David Price spent most of his career working in the construction industry, but he was an unemployed sheetrock finisher when he went to an unemployment agency in February of 2009. Price was presented with many employment options, but he chose to attend truck driving school and earn his commercial driver's license.
Price, 60, lives in Reno, Nev. when he's not on the road as a long-haul driver for one of the nation's largest trucking companies. He thought that driving a big-rig would only be a temporary source of income, but Price says he'll retire as a truck driver.
• What is a typical workday like?
My work day consists of driving from one point to the next. Usually I drop a trailer and pick up another; I don't do any loading or unloading, just driving.
I like to run over 500 miles per day, but it averages out between 400 and 500 miles. I live to drive 8 to 8.5 hours a day -- that way I can run all week without running over my limit (The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration caps hours for long-haul drivers to 11 hours in a 14-hour day and 70 hours in a week to combat driver fatigue).
• How can a recent graduate find an entry level job as a truck driver?
I went with a large company that did my training. I got my CDL, and then I had two months of training with an outfit out of Texas. You drive with trainer, and in 60 days and if you pass you get a truck. You are paid for your miles, but at a reduced rate, and you don't drive all the time. You really don't do too many miles, it's mostly learning how to back into places and that sort of thing.
• Did you feel prepared for employment before beginning your job?
No. You are not ready. You need the additional training, and you have to be with an instructor; there is more too it than just getting a CDL and passing the course. You have to go out with a trainer for a few months.
I had not been on any major highways, and I had never gone cross-country in a truck. Backup up is tough in some spots, and I had to learn mountain driving, coming downhill with brakes and that sort of thing. Commercial driver license training is just the basics to teach you how to get down the road and to turn and back up. Basically, it's learning how to drive a truck.
• Has it been hard to pick up on all of the intricacies of your position?
It was for me. I was 57 years old - the young kids pick it up quicker. Backing into tight spots is always tough. The hardest part has been navigating big cities and learning how to shift well. Navigation is always hard to learn. I had never been outside of Reno much and on big highways -- I still get lost!
• What is your favorite part about your job?
I like going over the road and seeing alligators in Florida and the mountains. Just seeing the country is really nice. I like the South: Atlanta, Florida, South and North Carolina. The West Coast has too much traffic, and there are 55 mile per hour zones all through California. There's just too many mountains, and the roads are terrible.
• What is one thing you like least about this career?
The long hours. My shift also changes from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sometimes I'll leave at 2 a.m. and shutdown at 3 in the afternoon. It's the shift changes and the change in sleep. I like to get up early and run all day during normal hours, but sometimes you can't do that.
I also don't like driving at night -- I don't see as well, and you could hit a deer or something like that. For me it's hard.
• What is the most challenging part of your job?
Navigation and finding where you are going. I have GPS, and that really helps, but you have to watch out for things like bridges. Back East has a lot of low bridges and turns you are not supposed have a truck on. GPS gets me from point A to point B, but as far as getting to the delivery spot you are on your own.
Also, it isn't the most healthy thing I have done. I try to eat healthy, but you don't eat right and you don't get a lot of exercise. Coming from construction, I didn't have to worry about exercise. I have an icebox in my truck, and I make a lot of sandwiches, but mostly you eat truck stop fast food. When I get to the South I can find a good restaurant, but it's usually Arby's or Wendy's. I try to eat salads, but sometimes that's kind of hard. I have gained 20 to 25 pounds -- and they call me Slim at the truck stops!
• Is the job what you expected it to be?
I like it. It pays good, and it is something I can do for the next 10 years or however long I decide to go.
• Can you see yourself working in the industry for the rest of your professional life?
Yes, but I am going to retire. I am 60 now, and I started at 57. Being a truck driver is something that I have always wanted to do. It just seemed like it would be fun to see the country and drive to all sorts of different places. I always thought it would be a good career.
• Are you treated unfavorably by those who have been in the industry for a long time?
Actually they are pretty helpful. I haven't had any problems with other drivers. Sometimes I'll need help backing in, and I have had people help me fix my truck and show me things on the truck that I needed to know.
If you need a battery jump there usually is someone there to help you, and they are always good for information on directions and things you should know before you get to a receiver. Usually everybody helps everybody, especially the older people who have been in it for a while.
• What has been the most memorable experience in your career?
I saw about a 10-foot alligator in South Florida in a sugar cane field; I liked that. I also hit an elk in Utah. It jumped out in front of my truck right at the crack of dawn; that was scary.
• How many days have you been away from home at one time? Where do you stay when you are on the road?
I am usually out three to four weeks and I'm at home a week. You are on the road 21 to 30 days, and you are home for seven. I stay in my truck. It's just like a little apartment. I have a bed and a little refrigerator. It is pretty self-contained.
• What skills are most valuable for a truck driving job?
Being a good safe driver is the main thing. You have to be aware of safety and be able to shift with the different hours. But being a safe driver is the No. 1 key. You also have to be able to read a map and calculate your time between stops. It's also important to be able back up and see well.
• What advice would you give someone who is considering entering the field?
It is a great career, but it is tough for a young family man. You have to have a strong family life. You are away from home a lot. It is rewarding, it pays well and it is steady -- trucking companies are growing every day. To get started, get your CDL and find a large company that does training and go for it.
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