Driving a tractor-trailer is a highly misunderstood occupation that gets little respect in today’s world. But if anybody knew a thing about trucking, they wouldn't be able to help themselves but find a little respect for the road-going drivers that keep their grocery stores stocked. The fact is, everything you can buy has to come from somewhere and unless you want to start a farm and revert to a trade-based economy within your local community, you need truckers!
Despite our dependence on this industry, we know very little about what actually makes it move. The life of a trucker is thought to consist of holding a steering wheel while ingesting gallons of coffee and sucking donuts down by the pack—but that’s only half of the story.
Driving a truck is only a small part of what it actually means to be a trucker. Your life is in their hands anytime your car is within the immediate vicinity of a big truck. It’s easy to forget that and take for granted the trust we place in their competence. Invariably, when something does go wrong, all fingers point directly to the guy behind the wheel.
It’s a life of constant struggle and endless stress but it also has some unique perks that only a trucker gets to enjoy! While you’re sitting at your desk job, encased in your tiny cubicle, truckers are exploring the landscapes that you only see on vacation. They move our nation and feed our children.
Life as a trucker can be categorized in one of two ways: work and perks!
20 Perk: Life Is One Big Road Trip
There are many types of trucking jobs out there, each with different perks. OTR (over the road) drivers are akin to the last cowboy. Trucking is a final frontier, of sorts. Sure, the nation is developed from coast to coast, but there’s a lot of blank space in between—and truckers see it all.
Drivers can find themselves inching through icy mountain passes—in near zero visibility one day—and be jamming down a long, straight stretch of dry, dusty desert the next. The scenery is astounding. Sometimes, you will find places that are absolutely breathtaking; since you’re the boss of your rig, you can stop and check it out whenever you want (but somebody is still waiting for their load—remember that).
19 Work: Oversize Loads
The skill of a professional driver cannot be overstated. Sure this looks tough to the average person but it’s still a lot harder than you think. Long before the truck even pulls up to get loaded, permits have to be filed. The Department of Transportation wants to know where you’re going, how you’ll get there, and a million other things that require paperwork.
Routes are restricted due to size or weight (or both) and pilot cars have to be ordered (because there’s no way to do this alone). And don’t think they’ll let this behemoth load through a metropolitan area during daytime hours; they have “curfews” for things like this. After you jump through all these hoops, you’ve still just begun: you’re not even loaded yet!
18 Perk: Corner Office
Trucks are dangerous machines in the wrong hands and it takes a lot of responsibility to handle 80,000 pounds of steel. Because of this, a lot of responsibility is put on the driver. The upside: this is your truck and you are the final word on anything to do with it. After all, you have to answer for anything that happens to it. After you get loaded and out on the road, it’s all gravy.
The engine’s song resonates through the cab and the air ride seat seems to glide on clouds. You’ve got it on cruise control, jamming tunes, and nobody is breathing down your neck to “finish those reports” on time. This is your truck, your load, and it’s getting done your way!
17 Work: Department Of Transportation
Remember that thing we were saying about how great it was to be King of the Road? Well, it comes with a price—and a hefty one, too, if your operation isn’t airtight. This is your view right before pulling onto the Banning scales, on the westbound side of Interstate 10.
This truck is about to slither by the scales at 3 mph, clenching hard, hoping the scale operator doesn’t give him a red light. Behind the mirrored glass, there are DOT officers scrutinizing every inch of your truck. Weight is only the beginning; they’re checking for stickers, DOT numbers, equipment wear, and anything else to raise a red flag—and they’re analyzing you with an electron microscope.
16 Perk: Hobby Town U.S.A.
Where’s Hobby Town, U.S.A.? It’s anywhere your sleeper is, which should still be right behind your cab, where you left it. Truckers can only be “on-duty” for so long before they need to shut down for the night. After so many days on the road, a mandatory 34-hour restart is necessary. Simply put, OTR drivers have downtime when they cannot operate their trucks.
If this restart happens far from home (which it typically does) downtime in the sleeper can be filled with whatever you want. Do you like making fishing lures, playing Xbox, mountain biking? Anything you can fit into the sleeper (within reason) can be a welcome escape from the pressures of life on the road.
15 Work: Everyone Else On The Road
Drafting is a real thing! You may not have a bunch of cyclists hanging off your container like this poor driver but cars will tailgate you within inches just to suck another half mile per gallon out of their economy. But behind the truck is really the least of your worries! In front of you, drivers will cram the empty spaces in their four-wheelers, assuming you can stop on a dime.
Being extremely defensive is the only way to survive life on the road and your “scan” must encompass every inch of the road you can see before you. As the driver, you are usually “at-fault” no matter what—even when you’re not!
14 Perk: Extra Capacity
You’re allowed 80,000 pounds of maximum weight and usually your truck and trailer will clock in at 30,000 pounds or so, leaving a bunch left over for cargo. In many cases, loads won’t max out your gross weight capacity, and owner-operators can choose their loads anyway.
This guy chose to take advantage of the extra space on his truck by fabricating a bike rack for his motorcycle. Maybe he’s not building fishing lures in his sleeper at night but all he has to do is pull the pin, drop the ramp, and his 80,000-pound rig becomes a launchpad for a whole different kind of life on the road.
13 Work: People You HAVE To Deal With
This guy has some kinda look on his face and it’s not a good one. Rest assured, his attitude is no better. He can be a loadmaster, an inspector, a dockworker, a security guard; he can be anybody that works for the companies that load and unload you. He literally has about six ounces of authority and you can count on his incapacitating inferiority complex to lever it against you to make everything as difficult as possible.
He doesn’t care that you’re clock is burning up. He doesn’t care that you’re going to hit rush hour and by effect, be stranded an hour outside of your drop time the next day when you run out of hours. He cares about making your life hard. (And he’s good at it!)
12 Perk: You’re One Of Few And Proud Of It!
This gorgeous little road wrangler knows that trucking isn’t for the faint of heart; it’s a job that requires a lot of patience, a lot of skill, a lot of precision, and a lot of sacrifices. Most people don’t understand what it means to be responsible for human lives but truckers know—one wrong move could cost many of them.
Truckers take this type of responsibility seriously and they’re proud to call themselves professionals. Trucking isn’t for everybody but anybody can do it—if you’re made of the right stuff. Angelica “Bubbles” Larson stands about five feet tall but she’s tougher than most men and handles her rig like a champ. She knows…
11 Work: Wheel Relief
It’s not glamorous and none of us drivers want to be doing this,but it does happen, and when nature calls, it’s not always a call you can forward. This guy is casually “inspecting” his air lines. He’d lead you to believe that it’s all part of his pre-trip inspection but what only truckers really know, is that he’s getting ready to let loose all over the ground underneath his driveshaft (when nobody is looking).
There’s actually an art to this and some are more refined in its discipline than others. This guy takes the trouble to wear his jacket on only one arm, while his other arm is free to maneuver inside the jacket and manipulate the…uh…purge valve.
10 Perk: You’re Primed For Heroism
Iraq veteran and truck driver Darren Phillips is a hero and there’s a Wyoming State Trooper alive today because he decided to take action. He was driving along a desolate stretch of Interstate when he crested a hill and saw two men wrestling with each other.
One of them was the state trooper and the other was a man who had been pulled over but wasn’t about to go down without a fight. By the time Darren stopped his truck and rushed over, the trooper was on his back, the assailant on top, and going for his sidearm. Darren is seen here showing the chokehold that would save the troopers life that day. Semper Fi!
9 Work: Stinkin’ Loads
There are over two million trucks on the road today, crisscrossing the States to hastily deliver anything you can think of. If it’s on a shelf, it came on a truck. Some loads are consumables, ready for the supermarket; but others need some “processing” beforehand. As bad as a load of cattle may smell, there’s nothing worse than the raw animal hides that ship out to the ports.
It’s basically a 20-foot container loaded with decomposing animal hides. It’s treated with preservatives to help the hides survive the trans-Pacific voyage to China (or wherever they may go) but that does nothing to help the smell. Picture the worst thing you can stick your face into and double it while sticking your finger all the way down your throat.
8 Perk: Light Loads
While some loads may be heavy, stinky, cumbersome, and dangerous—others are like a gravy train, ready to sail down the highway so effortlessly, you forget they are on your trailer. This load of pallets needs to go somewhere, and due to the design, over half of what you’re actually transporting is the air between the pieces of wood!
One four-inch strap per row in the center stacks, two at each end of the trailer, and you’re ready to hammer down all the way to your destination. Hill climbs are a literal breeze (you’ll be flying past all the heavy trucks) and the wear and tear on your equipment are negligible. The truck doesn’t even know you are pulling something with it.
7 Work: Not-So-Light Loads
If there’s anything Franklin’s law taught you, it’s that for every action, there is an equal (and greater) reaction. (Or was that Newton???) Who cares who said it—you’re a trucker, not a rocket scientist! You get paid to safely interact with Newton’s laws, not to qualify them. When the loads are gravy, the skies are sunny. But sometimes, big stuff has to move places that only you can move it.
This 400,000-pound Dash-9 locomotive needs to go somewhere they forgot to build tracks, which means you’re putting it on a custom dolly and dragging it there yourself. Don’t forget to check every single tire for pressure, condition, and security. (That could literally take hours but you still need to do it.) Don’t forget your permits, either!
6 Perk: Support
The struggle between the forces of good and evil don’t always fight each other. You may feel like life on the road is one big game of cat and mouse with Jonny Law but he’s just there to do his job (even if that involves sticking it to you from time to time). But when massive loads need to be moved, Johnny Law has your back!
This portion of decommissioned B-1 Lancer fuselage needed to go from the Wright Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, to another museum in Ashland, Nebraska. A tractor was the only way to transport it the monster fuselage but it took multiple police escorts, a slew of pilot cars, and some very careful driving to make it all happen smoothly.
5 Work: No Support
Any driver knows his rightful place and although some do get boisterous from time to time, they all know who the boss is. The law sometimes (always) catches you at a bad time and any trucker knows there’s just nothing you can do about it.
Whether it’s due to poor signage that sends you down a prohibited road, an unavoidable circumstance that happened to put you over your hours, or just the law abusing power because they can throw a technicality at you, prepare to be ground up from time to time. You can always fight it in court but do you really want to drive hundreds of miles to face a judge that might rule against you anyway? Or do you just pay the ticket and take it like a man?
4 Perk: Opportunities
The trucking industry is facing shortages that are starting to hurt and now more than ever could be the best time to jump behind the wheel of a big truck. It’s not like the “glory days” that old-timers will tell you about but nothing is like the “glory days” anymore. Regardless, the industry has noted that there are massive shortages, due to a variety of reasons, and almost 900,000 drivers are needed!
They also noted that over 185,000 jobs were added within a four-month period! Companies are incentivizing positions, offering bonuses, and even encouraging new millennials and women to jump behind the wheel of a struggling industry. Lever this opportunity against the odds and see what trucking might be able to do for you!
3 Work: The Fine-Toothed Comb
This man is scrutinizing the lug nuts on this tractor’s drive tires as the combination sits over a DOT inspection pit. It’s a sight all too many drivers are familiar with. We’re going to throw this dude a bone and commend him for keeping the roads safe, because, although truckers hate him, he’s a necessary evil.
Too many shabby operators try to cut corners and ruin it for everyone that maintains their equipment. As a result, this guy is going to poke over every inch of your truck: air lines, brakes, engine, wheels, lights—everything. Notice how he keeps his pen and paper at the ready. Now is not a good time to remember that you meant to reline your brakes last week.
2 Perk: You Can Look Pretty Cool
It’s not about looking cool—but it really is. A truck just needs a big Detroit 60-Series and a fifth wheel to do the job. But who wants to just do the job when you can do it like this? Of course, this will require your children to fend for themselves and pay for their own college but you didn’t have kids just so they could keep sucking you dry long after they’re legally adults; you had kids so they could help you detail this fine machine…and you’ll need all the help you can get.
Don’t worry about going broke, either; you can always live in the sleeper if your life crumbles because you made poor financial decisions (and it’s pretty hard to repossess a truck that could be anywhere).
1 Work: You're Under A Microscope
Technology is evolving at a blisteringly fast rate and the world is struggling to keep up. Back in the day, you had to keep track of your hours but you could just tear a page out of your loose leaf log book and re-write it to your liking. This is against the rules (and we’re not condoning this behavior) but when a hot load needs to get from Tuscon, Arizona, to Hidalgo, Texas (1,094 miles), it needs to get there.
Truckers are too dedicated to their trade, sometimes, and electronic logging systems are becoming more prevalent. This may be good from a “safety” standpoint but there’s not a trucker in the world who wants to see this thing staring them in the face!
Sources: Commercial Carrier Journal, Overdrive, NBC News, and OOIDA.