"The Road Home" Podcast

Episode 14: How I Started My Career In Trucking

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Episode 14: How I Started My Career In Trucking

I started trucking back in 1993 when I was 21 years old and I had a grand adventure out there for about 15 years. Here's the story of how I wound up in school and how I landed my first job during a pizza party at the school!

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Transcript: How I Started My Career In Trucking

We've been helping new drivers get started in this industry for over 10 years now so today I'm going to have a little fun and tell you guys the story of how I got started in trucking back in 1993.

So I was 21 years old back in '93 and I was working in a warehouse fulfilling orders with a buddy of mine, who by the way is working tirelessly behind the scenes here at TruckingTruth as we speak, 24 years later, which is really cool.

For a time we had actually lived in the parking lot of that warehouse in an old Chevy van that his dad had donated to us. We were working 60 hours a week and we were actually pretty thrilled to be making $5.50 an hour, because that was a step up from where we started at $4.40 an hour and at least now we had enough money that we could add jelly to our peanut butter sandwiches and we could afford one of the finest roach-infested apartments in the ghetto. And I wish I was kidding about that, but I'm not.

So the one we arrive at work and there's a big Penske moving truck in the parking lot. It was one of their box trucks that anyone can rent, but it was quite a big one.

So we go inside and ask what the truck was for. The boss said we had to deliver a few pallets of freight to a place in Downtown Atlanta and then bring some back to the warehouse from the same location.

Well that sounded an awesome adventure so I volunteered for the job. Skeptically the boss asked if I had ever driven anything like that and I told him with full confidence, 'Oh yeah. A few times. Twice my aunt moved and once my grandma moved and all three times I had driven the truck so no big deal.'

He still seemed skeptical but he said he'd find out what the plan was. Well soon he came walking back with the great news that I was going to be the one who would take the pallets downtown.

Well I was excited as could be. This was going to be quite the interesting adventure, a far cry from fulfilling orders in the warehouse and driving around on a forklift.

Well at this point I'm dying of curiosity because I had never actually driven a truck like that before, and in fact I had never even seen the inside of one. But hey, when you're hoping for a big opportunity you have to push the envelope a little bit sometimes. I figured it had to be an automatic and the rest I should be able to figure out as I go.

So I hop in the truck and to my delight is was basically just a huge pickup truck. I got it rolling, everything seemed manageable enough, so I thought 'Downtown Atlanta here I come!' and away I went.

Well it was as much fun as I had hoped. It was a beautiful sunny day, I put on the tunes, and pointed toward some building Downtown. At the time there were no GPS units or anything so I had the directions written down.

Well the trip down there and back went perfectly. No incidents, no close calls, just a fun drive Downtown, a couple of hours waiting to get unloaded and then reloaded again, and I headed back to the warehouse.

Well I was delighted to find out that by the time I had returned the workday was done and we could go home. I told my buddy, 'That was great! I didn't have to do any work today. All I had to do was drive!'

And that's when the light bulb turned on in my brain and I thought, 'Hey, I wonder how much truck drivers make?' Well I didn't know any drivers and the only company I could think of off the top of my head was JB Hunt so I went home and gave em a call. I asked how much drivers make and they said about $35,000 their first year, and up to $50,000 after a few years.

Well I was floored by that! $750 a week? I was making $250 a week, and I was doing actual work! You mean I could drive around the country in a super cool big rig and make triple the money I was making?

Wow! So it was just a short time later I was signed up for truck driving school and I was ready to take a shot at it.

I went to Alliance Tractor Trailer Training Center in McDonough Georgia, just outside of Atlanta. Alliance training is still around but that location is now closed.

Well the schooling went fantastic. I had never even seen the inside of a big rig until I climbed into one at school and I was delighted with every opportunity I was given to maneuver around the yard, practicing my backing and shifting.

And the first time I ever drove a rig out on public highways is something I remember vividly like it was yesterday. I drove for about fifteen minutes and it went perfectly. I remember climbing out and looking up at the size of that ridiculous machine and I couldn't believe I had driven it! I remember thinking, ‘It's the size of a building!' and to this day I still call them ‘a building on wheels'.

I was so excited all the time that the entire process was just overwhelming. I used to sit by the Interstate at night watching the trucks go by and listening to Bob Seger's 'Roll Me Away' over and over again. I would wonder who was behind the wheel, where they were going, and what it felt like to be in that truck heading God knows where. I thought I was explode if my opportunity didn't hurry up and arrive.

Well the schooling finished up, we passed all of our tests for our CDL, and it was a Saturday morning that we had our little graduation pizza party at school to toast our success.

At this point I really didn't know where I was going to work, and I really didn't care. I just wanted to have an opportunity with one of these giant carriers with thousands of beautiful new big rigs blanketing the country.

So we're eating pizza and milling about the place when I notice a recruiter from Gainey Transportation had returned to the school and was talking to one of the instructors. A few minutes later he came up to me with two other students in tow and says, 'I understand you three were the top in your class and I'd like to offer you all a job right now with Gainey. In fact, if you'll follow me down the road to the terminal we'll get your paperwork and your physicals out of the way today and if all goes well we'll have you on the road with a trainer in a few days or a week.'

Well Gainey was indeed one of those huge carriers with a gigantic fleet of beautiful trucks that I was hoping to get an opportunity with. Well the other two students and I looked at each other, shrugged our shoulders, and said 'Sounds great. We'll follow you to the terminal.'

And that's exactly what we did. We got our physicals and drug screens out of the way, filled out a bunch of paperwork, and about a week later I got the call that my trainer was on his way and I should be at the terminal in the morning with my bags packed ready to go.

So I show up to the terminal, they point out my trainer's truck, and they say 'He's ready to go so get out there.' So I walked across the parking lot, introduced myself, and he said, 'Great to meet ya. Climb on in the passenger side and we'll be rolling in a few minutes.'

And sure enough off we went. My trainer was a super nice guy and he loved his job. I asked where we were going and he said to Maryland for tomorrow and hopefully out West from there.

Well I had never even been west of Pennsylvania at that point in my life. The idea of going to California had my head spinning! Finally my chance had arrived and it was all like a dream. I couldn't believe I was about to embark on this huge adventure driving a big rig around the country.

Well we did go to California after that and I'm not sure I slept the entire time. I couldn't stop staring out the windows at all these places I had only seen on television and on top of that I was seeing it all while sitting in the cab of a big, beautiful, brand new rig! Man, it was just crazy to me. I loved every minute of it.

Well the training was only two weeks long, it was pretty much uneventful, and I went solo after that. That was the foundation for 15 amazing years on the road.

So there are two main things I'd like people to take away from this story.

The first thing is that I didn't do five minutes of research about what company I went to work for because I didn't care in the least. I understood that all of the major carriers were highly successful and if any of them were willing to give me the opportunity to prove myself I would go in there and show them I can become as good as anyone they had. And I knew that once I had proven myself they would keep me rolling and I could make a great living at it.

It literally never crossed my mind one single time that one of the largest, most successful companies in the nation could be a bad place to work as a driver. That theory didn't make any sense to me then and it still doesn't to this day. And in fact throughout my career I never did five minutes of research about any company I went to work.

If a company has a huge fleet of trucks and has been around for decades I knew I could go in there and prove myself as one of the top drivers out there and I would get my share of the freight and be treated well. And that's exactly how it always went throughout my career.

So don't waste your time worrying about going to work for a ‘bad' major carrier. And of the major carriers can be a great place to get your career started. They have great equipment, tons of freight, and endless opportunities for anyone who's up to the task.

Go in there ready to work hard, learn your trade, and prove that you're going to be around for a while.

The second takeaway is that you should approach trucking at least in part as an adventure and a lifestyle. If you're looking for an ordinary job that pays the bills you're going to be overwhelmed by the amount of time and dedication it takes to thrive in this industry, especially that first year.

Very few people can handle this job and the overwhelming majority of people drop out long before they get to their one year mark. In fact, at company-sponsored training programs fewer than half of the students ever even manage to get their CDL and most of those that do are long gone within a few months. This job really is that tough if you're not the type that's cut out for it.

So if you're looking for an ordinary job to pay the bills you're almost certainly better off in a different industry. If you're the type that loves a challenge and loves an adventure then get ready to work really hard and prove that you're the type that can handle this job. Because no one is going to give you the benefit of the doubt without some solid experience out there. They're going to assume that like most people who get started in trucking you'll probably be gone in no time.

Stick with that first company for one full year and establish your career and your reputation on solid ground so that in the end, when the work is done, you can sit back, and relax, and enjoy the road home.

I'm Brett Aquila with TruckingTruth and we'll see you next time.

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