San Marcos, where art thou?

So I arrive last night in San Antonio, TX to drop off a load of 41,000 pounds of starch to the H.E.B. distribution center. I got assigned a door right away and they had me in and out in 30 minutes, close to a miracle in the land of food warehouses. As I was leaving to head to the closest truck stop for the night I put in my empty call.

About an hour later I get a planned dispatch for a 50 mile deadhead to San Marcos, TX. Looking closer, this isn’t for a load — someone on the trip planning staff figured my requested home time in San Marcos, California had morphed to Texas! After calling in and having it corrected, I went off to bed… only to be awoken this morning to another planned dispatch… deadheading to San Marcos, TX for more time at home!

I messaged back a pithy comment and now the fleet manager is on it. I am dispatched to Laredo, TX, my favorite terminal. Not.

Now the low miles for this past week (barely 1,000) are explained. All this time I was bopping around the midwest was to set me up for hometime in Texas, I guess. Hopefully the next week will make up for this poor one, as we get paid every other week so having one off week doesn’t necessarily blow a paycheck.

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Questions Asked and Answered

When I was researching this move to truck driving, I had a lot of questions. I wanted to know things like what companies out there were highly regarded to work for, and why. How much I would be paid for my work. What kind of health care, time off, 401k and other benefits there were. What kind of trucks did each company use, and how well did they maintain them. And so on.

I made a spreadsheet, though you could just as easily use a piece of lined paper I suppose. During my research when I would run across something good, bad or merely informative I would mark it down next to that company and over time patterns started to emerge. For instance, some trucking companies provide their own training (or pay for you to attend a third-party school, or have tuition reimbursement) while others require a certain amount of experience just to apply with them. Most companies prefer to use one or two models of truck in their fleets, so when I found out which ones I marked those down as well.

I quickly discovered that most truckers are paid by the mile at a certain rate. This CPM (cents per mile) ranged from about .25 (25 cents) to .40 (40 cents) depending on experience and the type of trucking you’re hired for. The lowest paid type is also the most common: Dry Van. Vans are those big boxy trucks that everyone is familiar with, which get loaded with just about every commodity imaginable that is in some sort of package or resting on a pallet, or both. Other kinds of trucking include flatbed, tanker and refrigerated. Flatbed work involves a lot of tarping (covering loads to prevent them from getting wet) and securing. Tankers usually involve either chemicals or food grade product (like milk), and are difficult to drive due to the constantly shifting load. Reefer trucks haul all types of frozen stuff, food mostly, and their trailers have their own dedicated cooling equipment which, unfortunately, runs pretty noisily which can suck when you are trying to get a restful sleep.

After I accumulated a lot of information I started weeding out companies that didn’t match up well with my goals. When I got down to about a dozen candidates on my short list I started asking questions on message boards and in chats with drivers and whittled down the list a bit more.

You probably won’t go to this extreme before you enter the industry but I highly encourage you to take a long look at a number of different companies before you choose one to invest your time and effort with.

42,792 Miles and Counting

In the three-and-a-half months since I started driving professionally I have covered 42,792 miles. I haven’t kept close track, but I estimate I have been to 30 or so states in my big rig, and to or through any number of towns and cities. I spent the first 7,500 miles out on the road with my finisher, Rich, who has been driving for CFI for more than a decade. He showed me the ropes, polished off some rough edges (thanks for that backing setup!) and helped me transition to my own truck.

I started driving on the first of December, 2006 and got my own truck two weeks later. As I write this it is the latter half of March and this winter and its awful weather are almost over in most of the US. I’ve driven in all sorts of weather, and pulled it over a few times as well when conditions were unsafe to continue. I’ve been up in the Rocky Mountains over 11,000 feet and below sea level in Death Valley.

Who is behind OTRjournal.com?

My name is Jim. I’m a 38 year old single guy who grew up in northern California. I spent two decades in the IT industry developing software and web sites for a wide variety of companies. I’ve lived and travelled all over the US — indeed, before I began trucking I had already visited 46 of the 48 continental United States. Since I started trucking I’ve been through one of those (South Dakota) and now only North Dakota remains.

I’ve never been married and have no kids, so it is just me and the Vicious Attack Cat out here on the road together. Blaze is her name, and I’ve had her for more than 16 years now. She sleeps while I drive the truck during the day and guards it by night while I sleep. So long as the bandits aren’t smart enough to bring along any treats for her, the truck and I are safe. She may look like a generic tabby, but those who have crossed her before know better.

So, you want to know what trucking is like…

So did I.

This blog and web site exist to chronicle my entry into the OTR (Over The Road) truck driving business. I spent the past twenty years in a different profession and after a series of setbacks and dealing with burnout I decided to make the switch to trucking.

I spent 18 months researching this career. I scoured the internet for chat rooms and forums where professional drivers congregate. I reviewed hundreds of company web sites, government sites dealing with trucking, gripe sites, you name it. I spoke with truckers, recruiters from trucking companies, and representatives from various commercial driver training programs.

Many people, mostly men, enter trucking each year. Most of them also leave the profession in their first year. I’ve been told anecdotally that fewer than one in ten survive the first year, and by the fifth year fewer than one in twenty or so still drive professionally.

Modern trucking isn’t really a “he-man” world any more. Trucks are much more comfortable than they used to be and most truck driving jobs, at least OTR work, don’t involve a lot of loading or unloading of freight. Communications technology has evolved to the point where we can remain connected to the outside world pretty much constantly. Entertainment, like the internet, movies and TV, are easy to bring along on the road. Still, trucking can be a lonely job with a lot of stress, irregular sleep schedules, incompetent dispatchers and planners, uncaring dock workers, uptight police and many more worries. I will try to touch on some or all of these in my posts.