Truck Tech

What My First Job Out of College Taught Me About Driving Trucks

Blog commentary by Jack Roberts, Senior Editor

July 19, 2017

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Take it from the author – the interior of his trucks back in the ‘90s were nowhere near as nice as this one. File photo


 
Take it from the author – the interior of his trucks back in the ‘90s were nowhere near as nice as this one. File photo

Believe it or not, once upon a time I had a job driving trucks.

This was back in the early 1990s, right after I got out of college. I went to work for a brand-new marketing firm that targeted trade shows nationally. The entry-level job was an “Operations Manager.” It was a fancy title. But basically you did everything around the place except for janitorial work – including driving trucks to trade shows all over the country.

I didn’t have a CDL then – mainly because the company was too cheap to pay for it – and it didn’t really need Class 8 hauling capacity, either. Instead, it rented Class 7 straight trucks from the local Ryder dealer, and we took those out on the open highway to wherever we needed to go: Vegas, Orlando, Miami, Chicago, Anaheim… And a funky little truck show in Louisville, Kentucky, that we bitched about incessantly. At the time, I had no idea what a fixture that truck show would become in my life a few years down the road.

Looking back on it, it was a pretty miserable experience. I lasted a bit more than a year-and-a-half – and it surprises me today that I made it that long. But I’m stubborn like that.

The company told us all the time that because we were a startup, we needed to operate smart and cheap. But the reality was we were running just a shade inside of the law. Looking back on it, we were lucky no one got hurt. Or worse.

To be fair to Ryder, the cabover trucks we were in weren’t even remotely spec’d for long-haul driving. No cruise control. Bench seats (the passenger seat could not be adjusted). AM radios. And manual transmissions – although they were automotive-grade, so at least we didn’t have to deal with double-clutching and high/low ranges. And the trucks were governed to about 65 mph. 

All that said, driving was my favorite part of the job. I didn’t mind being alone. And I definitely liked being way beyond the reach of any bosses dreaming up stuff for me to do. Plus, it was a pretty cool way to see the country first-hand. Much different than looking down at it from an airplane seat the way I do today. I never really considered truck driving as a career. But I don’t think I would’ve minded it a lot if that’s what I’d wound up doing. It wasn’t the worst job I ever had. It could’ve easily been made a lot better if I’d been given better equipment. And I can think of way worse ways to make a living.

At the time, I never would have thought I’d one day wind up being a journalist covering the North American trucking industry. And it’s funny how often I think back on that brief time behind the wheel when I’m talking to drivers, or fleet and OEM executives today.

For example, you don’t have to sell me too hard on the value of ergonomics, driver comfort features or safety systems. I understand the strain drivers feel being away from loved ones for long periods and missing important holidays and events. I have some real-world insight into the prejudices the driving public holds against trucks and truck drivers. And I totally understand when drivers say they’d like fewer rules and regulations dictating how they do their jobs. And I really get it when they say they don’t like Big Brother sitting in the cab with them looking over their shoulder.

A lot has changed since my brief stint on the nation’s highways. But a lot of the core issues and pain points drivers face today have not.

But there’s no doubt the equipment today has gotten light-years better – and safer – than it was 20 years ago. I can’t match their miles or their experience, but I can’t help but smile when I hear old school drivers today tell newbies they don’t know how good they have it. Because they don’t.

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Author Bio

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Jack Roberts

Senior Editor

As a licensed commercial driver, HDT senior editor Jack Roberts often reports on ground-breaking technical developments and trends in an industry being transformed by technology. With more than two decades covering trucking, in Truck Tech he offers his insights on everything from the latest equipment, systems and components, to telematics and autonomous vehicle technologies.

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