So what it is like to be an (OTR) Over The Road truck driver? Maybe you are considering a career as a truck driver or you’re just curious as to what it is like to be a truck driver. This will be the first of many trips that I will take you on. For a a real life prospective I will be writing about good days and bad days. Here we go… Seat belt please!
The Life Of A Truck Driver
I just delivered a load of pipe that only went about 600 miles and it is now Friday afternoon. I am sitting in a truck stop in New Jersey just off the turnpike. To be exact I am parked at the Vince Lombardi Service Area just off I-95. I am relaxing in the sleeper of my semi truck waiting for the Qualcomm to beep indicating I have a new email telling me that I have a load to pick up.
I drive a T-600 Kenworth truck and pull a 48′ flatbed trailer behind me. It is a newer truck and I enjoy the challenging work that is associated with a flat bed. Beep… Oh good a new message. I take a look at it and the load assignment is great. We will be picking up a load in Sharon, Pa and then delivering in Eureka, CA (far north California). I am amazed at the length of the trip, 2,655 miles. Most loads I get are only about 600 -1200 miles long.
My appointment time is for 7:00AM in Sharon, PA which is 314 miles away. It will take us about 5 hours to get there. So I get headed out of the truck stop and make my way to Interstate 80.
My appointment time is for 7:00 AM in Sharon, PA which is 314 miles away. It will take us about 5 hours to get there. So I get headed out of the truck stop and make my way to Interstate 80.
I arrive in Sharon, PA at the Petro Truck Stop. It is a fairly nice truck stop, clean and quiet for the most part but since it is starting to get later in the day the parking lot is very full. I have a hard time finding a parking spot that is open but finally another driver pulls out of a spot and I go for it. It is a tight spot to back into. I get lined up on my spot and wiggle my way in very carefully.
Settled into my parking spot I finish up my log book for the night and make a bowl of Dinty Moore beef stew in my microwave. I am trying to save money by not eating in overpriced truck stops! I pop in a DVD and watch a movie as I lay in my small bed.
Knock… Knock… I was just about asleep. I go up to my drivers side cab window and I see an older man standing outside my door. I roll the window down part way and he says “I have this amazing cleaning solution that you can add to your washer fluid that keeps all the bugs off.” I reply “naaa” and he walks to the next truck. I head back into the sleeper and drift of to sleep.
Beep… Beep… Beep my alarm is sounding. I think to myself “OMG, 5 AM already.” I grab my shower bag and head into the Petro Truck Stop. I go to the fuel desk and ask for a shower, the attended gives me the key and I head to the drivers area to get a shower.
You just never know what you’re going to get when you use a truck stop shower. The only thing you can count on is that it will be extremely steamy and hot when you get out because the exhaust fans just seem to never work. Nothing like having your new clean clothes extremely damp when you are getting dressed inside a room that is about half the size of a cracker box while dodging the random hairballs that lay on the slick floor.
Oh and you have to love the paper shower mats that you get. As I noted the extreme amount of steam that is generated during your shower in the half a cracker box sized room renders the paper mat unusable at the best by the time you get out of the shower.
Life of a trucker continues… Loading
After that refreshing shower I grab a breakfast sandwich and head out to my truck. I arrive at the shipper along with 5 other trucks. I walk up to the office and give them my pick up number and information. The guy loading me informs me it will be a little while before they can load me. I say “OK” and head out to my truck (as a truck driver I know that a little while really means an hour.) An hour passes by and they wave me up to the loading area.
I pull up and they tell me to stay in the truck (oh and by the way I am picking up a load of pipe.) After about 20 minutes a huge forklift starts loading a stack of pipe on my flatbed trailer (it takes him about 30 minutes to stack all the pipe on my trailer.) After he finishes I use three chains to hold the load of pipe down and then pull into the load securement and tarping area.
I use 10 nylon straps to finish tying the pipe down, next I have to tarp the load. Most loads are tarped for various reasons and the tarps are about 65 pounds each, some loads are more than 13 feet tall. I am sure that you can imagine how much fun it would be to have to carry them on your shoulder while climbing up a tall load. I spread the tarps over the load of pipe and tie the tarp down with bungee cords.
I will get paid a fee for tarping (believe it or not but there is a fine art to tarping.) If it is not done right the air will blow under the tarp and make it look like a giant balloon. I walk in and wait 10 minutes for my paperwork to be printed, I sign it and I am free to go.
A Short Recap Of My Day So Far…
- Awake at 5AM
- Arrive at shipper 7am
- Wait time 1 hour 15 minutes
- Load Time 30 Minutes
- Tarp Time 1 Hour
- Waiting For Paperwork 10 Minutes
I have been awake for 5 hours and waited two hours for loading to be completed. I will not be compensated anything for those two hours.
Back On The Road Trucking
Well almost… I have to catch up my log book from loading and then plan my trip. I am only allowed to drive 11 hours by law (Hours of Service) each day and then must rest for 10 hours. The law is a little more complicated than that but I don’t want to confuse you, we’ll get to that stuff later, stay tuned!
So, I have planned to drive 600 miles each day. This will have me arriving in Eureka, California in 4 and 1/2 days.
I’m now departing the shipper at about 10 AM, I drive for about an hour and then stop to tighten down all the straps and chains that are holding the pipe down. As you drive down the road all the bumps and vibrations cause the load to settle, in doing so I notice that I have a flat trailer tire, so I head to the nearest truck stop to have the trailer tire repaired.
I arrive at the truck stop, walk in and they tell me it will be about two hours. So, I wait in the truck until they are done, I also need to weigh my truck and trailer on a truck scale. I pull onto the scale and get weighed. I walk into the truck stop and use the restroom and get my weigh ticket. Now I am ready to get back on the road again at 12:30 PM.
Since I am getting a late start I will drive the 1/2 day leaving 4 days left of the trip.
- I drive 3 hours then stop for a restroom break and load check – Depart at 4:00 PM
- I drive 2 more hours but sit in rush hour traffic for an additional hour.
- I arrive at the truck stop at 7:00 PM
Total hours on duty today either driving, waiting or working outside the truck is at least 12 hours.
Money earned today.
- 300 miles X .42 Cents Per Mile = $126
- Tarp Pay $40
- Total Pay is $166 or $13.83 per Hour
Life Of A Trucker- Days 2, 3 & 4
I wake up at 4AM, take a shower and start rolling at about 5 AM.
- I drive 3 hours and stop to check my load
- I drive one more hour and stop to get fuel (this takes about 30 minutes)
- I drive two more hours and then take a 1/2 hour lunch break
- I drive 4 more hours but wait in traffic due to an accident for 45 minutes
Money earned per day.
- 600 Miles X .42 Cents Per Mile = $252
- $21.91 Per Hour
- Unpaid hours worked are 1 1/2 hours
I arrive at the truck stop at about 5 PM and I repeat this process for the remaining two days.
Arrival At The Delivery Point
I arrive at 7 AM to be unloaded, I untarp, roll up my tarps, pick up all the bungee cords, take the chains off, take the straps off and then wait an hour until they start unloading me. It takes them 45 minutes to off load me. I have them sign for the load and then I notify my trucking company that I am empty and ready for dispatch.
While I am waiting for dispatch I do all of my paperwork for 30 minutes. I have spent about 2 hours and 45 minutes unloading and doing paperwork, I will not be compensated for that work.
Beep… Beep… Remember that sound? Yep… Time to pick up another load, this time though it is a short load that only has 500 miles on it. So I will have to go reload and deliver the next day.
That is the trucking lifestyle in a nutshell, there is much more to being a truck driver than what I described and I could go on forever but I know this is already a long post. It is just a glimpse of a few days in the life of a truck driver. Some trips are really easy and some just really suck and sometimes you make a lot of money, other times you don’t.
Questions And Answers
Q Is it always that boring? I thought truck drivers got to see all kinds of neat stuff? Is this truly what the life of a truck driver is like?
A Yes there are neat things to see and do but after you drive around the United States for a couple years, or 10 years it is more like the entire country is like your home town. The first year or so is very exciting but that the excitement doesn’t last forever. It is hard to completely communicate what a truckers life is like in one post.
Q Do you always drive coast to coast?
A No, sometimes I would get in these ruts where I would run mostly in the southeast, northeast or south.
Q What does Over The Road trucking or OTR mean?
A An OTR (Over The Road) truck driver is a driver that is on the road for an extend period of time. Usually for four to six weeks at a time.
Q What is the best part of being a truck driver?
A Not having a direct boss or someone looking over your should. I would almost never directly talk to anyone at the company I worked for.
Q What is the worst part about being a truck driver?
A Public showers and bathrooms, people not respecting your size on the road, shippers that don’t care about wasting your time and government red tape, regulations and fines.
Q Why did you pull a flatbed trailer.
A It pays much better than other trailer types and I liked the physical work.