Truck Driving: Getting Started

I have been driving professionally almost 20 years, logging almost 4 million miles in a truck and my personal vehicles. I have been to the four corners of the States, with a few sojourns into Canada, and one brief walk across the border to visit Mexico.

This industry has been good to me. It’s been like an all-expense-paid vacation. A friend of mine and I coined a phrase a few years ago: Paid Professional Tourist?. We’re like tourists: get to see the sights, visit the people and enjoy the food. We’re professionals, in that we’ve been doing it over a year. And the real kicker is, we actually get paid for it!

So when somebody asks me “Why?” that’s part of the answer. More to the point, even though I have a college degree, and have done wonders in the white-collar world, I don’t like being cooped up in an office without windows. I like being outside where I can enjoy nature to it’s fullest.

And finally, a couple of common facts about driving stand out: keep your nose clean and do your job, and you’ll always make a living. “Keeping your nose clean” not only refers to not doing drugs, but abiding by the laws and keeping your Motor Vehicle Report (MVR) clean. In short, being a safe and courteous driver. Keep in mind, in many cases you’ll be driving the equivalent of an 80,000# guided missile.

“Do your job”. When you’re handed the keys to a truck, told what to pick up and where to take it, nobody else can do your job. There’s a shortage of professional drivers in this country, so you’re wanted, needed, and appreciated. Job security is paramount: your job won’t be farmed out or relocated to another country. Because of this, many “professionals” are jumping ship from their white-collar world and becoming truck drivers.

“So”, you may ask, “how do I become a professional driver?” There are two basic ways: Go to truck driving school, or work for a company. The first leads into the other, but the second is self-standing. Let me explain.

Find a reputable truck driving school. As with any schooling, there will be associated costs for tuition and incidentals. The tuition is self-explanatory. The incidentals depend upon where you live and where the school is. It might be nothing more than gas for your car to get to-and-from school, and having to buy lunch while there. Or it may be the costs for room and board. Your circumstances will dictate those costs.

A good truck driving school will have contacts in the trucking industry, so that when you graduate, you may have a way to get on with a company that will train you further. Many companies have a tuition reimbursement program, that if you stay with them for a couple of years, they will pay your truck driving school tuition.

A word of warning here: just because you graduated from truck driving school, don’t get it in your head that you know what you’re doing. At this point you are as dangerous in a truck as somebody that has 20 years experience and has gotten complacent. Even after driving a flatbed for 13 years, I was still learning things about “running a skateboard”. You should never stop learning. That way your mind stays sharp, and you improve yourself as a person.

The second way to get into truck driving is to work for a company. I started my career working for a moving company as hired labor, and progressed up. Soon I was driving the straight trucks, and as need would have it, learned how to drive the tractor-trailers around the yard, and soon got my license.

My sons work for a gravel pit near home. One’s job description is “truck driver”, driving a haul truck from the gravel pit to the plant. He’s getting practical experience, and the company is willing to train him and help him get his Class-A Commercial Drivers License (CDL).

If you’re serious about becoming a truck driver but cannot afford the costs associated with school, this may be a way to achieve your dreams. It’s not the fastest route to a life on the road, but it beats the heck out of not getting there at all.

And a side benefit to working around the trucks, such as maintenance, loading and unloading, etc, is you learn what it takes to keep a truck rolling. A driver may not know how to run a forklift or overhaul an engine, but he must know how to load the truck properly, and how to keep it in good shape, visually and mechanically. Anybody can be a steering wheel holder, but a good and conscientious driver is worth his mettle.

Become part of what keeps America rolling: become a truck driver. Go on vacation and get paid for it!

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