Flatbed First-timer, From Teaching To Trucking

Topic 24217 | Page 1

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Professor X's Comment
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So, I will try to make this a twice-a-month thing where I come on and talk about my experiences as a first-time trucker (in his early 40's). I never pictured myself being in control of 25-40 tons of rolling death, but here I am. Placed in a situation that may be quite familiar to others just joining the industry; maybe even relatable to those who have been in the trade 5, 10, or even 20 years: I needed a better income.

Before now, I spent the past decade in higher education. I taught at some very notable schools in the US - including Arizona State and Ohio State - as well as spent nearly a year in both Japan and Saudi Arabia, teaching those who want to learn English at the undergraduate and graduate levels. I love teaching... I mean, I truly have a passion for it. It is where my heart is. I even started my career teaching college level phys-ed, then later was inspired to do even more, eventually earning my master's degree in TESOL & Bilingual Education.

But, that degree came at a price... about $84,000. I felt that I could work my way up to a level within higher-ed that would help me pay back the $850 bill that came each month. As each year passed by, the opportunities were there, but the money simply was not. It would take a long tenure to build up a reasonable income (and most schools do not offer tenure to those with master's, especially in my field). Then, if I was lucky, I would be stuck paying my loans on top of everything else just to survive.

I had to find a different solution, and quick. My loan has since ballooned to over $100,000.

After much debate and rationalizing; and, after more than 200 job applications with ZERO job offers... I surrendered myself to the simple fact that trucking may offer a situation that nothing else can: I could live in the truck, eliminating some of life's most exuberant costs. No rent, no electricity, no gas or fuel, no water, and no cable bill. All of which I could funnel into what I need to manage, my student loan debt. I just received my first payday from driving last week, and it was WAY more than anything I ever made teaching a college level semester.

Now, sitting for a 34 at a Denny's in a Flying J in snow covered Ogden, Utah, I am happy I have made the career move. Not because I wanted to, but because I needed to. I have taken the time to make a financial plan to get out of debt in the next 3 years. If I stick to it, and if the trucking industry in kinder to me than higher-ed was, it will be no problem. By kinder, I mean have job opportunities that I can actually apply for and get.

Some readers will remember me from my thread on Roehl Transport's Get Your CDL program review. I bring this up because that is where this all began, and I am still with the company in their OTR flatbed division. Quickly after graduating, I was placed with a trainer and have since completed the internal qualifications and have driven more than 6,000 miles in just over two weeks, solo. By Wednesday, when I drop off this load, I will be around 7,500 miles.

Getting here was an adventure, and it did involve two different trainers. The first of which left me with the impression that he didn't much care to actually teach. Oddly, he directly said that he didn't volunteer to become a trainer, they just asked him and he (supposedly) reluctantly agreed. Either way, he definitely did not have the air about him of being someone who wants to teach or train.

I still learned a great deal from him in those 11 days, but was left with just as many, if not more, questions before we were separated. We shared a fleet manager , and that person didn't want to have any blow-back, so I was dropped off at a nearby terminal and flown home to finish out my training with a local driver in Phoenix, AZ. All in all, I feel I was able to get a strong enough foundation to get the ball rolling; I have a strong feeling that learning will be in the terms of months and years, not days and weeks. I will need to learn so much more while on my own on the open road. And, so far that has been the case.

If I were to give any advice, as a greenhorn, it would be: Never be afraid to speak to other truckers on the road. However, do so with great scrutiny and some speculation. Remember, you are asking someone for their opinion and anecdotal advice. Listen to what a seasoned trucker has to say, compare it with what else you have heard... Mix in your personal experience, and grow!

I will do a follow-up post later this evening (most likely) and share some of the stories I already have from crossing the country almost three times in two-and-a-half weeks, as well as some of the adventures from training, both with the OTR and Local drivers.

-Professor X

CDL:

Commercial Driver's License (CDL)

A CDL is required to drive any of the following vehicles:

  • Any combination of vehicles with a gross combined weight rating (GCWR) of 26,001 or more pounds, providing the gross vehicle weight rating (GVWR) of the vehicle being towed is in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any single vehicle with a GVWR of 26,001 or more pounds, or any such vehicle towing another not in excess of 10,000 pounds.
  • Any vehicle, regardless of size, designed to transport 16 or more persons, including the driver.
  • Any vehicle required by federal regulations to be placarded while transporting hazardous materials.

Terminal:

A facility where trucking companies operate out of, or their "home base" if you will. A lot of major companies have multiple terminals around the country which usually consist of the main office building, a drop lot for trailers, and sometimes a repair shop and wash facilities.

OTR:

Over The Road

OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.

DOT:

Department Of Transportation

A department of the federal executive branch responsible for the national highways and for railroad and airline safety. It also manages Amtrak, the national railroad system, and the Coast Guard.

State and Federal DOT Officers are responsible for commercial vehicle enforcement. "The truck police" you could call them.

Fleet Manager:

Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.

TWIC:

Transportation Worker Identification Credential

Truck drivers who regularly pick up from or deliver to the shipping ports will often be required to carry a TWIC card.

Your TWIC is a tamper-resistant biometric card which acts as both your identification in secure areas, as well as an indicator of you having passed the necessary security clearance. TWIC cards are valid for five years. The issuance of TWIC cards is overseen by the Transportation Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
Turtle's Comment
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Very interesting post Professor X. Thanks for sharing and please feel free to come forward with any other experiences you have. It's nice to see other flatbedders in the mix.

Professor X's Comment
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So, it has been nearly two weeks, and so much has happened! I have only been a driver for a little over a month, and I have countless stories to share... I cannot fathom what a 5-year, 10-year, even 20+ -year veteran has seen. People are absolutely crazy on the road! Additionally, so are many of our fellow truck drivers >,<

What I experienced just a few days ago was the one of the most terrifying moments of my life, and I wasn't even behind the wheel when it happened.

While deep asleep, I was suddenly woken up because my room was shaking and rattling, violently. The scream-like sound of metal grinding against metal and plastic, breaking glass... My room, tiny and pitch black, gave me the sense that I had been placed into a death trap with no escape.

Not once in my life did I ever consider what I would do in that kind of situation, until now.

First, I sat up faster than I think I have ever done so in my entire life. I tried to figure out which direction the sound was coming from and backing away (I couldn't see anything at that moment, and thought I was being crushed in a trash compactor. For about 5 seconds, I really thought I was stuck in my truck while it was being demolished). Once I figured out I wasn't being killed, I quickly opened my blackout curtain, pulled aside my window curtains and spotted someone pulling away. I jumped out of my truck, phone in hand, and wearing only my boxers. Bare foot, I ran up to his trailer and grabbed photos as quickly as I could.

This guy... This f**kin' guy... He finally stops, gets out, walks up to me says, "What's wrong?"

You just f**king hit me! That's what's wrong... sheesh! He grinded severe damage to the driver side door and completely ripped my driver side mirror off. Not the best way to be woken up 45 minutes before your alarm >,<

As a flatbed driver, there is something about most of our trailers we never have to be worried about, unlike most van drivers (which he was). That the tail extends out past the axles, and he obviously had not considered enough distance for his turn. Additionally, I can only imagine at the moment that when a trucker hits someone accidentally with a trailer, we may not even realize it, depending on how the collision occurs. That said, I can understand why he might jump out of his truck confused.

However, his braking and slow going away from me made me think he knew he messed up and was trying to see if I would have noticed. Oh... I ABSOLUTELY noticed. I am glad I didn't have a damn heart attack!

I also want to mention that, during this same delivery, I was cut off by a 15-passenger van as it dive-bombed in between me and a school bus while passing me on the right and tailgating the school bus. I am guessing there was maybe a foot or two on either end. Hit my brakes to avoid any impact which I think inadvertently shifted the top tier of my load. I hadn't noticed for maybe 30+ miles! When I did, I immediately pulled over for an emergency stop and got on the phone with my FM.

After some testing and inspecting over the course of the next 90 miles with multiple stops along the way, it never moved again. Not even after getting the s**t scared out of me at the rest stop the next day >,<

-Professor X

Fm:

Dispatcher, Fleet Manager, Driver Manager

The primary person a driver communicates with at his/her company. A dispatcher can play many roles, depending on the company's structure. Dispatchers may assign freight, file requests for home time, relay messages between the driver and management, inform customer service of any delays, change appointment times, and report information to the load planners.
PackRat's Comment
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Never a dull moment, even when you're trying to sleep. Did your dashcam activate?

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