Oh boy, here we go again! Didn’t we hear this “it takes a village” slogan a few years back from a politician? I’m sure we did. They were talking about how to care for our kids, or something like that. We will not be giving advice on child rearing today. Lord knows I wasn’t very successful with my own son. If I had been, he would be making buku bucks in some exotic destination, working three hours a week, with lots of people pampering him and caring for his every need. Kind of like our politicians! I see that didn’t work out for him, so he does the next best thing… he plays with trucks. Well, he doesn’t play with them, rather he modifies them, so you can.
For those of you who don’t know him, he is known as “The Steve” over in Tolleson, Arizona. He is the fabrication guy at Pickett Custom Trucks. Steve, also known as Too Tall, used to drive like the rest of us. That is until he found his real calling. He was able to combine his experience of driving trucks with his expertise building them. Someone once said, “You can’t do a little something unless you know a little something.” I think it was the guy from State Farm Insurance. Not everyone is cut out to run the roads like I do, but they can still contribute greatly to our industry. It takes special people to keep the tires turning. I know because there are a lot of working people who claim to be specialists in their field, and that’s where we are going this month.
A few months ago, I received a handwritten letter from a truck fan who used to drive and wrench on big trucks until misfortune fell his way. Someone has been sending him our magazine to stay in touch with the industry. Most drivers will never know just how far the magazine’s influence can and does reach. This guy explained his situation to me and asked for my opinion on his options. Remember, good advice should always be sought from multiple sources, from people who you trust, that are not trying to sell you something. For the most part, everyone has an angle or a point of view that will return themselves some benefits. I have no dog in this fight, so I would like to respond to not only him but anyone else who may be looking at the field of transportation.
I cannot disclose his identity or his location, but I will say, if ever the law catches up with me, that’s where I want to spend my time (sitting in the sun and listening to the waves crash on the rocks I’m supposed to be breaking). Also, the severity of any legal proclamation can affect whether you are eligible to hold a CDL or not. Since I don’t have the time to check all 50 states for their unique requirements, I will keep this as general as possible. This information can also apply to high school students, recently discharged military personnel, and those who may be considering a change of scenery from their old job. With the instability of the economy and other irregularities these past months, many jobs are in question, but transportation still looks (and is) promising.
First, I would like to point out, years ago, when I used to speak to primary school children, there was a statistic at that time stating, “One in every four people would be involved in my industry (trucking) at some point in their lives.” Now, that’s a mighty bold proclamation. I believe it is still true today, and maybe the numbers are even higher, due to the increased technology in the current age. What exactly is trucking, and who really is involved in our industry? If I were to ask a random person on the street, I’m sure the canned answer would be limited to drivers and dispatchers. Okay… that’s a good start, but nowhere close to the volume of support staff it takes to keep the wheels rolling.
I started this with a letter I got from an inmate who is very close to completing his time. Since I don’t think it is important to disclose his infraction, I will say it may border on restrictions that prohibit him from holding a Class A commercial license. William, who wrote me, is however not prohibited from owning a truck or working on someone else’s truck. Some states have programs for instate operations that may waive federal requirements to drive. This is something that may be handled on a per case basis or individual situation. A quick check with the DMV or a local truck driving school could disclose your answer. Just be sure the information they give you is at least double, maybe even triple checked for accuracy, before you hand over any money.
Remember what I said previously about everyone wanting to sell you something? Well, some of the driving schools will promise you the moon and then stick you with a bill and no job or license. If you do get a license, you may still have difficulty finding employment if your work history is sketchy. I have had to let drivers go that we liked and wanted to keep, but our insurance guy said, “No go – high risk employee.” Keep in mind we as drivers handle tons of high-value freight (not all high-value freight is expensive, but it still must be secure and protected for its proprietary rights).
Now, for the young folks who may see this article, there is far more to truckin’ than just driving. Let’s see how many different occupations I can name off the top of my head. There are machinists for manufacturing, welders for fabricating, designers for all sorts of things, painters and body repair techs, salespeople for dealerships and parts outlets, dock workers, forklift operators, yard jockeys for relocating trailers at warehousing facilities, and not the least of these, wash bay workers. Okay, you can stop smiling about that last one. How many of us driving today got our start moving equipment around in the yard, either to and from the docks for loading/unloading or to the wash bay for maintenance? Experience comes in many ways, but it’s all honest work that can be financially rewarding.
Not all of us are cut out to be office workers and wear a suit and tie. I’m far more comfortable in denim and work boots. Yes, I do drive for my dinner, but I also do much more. Writing is not my long suit, but it is a valuable skill I continue to work on. Along with writing these articles, I also read contracts and do much of the purchasing for my company. In case you’re wondering, I know my way around the toolbox, as well. When I was in high school, I took classes at the vocational school for diesel repair. At the time, I could never have envisioned working my way through an insurance contract or brokering freight. I may be the CEO here, but I still need to rely on my professional consultants when making any major purchases.
None of us can know everything about all things. Let’s keep in mind one tractor can cost near $200K these days, and an average trailer runs about $65K. That’s a bunch of money to be throwing around willy-nilly. But here I am… it’s all part of my job. Now, if we want to think about some high-value employees that roll in the big bucks, let us see how many of them we can identify. We need lawyers to write contracts and provide representation, accountants to help run our businesses and file our taxes, doctors for DOT physicals, bankers to handle our money, CFOs to run those larger fleets, media moguls for entertainment and news, engineers for roads and bridges, etc. I could go on for a long time, but my point is, almost every occupation you can name is related to our industry. Do you see yourself in this mix?
Let’s get back to William and see if his situation is unusual. I’ve given this some thought and find that his incarceration is similar to a military person’s time of enlistment who are soon to be separated from their service. If you have never served in our military, then you can’t know the anxiety of a 90-day countdown to freedom. The anticipation of the next phase of your life. Having had your life structured for a long while, the thought of losing your safety net is a little scary. You are on your own to succeed or fail. When I served in the Marines, I learned the way of the world according to their rules (the government) and their amusement, or at least at the time that’s what we suspected. We were stuck in a time warp (the 1970s).
During the time I served, phones went from a hand crank power source to push buttons, the Willys Jeep morphed into a Humvee, and we no longer wore sateens (solid green uniforms) but camis (camouflage jungle print uniforms). The world marches on, and if you are not part of the progress, you will soon become obsolete and lost to the future. I mention this only to put a fine point on the fact that technology will engulf the next generation in transportation, so you have to know how to use it or design it or, at the bare minimum, know what it is.
I’m from the old school – a place where things were done differently than they are today. The amount of labor we used just to troubleshoot an engine is embarrassing by today’s standard. When they plug into the ECM, it takes only seconds to find a faulty sensor or to trace a bad electrical connection, not hours of labor. As a result of these advancements, we can expect to pay more per hour for repairs, but for fewer hours, and thus, the technician can also demand more in wages. These are good opportunities. Many of these jobs also offer benefit packages and a road to the big bucks.
If you are reading this magazine and you are in college, good, we are going to need you, too. The limit to your potential is only where you stop pushing the edge of human capabilities. We are going to need those who have the ability to change or rearrange theories into reality. Just a few years ago the idea of an electric truck was laughable – today they are testable. Trade schools are an excellent source of useful information. The masters of power tools will be the Dr. Frankensteins of the transportation world and, thus, the inventors of whatever comes next. I wanted to write the world of diesel engineering, but then I realized that it, too, may become obsolete when something we haven’t even heard of yet is invented and replaces it.
So, to circle back to my original statement, it does take a village to keep the world of transportation rolling. I’m not a politician and I don’t want to run for any office, but should you see me in a DPW truck (Department of Public Works), just know I’m one of the many who keep our streets clean and traffic running smoothly. I’m here to encourage any and all who choose to be part of our team. Don’t be scared, come on in, the rewards are numerous and there’s still plenty of room to grow.
Someone once said “space is the final frontier” but I’m not convinced. We have plenty of space right here, and there’s still time to develop the next flying machine. I don’t know what it will look like or how it will operate, but I’m certain there are drivers who will tame it and claim it as their own. The launch pad is ready, so if you have the courage, strap in… 10-9-8-7… the countdown to blast off is on, 10-4!