OTR driver, Gary, IN - July 15, 2016
I started driving trucks in the 1970's, when OTR meant "over the road", as distinct from "city driver". I ran to the NE and got home every weekend. Trucks were old, under-powered 238 HP GMC crackerbox, but they were well maintained. No power steering, nor air ride seats, no air conditioning, and a narrow sleeper. And most important, no on-board computer. Climbed hills in 3d gear, went down them in 4th gear, and on some long grades stopped halfway down to let the brakes cool (no jake brakes). But, the company gave you the load and left you alone. You called in when you delivered, and got directions for a return load. I later worked as a city driver (tractor trailer) for a number of big companies, including Roadway Express (now Yellow Roadway).
I went on to a non-trucking career, but after I retired, I thought I might go back to trucking. I had to get a CDL, so I went to Roehl's driving school in Marshfield, WI. Morning classroom training focusing on some relevant and some mostly irrelevant matters, with the rest of the day spent on their "driving range", learning to shift gears, back up, and other matters relating to passing the commercial driving test. Little time on the street and even less on the highway. Almost none of the time was spent on practical matters like map reading, using the on-board computer--which is the driver's way of staying in contact with dispatchers--and logging time. And, these are important matters. I passed the CDL, and went to work for Roehl.
The I was hired by Roehl Transport, and underwent about three weeks of OJT under two different trainers. The quality of the trainers matters, and I was not impressed with the quality of my trainers. One of them had a personality disorder, I am convinced. Lots of yelling and attempts to intimidate, just generally a bully. I tolerated it because that was the way it was. But I learned next to nothing.
Then I was hired by Roehl. I was assigned my own tractor, a relatively new Freighlliner. Comes time for the first load, and I cannot get the on-board computer to work, and have to wait hours to get a technician to get it working (cutting into my allowable working hours from the get-go). Then I find my trailer, hook up, fuel up, and head to Chicago to get a load. Drive into Chicago, wait to be loaded. (By now, 7-8 hours have passed, all uncompensated). Pull out of Chicago in a heavy snow storm, which within two hours had made the edges of the highway invisible, so I had to pull into a truckstop. Took my 10 hour break, got up the next morning and headed for Iron Mountain, Mich terminal to refuel. Fuel pump was pumping at less than 1 gal per minute, and there was nobody in the office and no maintenance facility on the premises. Finally got fueled and headed for delivery in L'Anse, MIchigan. Snow-covered secondary roads all the way. Arrived at delivery point, had to unhook, re-hook to two trailers to move them away from the unloading door. Waited 3 hours to unload. By now, time to take the 10-hour break required by law. Get up the next morning (by now it has been over 40 hours since I showed up to take the initial assignment of the tractor the day before yesterday. And so far, all the pay I am entitled to is mileage pay from starting point to L'Anse, representing 400-500 miles at $0.34 cents per mile.
Ran empty to Green Bay, Wisc to drop my empty trailer and pick up a loaded trailer. Found the trailer, dropped and hooked, and set out for destination full day late, and feeling under pressure. Passing around Milwaukee at about 7:00 PM, made a lane change (after checking my mirrors twice, and strictly according to what I was taught at Roehl Driving School) and found my tractor pushing a little Honda sideways down the road at 55 mph. Put on brakes (hard), releasing little Honda, which crossed both lanes and was hit by a car. Got stopped, ran back to car expecting to find a dead person, and instead found a guy talking on his cell phone. Police came, blamed me for the accident, put the wrong location (a different interchange several miles away) on the police report, and gave me a ticket for "improper lane change". I spent the rest of the night running around trying to find a center to do a blood test to rule out drugs and alcohol. Finally got to bed at midnight.
Took truck back to origin terminal. Turned in my paperwork. Went home, and after thinking it over, sent a letter of resignation. A day later, I got a letter from Roehl terminating me. I pleaded guilty to the charge of improper lane change. My driving career was over, so it made no sense to contest the ticket.
This is not a complaint about Roehl for terminating me, and I do not feel unfairly treated on account of that. Any well-run company is going to terminate a driver who has a major, chargeable accident.
The purpose of this note is to illustrate the types of things that can make the job of an OTR diver difficult, dangerous, and poorly compensated. It isn't just motoring along, "seeing the country". It is hard work, and tiring.