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Like Chinese puzzle boxes, there are choices within choices that you will address as you prepare for a career in trucking. This article will explain some of the most common choices and the potential they hold. The jobs described are, by no means, the only ones available to you. The transportation industry prides itself on creating new ways to define and reward a career in the field. You will also discover, should you choose to drive as a career, that the longer you stay in the business, the more possibilities open up for you. Experience is worth a lot in the transportation industry.

Hauling Freight

First, let's look at the occupational area in terms of equipment and try to define some of the types of hauling jobs available. There are a great many types of trucking. Perhaps the most common is freight hauling. This can entail hauling from coast to coast and across borders to intrastate and local delivery. The proper term for the cargo hauled is general commodity freight or, in driver jargon, dry freight In essence, this is freight that does not require any type of specialized handling, such as refrigeration. It may consist of anything from bags of flour to unlabeled tin cans to Sunday supplement pages to the latest European fashions.



Drivers who haul freight face tight delivery deadlines and are usually loaded to the maximum legal weight, since most freight is shipped on a weight/mileage basis. This is also an area where die driver may expect to accept the additional role of freight handler from time to time, since it is often required that a driver load and unload his or her own trailer. The trend in today's trucking business is more and more toward the palletized load, which can be unloaded with forklifts, thus cutting down on labor and time spent at loading docks. Still, conventional freight handling is not an extinct practice, or even a rare one.

When a driver does load or unload, the company the driver hauls for will usually pay extra for this labor. Other companies may consider loading or unloading a part of the job and not directly reimburse the driver. Still other operations will authorize the driver to hire casual labor, or lumpers, as they are often called, to load or unload the trailer.

Dry freight operations are for people who like a fast-paced business with little time spent in one location, but who do not want to have to monitor temperatures, check refrigeration fuel and oil levels, and take on other added responsibilities.

A freight hauler's job, however, may include monitoring and counting the number of items or pallets loaded and unloaded from his or her trailer. Merchandise or product count is often very important, and almost all companies require the driver to be present when his or her freight is loaded or unloaded. Usually the driver must also maintain a tally sheet of how much of each item has been entrusted to his or her care. Many companies will hold the driver directly responsible for merchandise lost or damaged and will charge him or her for any shortages that might occur. Often it would be a whole lot more comfortable to be curled up in a nice warm sleeper taking a quick nap, but standing on a cold loading dock counting boxes tends to be one of the jobs that comes with the territory.

Refrigerated Transport

The second most common type of hauling is refrigerated, or perishable, transport; this consists almost exclusively of food items, ranging from meat to produce to frozen goods. They are transported in a refrigerated trailer, giving the driver the added responsibility of monitoring the refrigeration unit, or reefer, to ensure the load inside remains at the proper temperature. The cooling unit is usually diesel powered and requires monitoring and periodic maintenance just as the tractor and trailer do. Usually the driver is not responsible for tasks like oil changes or replacing worn belts in the refrigeration unit, but is expected to adjust and maintain the temperature controls, and make sure that oil, fuel, and coolant levels are maintained.

Once again, drivers may be expected to load and unload their own trailers, though this practice is becoming less common, and it is considerably less common with refrigerated loads than with dry freight. It is generally more profitable for a company to palletize a load-place the load on wooden skids that can be unloaded, using a forklift or pallet jack, in a matter of minutes.

You don't have to be a muscle-bound superhero to work in the trucking industry. This is true even of drivers who must load and unload trucks. Most loads, refrigerated or dry, consist of boxes or items that weigh less than fifty pounds apiece. Although unloading 45,000 pounds of freight or produce is no small task, it is far from a physical impossibility for a healthy man or woman. The term "unloading" or "loading" may even be misleading because, most of the time, all the work takes place inside the trailer, transferring boxes or product from a skid to the floor or stacking it from the floor onto a skid, to be hauled away by a forklift operator.

Once again, it is important to note that often the driver is held responsible for the amount of merchandise in the trailer and its condition. It is common to find the driver standing on a loading dock in some cold storage, shifting his or her weight back and forth, trying to keep from freezing to death while keeping tabs on how many boxes of frozen fish sticks are being shoved aboard the trailer. It's not much fun, but it beats paying for a dozen cases of fish sticks that never arrive because they were never loaded, and it is never a wise idea to trust a warehouse worker's word on product count.

Flatbed Operations

The third major category of hauling is flatbed operations. There are a number of types of flatbeds, ranging from straight flatbeds to drop decks to low boys, designed exclusively for hauling oversized machinery. There is a similarity between freight haulers and refrigerated haulers; at times, they will even haul the same commodities. But neither has much in common with flatbed operations. It is rare, and often impossible, for a flatbed operator to handle his or her own load. However, other physical duties take the place of this chore and may more than make up for the labor that dry or refrigerated freight haulers do. Many flatbed loads require trapping--a canvas covering laid over the load and secured with a series of straps and tie-downs--to protect them from the elements. Tarps are heavy and cumbersome, some weighing well over two hundred pounds, and the driver is often seen crawling about the load lugging a tarp, then spending a great deal of time and energy fastening, folding, strapping, cinching, and chaining the load down. The craft of proper tarping is an art form in itself.

In addition, most loads require chaining or strapping to hold them in place on the trailer, and positioning is everything on a flatbed. If the load is out of position, the weight may be off on the axles of the rig, causing it to be overweight or unbalanced (out of trim). If the driver or loader miscalculates, the work may have to be done all over again, which can be extremely frustrating. It doesn't matter if it's 30 degrees below or 110 degrees in the shade; if the loading bills call for trapping, then the load must be trapped. Once again, this is an area where damage to the load is often considered the driver's responsibility.

One major advantage to flatbeds is the loads tend to come off relatively fast. It is not at all unusual for a receiver to have the load off the trailer before the driver has rehung the chains and binders and folded the tarps.

Household Movers

The next most common group of haulers is the household movers. This is among those rare operations that almost always offer training courses. Household movers' duties are different from almost any other operation. They seldom run more than fifty or sixty thousand miles a year. They tend to spend more time inside their trailers than in the cab, and they sit waiting for loads longer than most other truckers. In household operations, the driver is always responsible for loading and unloading his or her own trailer. In fact, it is the loading, unloading, and packing that the household mover depends on to provide a major portion of his or her income. The moving industry is service oriented, but, as in other businesses, there is a price for almost every service rendered.

If you were to watch a mover on a typical day, you might wonder why any sane person would consider the household moving business as an occupation. One answer is money. This is one area where a careful operator can earn an extremely good income. It is also an ideal place for someone who is a "people" person, who likes meeting new people and making new friends. This is one division of the trucking industry that can honestly promise that a driver will work in different parts of the country seldom seen by others in the trucking business. It is also the ideal operation for a husband-and-wife team who are unencumbered by children.

In fact, unofficial statistics indicate that household drivers tend to be young married or newly retired service people. A household mover's biggest expense is generally the fees he or she pays for labor. Once a driver has learned some of the "tricks of the trade," two people can often handle a great many standard loads without hiring that additional (and often expensive) casual labor.

Household movers operate year round, but the busiest time of the year for them is the summer months when kids are out of school and most families plan their moves. In the winter months, the business slows down, but private family moves are replaced by corporate moves, as companies take advantage of reduced winter moving rates.

There is a great deal of physical labor involved and, at times, a household mover will spend a long stretch of time away from home. Six weeks is not at all unusual. This time frame is understandable when you take into account that it may take up to a week to fully load a furniture van to capacity. Modem moving vans and a competent moving professional can fit two, three, four, or more regular households into high-cube trailers, which are often 53 feet long, 13 feet tall, and 108 inches wide.

This is also one area of trucking where mileage is seldom the basis for a paycheck. Normally, a driver will work on a percentage of the line haul (the load). Sometimes, a carrier will offer to hire the driver as a contract driven In this case, the operating expenses of the truck-including fuel, labor, and basic maintenance-are paid by the driver. In return, the driver will receive a larger percentage of the load revenue and usually all the peripheral income, such as extra fees movers receive for handling specialty items like pianos or automobiles, or for moving a household from something other than the ground-floor level. These peripheral fees can really add up and often can pay the operating expense of the driver and the rig entirely, leaving the base revenue to send home.

Household movers, due to the nature of their business, tend to be more fraternal than most other drivers or operators. This is partly because of the time they spend together waiting for loads. It is not at all unusual to find a Mayflower, a Wheaton, a United, and an Allied driver sitting at a table together in some truck stop waiting for a call from their individual dispatchers. It is also not unusual to see drivers exchange labor-"I'll help you load yours, if you help me load mine." These exchanges can create tremendous savings for both drivers. Custom usually dictates a steak dinner after the work is over, but a $20 steak is a much better investment than $300 in casual labor fees.

Household movers invest a major amount of time not only learning how to drive, but learning how to load and pack the furniture and goods entrusted to their care. Perhaps because of the extra training requirements-or perhaps because the prospect of what appears to be impossibly hard physical labor scares potential drivers away-household operations tend to be one of the easier fields of trucking to enter.

What is true of refrigerated and dry freight is true tenfold in the moving business. Damage, shortages, and breakage are the mover's nightmare. The paperwork alone is often enough to keep some potential drivers away. It is massive, and it is needed for two main reasons. One is to protect the customer against damage, loss, and claims; the other is to protect the driver against damage, loss, or claims.

Yet, for those who adapt to this unique lifestyle, it is hard to convince them there is a better way to earn a living. The pace goes from hectic to relaxed, and back again. And, because few people actually live on major highways, the householder faces the challenge of taking his or her vehicle into places other trucks would never consider going. Most household drivers tend to consider their group as the elite as far as finesse of driving is concerned. While it may be an arguable point, it's impressive to watch a real professional parallel park a 65-foot tractor-trailer rig on a narrow suburban street.

There are a number of other operations within the trucking industry in addition to the ones already mentioned. We will touch on them lightly, but it should be understood that these areas are somewhat harder to enter, even with truck driving school credentials.

Liquid Bulk Operations

Liquid bulk operations, commonly referred to as tankers, haul commodities ranging from fuel to fish oil to live fish. Special rules and special driving techniques are needed to operate tankers, and a whole new set of DOT requirements apply. While drivers may not physically handle their loads on a tanker, there is plenty to do. Engaging the pump system, measuring tank volume, draining and cleaning the tank and a host of other duties apply. In addition, the driver must observe certain rules that do not necessarily pertain to other types of trucking operations. Tanks tend to be top heavy. Liquid is constantly moving and can cause problems when braking and cornering. Parking or hooking up, or even weather, can be a trial at times. Loads of liquid animal fat, for instance, can solidify during cold weather. Thawing and reliquifying a load can be a frustrating, time-consuming, and nasty business.

Hauling Livestock

Another area is livestock hauling. Again, this is a specialized field where different rules apply. Livestock--whether sheep, cattle, or hogs--require care and attention. There are rules dictating how often a driver must stop and turn the stock loose for water and/or feed on long trips. A driver must make periodic checks of live cargo to make sure none of the animals has fallen down or injured itself. And finally, just getting to and from a livestock farm-down narrow, rural gravel roads and across wet pastures to reach loading chutes-places this type of driving outside the normal realm of experience. Livestock haulers face the raw adventure of trying to negotiate lanes designed for vehicles one-tenth the weight and a quarter the length of theirs.

However, livestock hauling is one area where an enterprising go-getter might find one of that vanishing breed of owner operators who is willing to train an apprentice. Most livestock hauling companies are small operations with limited budgets and, many times, a family staff. As a driver, you won't make a lot of money, but you will gather valuable experience and, because of the nature of the business, you are almost certain to make close friends.

Multiple Trailers

Finally, there are operations that entail hauling multiple trailers, often called double bottoms. The problems inherent with a single trailer can be multiplied enormously by adding a second, and sometimes even a third. A driver must think ahead of time before making any move, for if the rig enters an area and the driver suddenly needs to back out, he or she is facing a major headache because double bottoms don't back up well at all. It takes a skilled hand with years of experience to back these monsters with any sort of professionalism. As one driver so aptly put it, "Doubles were created so that aspirin companies would have a steady market to sell to."

The Local Driver

Up to now, we've only discussed the long-haul driver. However, there is another type of driver, more common, in fact, than the long-hauler. The local driver operates under an entirely different set of rules. He or she is paid differently, usually by the hour, and operates differently. Even the equipment is different. If they drive semis at all, local drivers usually use "city" set-ups, which are short wheelbase tractors without sleepers and with smaller horsepower engines. They often pull shorter trailers than their long-haul cousins, to allow them better mobility within the city. A long-hauler may back up to a loading dock two or three times a week. A city driver may double that number before the first morning coffee break. To some, the biggest difference between long-haul and local driving is that the local driver normally gets to sleep at home every night, but the differences are really far greater than that.

While the local driver can generally plan a social and family life by the time clock, there are frustrations here as well. One of the biggest complaints is the boredom of making the same deliveries to the same places day after day, with little or no break in the routine. For some drivers, this is ideal. It means they can plan their days and nights in an orderly fashion. For others, the routine is sheer tedium.

This is also an area where the job market is not quite as active as it is for the long-hauler. Many local driving jobs are unionized, and a system of seniority has been long established, which can make it difficult for the new driver to break into the field.

Another somewhat negative aspect is that if a driver takes a job with a smaller company, the rate of pay may not be all that great. However, pay may not be a deciding factor in some cases.

For the person who wants to get into long hauling, local driving offers one advantage we talked about earlier: experience. While your image of trucking may not include making three mile runs with 16 stops to load or unload along the way, it is an excellent training ground for a new driver to learn some of the more difficult aspects of the occupation. Backing a truck squarely up to a loading dock, operating in heavy traffic, and negotiating narrow streets and their accompanying hazards are some of the many difficulties a local driver learns to overcome as he or she gains experience. For many road drivers, these skills are the toughest part of the job, which can make local hauling an extremely valuable experience for someone who wants to eventually work the long-haul side of the business.

Obviously, not all local delivery is done with a tractor- trailer rig. Straight trucks, sometimes called bobtails, commonly haul freight within local areas. While these vehicles do not pose all the problems a driver would face with semis, they do challenge a driver, and they carry their own set of headaches with them. One of the biggest is the fact that straight trucks are expected to go where tractor-trailers can't, and in some of our older cities, narrow streets, low underpasses, and other hazards are far more common for the local hauler than they are for the over-the-road trucker. Creeping down an alley with your side mirrors scraping bricks on both sides can be every bit as challenging as maneuvering a semi over some rain-slicked mountain pass.

Almost all forms of local hauling require loading and unloading. It goes with the job. Here, too, keeping accurate inventory of what you pick up and drop off before you sign for it is of paramount importance. It is uncommon for local carriers to charge shortages against paychecks, since there are more local drivers available. However, shortages can mean that the company will simply fire you and replace you with someone who will pay attention to "load and count."

The Construction Driver

Before we end article, we'll touch briefly on one other type of drivers: the construction drivers. Generally speaking, these are drivers who haul items to and from job sites. The load may be gravel, cement, lumber, or backhoes, but it is all somewhat specialized. This is one of the few areas where someone who is under 21 may find employment, though this, too, is becoming rarer by the day. Quite often, construction driving takes place as part of other duties pertinent to a job site. You might be laying blacktop for a driveway when the job foreman asks for another load of gravel and sends you off to pick it up. Or it may be a major operation where you simply load, drive a few miles, unload, return, empty, and repeat the cycle all over again. The commercial operator's license is still necessary, but if the driving all takes place within the state, other DOT requirements, such as log books, may not apply.

Construction driving is not the same as road operations and should not be mistaken for it, but it does provide experience behind the wheel on a vehicle that has size, weight, and the general qualities of a road rig. It is enough to provide that general base experience that all employers want to see a resume or an application. As a rule, it also pays quite well, but tends to be somewhat seasonal.

This article has barely scratched the surface of driver requirements and some of the highpoints of what is available to a driver within the trucking industry. For many drivers, perhaps the majority, the starting point will not necessarily be the final career choice. Driving is, for many, the first step toward a career in one of the administrative positions within the business. For instance, a driver trainer cannot become an instructor without first getting actual road experience. It is difficult, if not impossible, for a safety person to attain that position without first experiencing and learning first-hand the actual applications of the federal and state requirements through driving experience. In short, a driver can gain experience and step into many of the transportation positions that exist within a trucking company or in the transportation field in general.

Driving is not a permanent sight-seeing excursion. It is not a way to get rich quick. It is not a career for the lazy, nor is it a job for someone who places his or her social life above all other things. It is not a career for someone whose spouse cannot deal with the absence of his or her partner for extended periods. And it is not a career for anyone who lacks basic organizational skills. After all, you may be out on the road when the rent comes due, and it's up to you to think ahead and plan for these things. If you can't or won't, perhaps you should consider another line of work.
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