*Note: This was originally written for my final project in Introduction to Journalism and the Professor encouraged everyone to post their work.
There are enough people working in the trucking industry to account for a small country and that’s just in the USA alone. Imagine the impact of truckers all over the world. Truckinfo.net says, “The trucking companies, warehouses and private sector in the U.S. employs an estimated 8.9 million people employed in trucking-related jobs; nearly 3.5 million were truck drivers.
Of this figure, UPS employs 60,000 workers and 9% are owner-operators. LTL shippers account for around 13.6 percent of America's trucking sector.” This means a majority of your goods and services are handled by someone in the trucking profession. Getting the perspective of the trucking industry and its impact out to the public within our society is important.
Driving a truck wasn't something Robert Reynolds had in mind as a career when he was young. As a teen he worked in his family’s donut shop and later, he assisted his grandmother in her dry cleaners. He said in a recent interview. "I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, but I knew a bit about the trucking business."
In the end, driving trucks turned out to be a way to make a living, support a family and, at least at first, explore the country. He first set out on that career path in 1986. Now living in the beautiful state of Texas, Robert estimates he's driven around 3,200,000 miles since then.
Robert was born in 1962 in Norwalk, Ohio. His dad, Glenn ran a donut shop for a while and during his teen years, Robert was expected to help. He graduated from high school in 1981 and decided college wasn't for him. So, he went to trucking school and has been driving for the past 32 years.
I sat down with Robert, who is now 55 years old, recently to talk to him about his profession. (In the spirit of full disclosure, Robert Reynolds is my father.)
We started with the basics.
ME: Did you go to school for driving or did you learn through a company?
ROBERT: I attended USA Trucking Academy out of Newark, Delaware in 1986. They said it would take a year of home study and 4 weeks of on-site training in the truck. I finished the home study portion in one month.
ME: What influenced you to become a truck driver?
ROBERT: My first wife said I would not be able to do anything with my life and I was determined to prove her wrong.
Many people have misconceptions about truck drivers. One is that truck drivers are lazy and choose to drive because it is easy. So, I wanted to know how an actual driver felt about these misconceptions. Robert told me, “People think drivers are dirty or have a lack of education. They believe drivers are below average, or below them. Obviously, this isn’t true. We are just hard-working people who chose this as our way to make a living.”
Next, I wanted to know if being on the road for prolonged periods of time and sitting most of the time, impacts a drivers’ health or family life. Robert told me, “You don’t get to exercise on a regular basis. When it comes to taking a chance at a nap or walking around, most drivers would probably use their spare time to sleep.”
Then he went on to say, “Being away makes it really hard. When you become a truck driver, you lose your social life in a way. Being away means missing out on the small stuff, like family dinners or trips to the movies. When it comes down to it most drivers will agree that supporting the family with a steady income is more important that every little bit of life you miss. You have to learn to be okay with that balance.”
Finally, I wanted to know more about the trucking industry in general. So, I asked the following questions about his experiences with the industry and driving for so long.
ME: How does trucking impact the stores and shops who receive your deliveries?
ROBERT: Tell me what hasn’t been hauled from a truck in some way or form. Reefers haul frozen foods and meats. Flatbeds haul building materials and car parts. Dry Vans haul clothes and everyday items, like toilet paper. Tankers haul liquids and fuels. Everything was hauled by a truck at some point.
ME: If all the trucks stopped driving for a period of time, how would it impact the everyday person?
ROBERT: In the 80s or early 90s, I think… there was a time when a lot of drivers went on strike. They disliked the lack of influence they thought they had over their trucks and the industry. If trucks stopped for 72 hours, all of them, society would come to a standstill.”
ME: If everyone who drove a truck decided to dictate the rules of driving during a national crisis what impact could drivers of semi-trucks have?
ROBERT: People are always shocked when I say this, but 9/11 was an opportunity we passed up. The trains, planes, and other forms of transportation were grounded and unable to move. The only things running were the truckers and we could have said ‘We want more money.’ Or ‘We need less hours.’ There was an opportunity for power and truckers not taking it shows how good of a people we are.”
ME: In what ways do you think driving has changed since you started driving to now?
ROBERT: Well, when I started it was fun. It was a joy to be in the truck cruising down the road. Now though, everything is regulated. We are just people holding a steering wheel steady. Every load is so time sensitive and we no longer have time to stop in a state and enjoy the area. We are always moving, always going, and after a while that is not fun.
ME: Is there anything else you think needs to change about the trucking industry?
ROBERT: Remove government control of The Department of Transportation. Have a trucker elected board of representatives who make the decisions for the industry by a vote. The rules, guidelines, and regulations of how we run should not be up to the government to decide. They don’t drive these trucks and therefore, have no idea what their rules do to us. They make us take longer breaks and we are stuck for 34 or 72 hours in a place alone, away from our families.
In conclusion, I asked Robert what advice he would give to new truck drivers, “The first year is the hardest,” he said. “You have to either stick with the company who paid for your schooling or learn for a year as you are driving. Newer drivers also have less experience, so they tend to get paid a bit less. Be aware of what everything should be paying you. Make sure the load is accurate on your statements. And stick with it. It gets better.”
As I was about to end the interview, Robert had one last gem to offer. He said. “Tell them this… This job is a great way to put the money in your pocket. But in the end, just like everyone else out there, it’s really just a job.”