The clock on the shop wall read 12:00 midnight. I think today has been a blur, or most of it was – the rest just got lost in the confusion. Did you ever have one of those days where you start out fresh and alert and ready to take on the world? Yeah, me too, but it was not this day. This one started like any other day, full of hope and opportunity, until reality kicked in and we received the “unexpected occurrence” – at least that’s how best to describe the chain of events that got me here. Please keep in mind I’m right where I wanted to be, except I wasn’t planning to still be here after 16 hours of work. But, in our shop, we refer to this as, “That’s trucking!”
In case you’re wondering why I’m at work after 16 hours, relax, I’m not driving. There is no ELD for shop time, thank goodness, or nothing would get done here. We were experimenting with a new paint product to use on a truck we were assembling for a customer. Then, the weather turned from hot and muggy to so darn hot that we had to bring in an expert from the paint company and develop a completely new system, then experiment on junk parts until we found a good combination that worked.
But today wasn’t totally wasted in any sense of the time lost, once you factor in the knowledge and experience we gained. Anytime we work under pressure it can give us that extra boost needed to turn ordinary into extraordinary. I’m still sitting here watching paint dry, which is my mission here tonight. Not glamorous work, but important, all the same. Splatter, our painter, has been working his magic all day and is plum tuckered out, so who can blame him for wanting some shut eye while it is finally getting a bit cooler outside.
I’ve been a long time getting to the real reason for our article this month. I’ve been looking for just the right word, but let’s call it “sticktoitness” – that’s stick-to-it-ness. I once had an athletic coach who would forever yell at us, the whole team, to stick to it. He always followed up his rant with, “Anyone can start something, but only WINNERS finish it.” Today, we are winners here in our little corner of the cosmos because we made it all the way. I could run around here and do some housekeeping in the shop, but my excuse is gonna be that it would stir up dust. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
The clock keeps marching on, all the way till dawn, and a brand-new day. I can’t help but be amazed at the work our guys have done on this project. I’m here in the quiet of the night where all I hear are the fans running to move air and keep the dust from settling on the new paint. Never mind all the extra effort put forward by the crew, I am looking at the design and the thoughtfulness of the designer. Any trucker knows what makes the perfect rig. All you have to do is ask him or her, right? Now, getting any two of them to agree is a different story.
What does this all have to do with you – the 10-4 reader and professional transportation specialist? Everything! Trucking may be our world, but it’s not the only thing we do. Since I was young, long before I even left home to find my own life, I heard wise folks say, “Any job worth doing is worth doing well.” And, “If you’re going to start something, plan on finishing it, too.”
During my school days I hated to write papers. It didn’t matter if the subject was English Composition or World History – it all took time. It’s not that I didn’t have the time, it was more I was too busy wasting it to be bothered. How often do we fall into that category? I still find myself at times daydreaming and not staying on task. If I’m not very careful, that kind of policy could get me fired and then I would need to start over again. This is true in all walks of life, and everyone is subject to stumble and fall and, at times, just simply give up. No one likes to disappoint their loved ones, and by the same token, we don’t want them to disappoint us, either.
The people we work for are much like our family. If you count all the time spent interacting with them, you might find it’s more than you spend with your actual loved ones. Our jobs are critical in how we are able to pay for all we have. It’s not just the dollars, but the time spent earning it. The American truck driver is a fickle creature. Give them food they want drink; give them drink they want shelter. The list goes on – the more we have, the more we want. The question is, how do we get it and what do we have to do to keep it?
I’ve been running trucks for a long time, and people are always asking me who I work for and if they are a good company. The truth is, I don’t! I’m an owner operator. I work for myself in the truest form. That is my truck, trailer, insurance and so on. That’s my name on the doors, and those DOT numbers there are mine, too. My reputation is my bond, and every company is a potential customer. If we accept a load, then I’m responsible for every aspect of it. That means all of it – from the timely pick up to the completion of the billing.
This all goes back to if you start something then you also need to finish it – AKA sticktoitness. I don’t care if you are a driver for a leased operator or an employee behind the wheel of a company-owned truck, it’s all the same. Someone is depending on you. Every year around January, when it’s time to buy license plates and pay next year’s taxes, everybody gets the itch to move along. This may not be your best time to do that, given the uncertainty in most freight lanes and the unsettled product availability this time of year.
There tends to be a push for more freight movement leading up to the Christmas season and then the end of any given year, but this will surely be followed by a slowdown at the start of the incoming year. Traditionally, January is not one of our strongest months. Therefore, it can be a real struggle to start with someone new. I still prefer to run hard through December and then coast into the new year, allowing for these adverse but predictable cycles.
I chuckle when I’m passed by other drivers who I know have just jumped companies. How can I be so sure? Let us take a test and see how observant you are. Do you need a headache rack to pull a reefer? How about a vacuum pump for a flatbed? If you’re a flatbed driver, do you replace all your securement at the same time? The correct answer to all these questions was of course NO. I have spent some years working for lease companies and have experienced many of the same “problems” others do, and I, too, have admittedly jumped companies once or twice, as well. Did it fix my troubles? Not usually. I just found that the new outfit allowed me the chance to develop different problems.
You can stop pulling your hair out or banging your head against the wall, there is not a straight yes or no answer to this. Every year I see folks get restless and start hankering for a change. The quickest way to do that is to run to some recruiter and get pumped full of… well, let’s call it sunshine. Wow, I almost slipped there! This is a family-friendly magazine, you know. If it’s a change of scenery you want, and I am referring to that in the physical sense, then search out someone in your present company and look for opportunities there. You may be running general freight now, but often if you prove your skills and dependability, other options may present themselves.
While you’re at it, try to learn as much about the freight cycles as you can to help aid you in your final choice. Not getting the miles you think you deserve may have nothing to do with you personally, it might be the time of year or something as far away as the stock exchange or the world bank. Don’t be too quick to sell a horse just because you don’t think it is fast enough. There may come a time when you are going to need a steady mount with enough stamina to move mountains.
To reinforce to new drivers that this is not a new or modern issue, I think it’s only right to tell a little story that happened to me 25 years ago. Back then, I too was overly impressed with myself and my ability to do my thing. At the time, it was moving specialized equipment – high, wide and heavy. I was approached by a company who was a competitor to the one I ran for, Schneider Specialized Carriers Inc. (International Transport Company) who promised me the world. I listened, thought about it and then acted.
This wasn’t my first rodeo – I truly did think hard about it – in fact I even sought advice from the company I was working for. Why? Because I needed a backup plan should that “opportunity” not work out. Never burn bridges when you leave an old company, as it can start a wildfire behind you that you can’t outrun. Long story short, it didn’t work out, and I needed my old job back quick! The lesson learned for me was to step carefully and never put all my weight on that leading foot until I am certain the ground can hold me. The company I had gone to didn’t have enough work for one more truck, they merely wanted the experience I represented.
That setback could have been costly, not just in dollars and cents, but it could have damaged my reputation in the industry. When the dust settled, I was back at my original company but in a considerably better position. I was able to advance and get more valuable freight. CHA-CHING! I will revisit this subject on another day, because it is one that we (truckers) struggle with, and there is not a definite answer – only more questions. Just remember, sticktoitness will take you a lot further then constantly jumping ship, and it might help you to earn a better reputation, as well.
My work is done here tonight, and I see the sun peeking over the horizon. The shop guys will be arriving soon, and I will be relieved of duty. Besides, all this sitting, waiting and watching has worn me out. Tomorrow I will go back to my regular day job of driving the world crazy! If you see me riding large and in charge, give me a shout and I’ll wave back. Never mind the paint still on my hands, it will eventually wear off. Until next time, speed safely!