorsement as well as a passport too. Let me tell you...!!! I thought that the C.D.L. was difficult to get, but the HAZMAT was tough too! Not only do you have to pass a Department of Public Safety test (which was kind of hard) but you have to get fingerprinted and an extensive background check as well. It costs $85.25 to even submit the paperwork. I was shocked at how thorough the Government is with this endorsement. I have worked in law enforcement and hold a concealed weapons permit, but those did not compare to the strict requirements needed to get endorsed for HAZMAT.
The passport was pretty straight forward, but you have to have a certified copy of your birth certificate. I went to Oklahoma's Department of Health, waited in line for about two hours, paid $10.00 and got my birth certificate. You then have to fill out a form requesting a passport at the County Court House, obtain a couple of passport photos ($10.00), sign the form, pay $55.00 and wait on the Government to send you the passport.
All in all, before I even begin driving, I have paid right at $6000.00 for the driving school, $80.00 for the C.D.L., $85.00 for the HAZMAT, $75.00 for a passport and no telling how much in gasoline to drive all over God's creation to get all of this accomplished.
So, if you are thinking of becoming a trucker, with no experience, you better have a healthy wad of cash available!
Don't get me wrong...Swift will pay me back (over a period of time) for most of these expenses, but it still feels like I am going broke before I even get my first paycheck.
I will write later about what I am packing for my mandatory 240 hours spent with a mentor.
Time to put on my training pants.
On my last blog I told you that I was about to start orientation with Swift Transportation. Well, today I finished it. The orientation was just about exactly what I expected; a lot of hurry up and wait time, tons of paperwork to fill out, physical examination, urinalysis exam, videos, tests, lectures, more paperwork, and more hurry up and wait. I'm pretty patient with this type of thing, but...there is a limit to what a person can endure. The people in charge of the orientation was pleasant and seemingly professional and that made it bearable.
One funny thing did happen during the physical examination. The Doctor had just finished my physical, you know the "turn your head and cough" thing that men have to do, when the male nurse was coming in to recheck my blood pressure. The nurse said, "I would like to congratulate you on your hygiene." I turned my head like a dog that hears a strange noise and said, "huh?" He explained, "most truckers that come in here to have their physical examination smell like they have been on a truck for a month even before they get the job as a trucker!" He continued to tell me how he has to wipe everything in the room down with disinfectant and fumigate with spray to kill the odors. This kind of made me shudder. What kind of people will I be working with? I am kind of glad that being a trucker is a solitary kind of job after hearing this from him and I am glad that I have a medical professional's stamp of approval on my hygiene methods.
There were ten men, besides myself, that were in this week's orientation class. Most were recent graduates of some kind of trucking school or another, like me. Most were just normal guys and I would not have a problem at all working with any of them. They seemed like normal Joes. It will be fun to see them out on the road from time to time.
I find it odd that the Swift Transportation videos and the staff continually stated that their drivers were not safe enough. They implied that Swift drivers were not professional enough. I inferred that they believed that their drivers were dirty and uncouth. You know...this makes me a little mad. Who, after all, did the hiring of these unsafe, unprofessional, dirty miscreants? Swift Transportation, that's who! Don't blame the pig if you take it to the dance for acting like a PIG AT A DANCE!!! I would like to believe that I will not give the Company that hired me a reason to believe that I am anything but professional. As with all of the other jobs that I have had in my life, I am going to give them 100%. I am not just doing a job to make the Company look good, but I am doing a job that I can be proud of. It is my thought that if Swift finds a reason to believe that a driver is not presenting themselves in a good light that they should have the opportunity to council this driver. If that driver fails to make improvements, then show them the door. Their bad behavior should not be just tolerated and complained about. Now, don't get me wrong, I know that a lot of the statements in orientation were said in order to illicit a desired behavior from us, the new drivers, so I will not take everything that was said to be the normal attitude from the Company. It is just not cool for the Company that just hired me to belittle their employees. I would like to hear about the thousands of true professionals that they do have working for them. Give me examples to look up to and aspire to be. Show me the drivers that have millions of over-the-road experience that has never had an accident as well as the bad examples that lost their jobs for not being professional. Come on! Mix in a little good with the bad. (Just my humble opinion...)
Nevertheless, tonight I am writing this with a brand new Swift Transportation driver number to my name, but am not making any money as of yet! Apparently I have to wait on my driver trainer/mentor to show up so that I can get on the truck and start my training. It is at that point that I will start getting paid. It is more hurry up and wait stuff that I will have to contend with until it happens. Things happen the way that they are supposed to and I am not going to get beside myself with worry and stress about not getting what I want, when I want it. I know that the Good Lord does things in his own time and I simply have to be there when He wants me to be there.
The time spent waiting for my trainer/mentor can be spent refining my packed possessions for the road and spending a little more time with my wife before I will spend weeks away from her. I know that I said in my last blog that I would put together a list of all the things that I packed for the road, but it will probably be better that I post that list when I am done with my training. Thinking about it realistically, it would be better to have the real world experience list for others to look at and not the haphazard jumble of stuff that I put together at this point. I know that I will get out there with my stupid little pile of stuff and wish I had left some stuff home and brought other, more useful stuff. So, with that in mind, I will hold off on the list until I am finished with training.
I hope that the ones that take the time to read my ramblings are truly interested in this and I really hope that I don't bore you with my take on "being a trucker" but it is always possible that if you don't find this stuff helpful then you can always tell me in the comments or you can simply not read them at all. I just know that I wish there was a blog like this written for me when I was thinking of getting into trucking so that I would have known what to expect.
The End, Let's Begin
This will be the end of my Blogs about starting out with Swift Transportation. This Blog will tell you what it is like while you ride with a mentor as a new Swift driver and what you should take with you on the mentor's truck while you are a student. I hope you have read all of the Blogs before this one or this blog will not make any sense to you.
The learning journey is over...whew! Now I can start learning on my own. I have to say that I did not expect trucking to be this hard to get into. I would expect a Doctor or Lawyer to have to spend a lot of time in school and training, but a TRUCKER??? Really? Well, it is true that if you don't know what you are doing as a driver, then people and property can very easily get damaged or destroyed. Trucking is a very dangerous and stressful occupation. The job is NOT a 9 to 5 type job! There are no conventional weekends off and holidays are almost unheard of. The truck driver is assigned to a truck and stays with the truck 24 hours a day and 7 days a week. The driver only has short moments when there is time to take a shower or grab a bite to eat at truck stops or terminals. Drivers get very little home time. I know of a lot of people that have started out as a brand new driver the same time that I did and they have already quit. This job isn't what most people expect it to be. New drivers are warned from the very beginning that this job does not give you much home time and they are serious.
Let me explain what a brand new driver will need when they go out with a mentor when they start out with Swift. This list of items is not complete for everyone. I am a male driver and did not need all of the items that a female driver might need, but it might give them a good idea of what was needed for me and they can adjust this list for themselves. I did my training in the winter months so this list is set up for the cold too. So, here it goes;
4 days of comfortable clothes (shirts, pants, underware, socks)
coats (rain, heavy, light, cover-alls)
gloves (work & winter)
hats (winter type, baseball type)
boots & shoes (shower shoes too!!!)
toiletries (comb, toothbrush, deodorant, shaving, etc.)
bedding (sheet, blanket, pillow)
electronics (cell phone & charger, etc.)
flashlight (extra batteries)
multi-tool (pocket type for cutting metal seals)
duct tape (there will probably be some on the truck...but you can never have too much duct tape!)
food (canned soup, trail mix)
paperwork (licenses, credit card, commdata card, birth certificate, etc.)
money ($100 cash and change)
first aid kit (band-aids, antiseptics, pain reliever, Immodium A.D., etc.)
extra perscription eyeglasses
toilet paper & baby wipes
trash bags for dirty clothes
laundry soap powder
cigarettes (if you smoke)
I say take four days of clothes because it may be four days before you get a chance to do laundry. It will most likely be more than that because you will only be able to take a shower about every other day. The longest I went without getting a chance to take a shower was five days. We were given 3 overnight loads, back to back and we barely had time to stop to refuel or get food. True, that is an exception to the norm, but it does happen and a student should be prepared for it. I was NOT a happy trucker! Bathing every other day is almost too much for me. I really prefer showering every day, but it is not really possible when you are on the highway.
Stopping to use the bathroom is kind of hard to get used to. I am not too happy about using public bathrooms, but trucking lends itself to that necessity. The disinfectant spray and baby wipes were worth their weight in gold. I always cleaned the facilities very well before I decided to put my naked flesh against any surface in any truck stop. I don't care how clean it looked, it got a good dose of wiping and cleaning from me. Also, the wipes were very handy for me to get my body cleaned up from "doing my business" in the facilities. Again, I am a little freaked out about using public bathrooms. Just one of those phobias that I have to overcome in this business. Privacy is also one of those things that you will have to not be too concerned about when using the public facilities. (Are you sure you really want to be a trucker???)
The bedding is really up to the individual. I sleep with a bunch of pillows and was a little out of sorts with only two, so for me I needed more than one. Other people are just fine with one. Just your preference as to what you want to pack on the truck. Remember that the mentor and the student will be using the same bottom bunk. If the student is driving, the mentor is in the bottom bunk. If the mentor is driving, the student is in the bottom bunk. The point is, the bottom bunk is the only place the co-driver can sleep when the truck is moving. It is not only the law, it is just plan stupid to even think about getting into the top bunk when the truck is rolling. Too many bad things can happen when someone is up there. When my mentor and I were swapping out, it was always a pain in the butt to have to move all of my pillows for him to move in his. It is just something that I was willing to deal with for comfort.
There are so many cigarette lighter plugs on the trucks now-a-days that it really wasn't a problem for me to find a place to plug in my cell phone, but it might be with other students. Every truck is different. Some students may get a mentor that is an owner/operator and that truck is lacking on plug ins, but other students may get a company driver as a mentor and has a dozen plugs free. It is all a crap shoot. Just make sure that you take a charger with you, if you have your cell phone.
Flashlights, multi-tools, duct tape and so-forth sound like you are going to be without any tools. That is not true. Most of the mentors out there already have everything that you could possibly need while you are training with them. There is just occasions when you are standing at the glad-hands and it is about ten degrees with the wind blowing about 20 miles per hour and you discover that the air lines will not link up. It was really nice for me to simply reach into my coat pocket, pull out my multi-tool or tape in order to make a minor fix and not have to go ask my mentor if there was something I could use to fix the problem on the truck somewhere. It was nice to have the multi-tool when the consignee asked me to bust the metal seal on the trailer. I could go on and on about having the stuff I needed in my pockets, but I'm sure you got the idea.
Food. It is not necessary for me to tell you that you have to eat. It is necessary for me to tell you that you will have to think about HOW you want to eat. You have your choice of eating expensive and unhealthy truck stop food or you can bring your own. If you bring your own, you will have to consider storage and heating/cooking as some possible factors. I am okay with eating cold soup straight out of the can, but most people are a little more picky than I am. If you are just starting out, you are most likely really poor so truck stop food is not too easy for you to afford. I would suggest buying a big package of plastic spoons and get some crackers and peanut butter. That takes up very little space and is very filling. If you have enough time, you might make some beef jerky for your time as a student. My personal favorite was the cold soups in the pop-top cans. I got my vegetables, meats, etc. from the soup and was just fine nutrition wise.
Water. Water is a great big, giant, pain to deal with. If you buy a big bottle of water, it is almost impossible to drink from when you are driving. If you buy the case of little bottles of water, it is almost impossible to store them anywhere on the truck without being in the way. Unfortunately it is very necessary that you take some water with you. You need to stay hydrated and you cannot always stop to get something to drink. If you take a good size bottle with you and fill it up at the truck stops along the way, you will be in danger of running across some really nasty tasting water in some of the towns that you stop in. I was willing to bite the bullet and just buy the case of little bottles. It was not easy to store, but I found a way.
Money is one thing that will be different for every new student. You may not have $100 dollars to take with you, but it is a good idea to try. You can get an advance on your CommData card, but I would advise against it unless it is completely necessary. Don't take too much money. There are many dishonest people out there and it is really easy for you to get taken advantage of. But...I will have to say that you may want to take some change with you. A couple of rolls of quarters would be a really good idea for when you want to do some laundry. The best place to do laundry is at the Swift terminals. It is much cheaper but not always cleaner. The truck stops have laundries but they are really expensive to use.
I would have to say that everything else that I have on my list is self-explanatory, but the most important piece of equipment that I had in my possession was a CLIP BOARD!!! When you are on the truck it is almost impossible to find a flat surface to write on. I would suggest that all students have one of those clip boards that has a storage area in the back. Keeping your logs organized and keeping all of the extra paperwork handy is really difficult if they are stored somewhere else in the truck besides right along with the paperwork that you are writing on. For goodness sake, get yourself a clip board.
My experience with my mentor was okay. He was half my age and a little bit immature, but as a driver...he was very professional. I really learned a lot from my mentor. I would suggest that if you are going into the trucking occupation, you should always be willing to learn. If you think that you know everything, then you already know how to be a trucker and what are you doing working for a company. Buy your own truck and start your own company. My point is that don't be a know-it-all. Everyone has something that they can teach you. I was very lucky to get a mentor that had a good sense of humor and was very patient. He and I got along just fine. Of course, it was not always perfect. You can expect some bumps along the way when you put two perfect strangers together for six weeks in the cab of a truck. I guess it takes patients on the part of the mentor and the student to make the relationship successful for the time it takes to get the job done. I have heard some real bad stories about really bad students and really bad mentors. Luckily, I don't have one of those stories. My mentor was just fine. I would do it all over again without any hesitation. It took work on both our parts to make the training fun and successful.
I am very glad that my training is over. I am really ready to start making some real money as a real trucker. Every day I will continue to focus on learning something new, keeping safe, and making sure that I do my job to the best of my ability so that I can make that most important stop of all...home. (You will get to hear that a lot while you are training.) It should be easy for you to read all of my blogs and see what it was like for me some what, but you can never know how much angst I actually had at times. It is not fun to start out with a brand new occupation at my age. I should be thinking about getting close to retirement by now, but, there is nothing I can do about getting laid off now. It is best to just try to grind through the hard times and make the best of the situation. Trucking is really a hard job, but it is a good job. I have a corner office with one HECK of a view! The pay is not too bad. The benefits are okay. There is not a boss breathing down your neck all the time. You are responsible for how much you want to make and how hard you want to work. That is the kind of freedom I like.
If you are reading this and are not considering ever becoming a trucker, I ask you to please take time to think about those people on the road that are driving those big rigs. Everyone of those drivers are serious about their occupation and are professionals. If you are on the road with them, give them a little room to move. Give them a wave or nod. Let them know that you appreciate what they do. Remember; if you wear it, eat it, drink it, sleep on it, hang it on your wall, put it in your cabinets, wipe with it, clean with it, or whatever...a trucker brought it to the store you bought it from. If it wasn't for truckers, you would not have the things that you buy. Truckers are the movers of America's economy. Please consider how important they are and be patient with those big rigs on the roadways. It is NOT an easy job!!!
If you are reading this and considering becoming a trucker, I thank you and welcome you to a challenging occupation. I thank all of my bother and sister drivers out there for what they do. God bless you and drive safe!!!
SWIFT, A New Driver's Perspective
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After reading this, I felt like I was right back there in training again. Some good info in this thread. I have found the most affordable truck stop food has been Subway's $5 foot longs. Also if you have a way to store them (like in a milk crate) you can buy a few 2-liters of soda or large bottles of water and then only have to pay for a cup of ice at the truck stops.
I like your epic post, but some things in your list are not needed that much - and some things more.
4 days of clothes are not enough because you may not be able to do laundry for a week. Pack for a minimum of 7 days for underwear and socks. Outerwear you don't need to change as often unless you are in very wet or dirty conditions.
You really don't need all the sanitizing stuff.
$100 cash on hand might get you through the first week, maybe. It's expensive living on the road. So have more if you can.
When in your mentor's truck, any tool you need will be already on the truck - so don't weigh yourself down.
Bring some DVD's and music CD's. They don't take much room and can relieve a lot of boredom.
Change your socks every day, so bring a lot of socks. Stinky socks/shoes/feet can really ruin an otherwise enjoyable trip. I didn't change them for 2 days once because I ran out of clean socks, and I couldn't believe what came of it! I had to replace the inserts in my boots because of the stink!!!
Don't forget those large plastic bags for your dirty clothes!
And above all -- go with the flow.
Trucking is a whole 'nuther lifestyle, and you have to adapt to it.
Which mentor/truck do you think will turn out a better driver? the one that trains 6-8 drivers, or the one who cranks out up to 18? And MENTORS.....dont complete training, then worry about hurting your students feelings by telling their temp. driver manager that they arent ready to be a truck driver.....telling them the student just isnt grasping the concept of using their mirrors, GOAL, backing, etc.
Swift wants to better their reputation, stop being a teaching school. Or if anything, get REAL picky on who you hire out of orientation. I get a kick looking at those "gold-silver-bronze" postings at terminals. And seeing how many drivers have 2-3 accidents, and 3-4 service failures....and yet they're still driving??? How many of them are still in the system??? Get a preventable accident within your first 3 mo.....you're done. get 2 in a year....you're done. Think how many millions of dollars could be safed by just adopting that policy??
But then again...a driver who thinks their company is taking care of them, enjoys working for them....is a happy employee. and a happy employee takes more pride in their work. and a happy employee is a safer employee.
great post--sounds like you are pretty well prepared--once you get your own truck,you will have a pretty good idea of what you need,or want .
as the other guy said--more clothes---and for a dirty clothes bag--use one of the mesh ones so they air out a bit
Great post NighShot! I had my wife read it this morning, it sounded so much like what I am going through. I start my driving school in 2 weeks. I have already got my permit, passport, hazmat endorsement. Just need the driving test to complete it. Decided that doing a school was the best way. I want to be one of those million milers with a clean safety record. I feel I am looking hard at Swift and hope to make a decision soon after I get in school as to where I will work. Hoe to hear more from you in the future!
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