By Jake Krough
In order for me to get a better understanding of what life is like as a truck driver, ATBS sent me on a three-day road trip with longtime owner-operator and Team Run Smart Pro, Henry Albert.
I started in the Marketing Department at ATBS in May of 2018. My day-to-day duties include running our social media accounts, writing blogs for our website, and sending out emails. This is my first job out of college and I started with little knowledge about the trucking industry. I have learned a lot during my time here. However, because my job is all about connecting with truckers, ATBS thought it would be a good idea for me to go out and experience life on the road.
Obviously, in three days I was not able to get a complete understanding of what it is like to live on the road. However, I was able to learn a lot and leave with a greater appreciation for what truckers go through each and every day. Since I learned so much in my short time on the road, narrowing this down was difficult, but, here are the five most important things I learned while on the road for the first time.
I learned about the patience that is required
While being on the road, I quickly learned about the patience that is required to be a truck driver. Whether we were waiting at the shipper to get loaded, waiting in traffic, or waiting to go back on duty after the mandatory 10 hours off duty, it seemed like there were a lot of things that kept us waiting to get to our destination as quickly and efficiently as possible.
When I was on the truck, we waited at the shipper for about 19 hours before we got loaded up, and that was with everything being on schedule. We got to the shipper at around 6:30 p.m. and didn’t get loaded until about 12:30 p.m. the next day. A lot of this time was spent either in the cab or in the break room at the shipper. Henry had hoped we would be able to get loaded a little early, but unfortunately, we were not able to. However, we were loaded up at our scheduled time, so I guess there is nothing wrong with that! I imagine there are many times truckers are having to wait past their scheduled load times due to delays at the shipper or receiver.
We also had to wait quite a bit going through downtown Dallas and Austin due to traffic. Henry told me before we made it into Texas that there is never a good time to drive through Dallas and Austin because there is always traffic. Even with Henry letting me know about this, it was still surprising that Dallas had traffic at 11:30 p.m. Luckily the traffic wasn’t as bad as it could’ve been if we were attempting to get through downtown during rush hour. As a trucker, the chances of you going through multiple major cities a day is significant, which means your patience will be tested frequently.
Even though the amount of time we had to wait during these three days was relatively mild, I was able to imagine how much truckers have to wait on a day-by-day basis and how much patience is required.
I learned about the difficulty of parking
During my time on the road, there were two situations that I got to see the difficulty that comes with parking. The first scenario came when Henry decided to reserve a parking spot at the TA Petro in Hillsboro, Texas. He knew that we wouldn’t get into Hillsboro until around 12:00 a.m. and by that time all of the spots could be taken up. So on this occasion, he reserved a spot ahead of time.
Unfortunately, when we showed up there was still plenty of free parking available. I understand the safety in spending the money to guarantee a spot and not risking going over the on-duty time looking for one. However, I can see where truckers would get frustrated if they spend money on a reserved spot when open spots are available. I can imagine the little gamble a trucker goes through each day when deciding whether to reserve a spot or banking on one still being available.
The second scenario came on my last day in the truck when Henry needed to drop me off near downtown San Antonio in order for me to get to the airport. It took some planning in advance to decide where Henry was going to be able to park and drop me off. Henry was not going to be able to drop me off right next to the airport because maneuvering was going to be too difficult. We decided on a drop-off spot about 20 miles south of the airport in an area that Henry was familiar with. Even though he was familiar, it was still a challenge finding a place that was truck accessible. Through this scenario, I learned that truckers aren’t always able to pull off wherever they want like the driver of a car can. I see the planning a trucker has to go through even when finding a place to park for a short period of time.
I learned about how to run your own authority successfully
Through the many conversations I had with Henry, the one that really stood out was our conversation about what it takes to run your own authority. Henry has run his own successful authority for over 20 years. The three things that he said were most important were acquiring customers, understanding freight rates, and being different.
First, we talked about acquiring customers. Henry let me know the difference between getting loads through a load board and actually having your own customers that you are hauling for consistently. Henry said that the first step in acquiring customers is giving them a deal in price or time of delivery the first couple of times you haul freight for them. Once you have given the shipper a deal, you have to provide over-the-top service to the receiver. The service that you provide should be so good that they start asking the shipper specifically for you to deliver their freight. Once the receiver has asked about your services, you have the power to negotiate.
Next, we talked about freight rates. Henry told me that in order to be successful you need to look at the total trip and not just one way. This means that it is okay to take a load that you just breakeven on if the load that got you there, or the one you will return with, will make you good money. He said it was better to take a load that breaks even than to turn down a load while waiting for “good” loads. Any time you are not running, you are losing money.
Henry also said that it’s important to understand that freight rates are controlled by supply and demand and not operating costs. This means that the rates of 10 loads that one person wants are going to be a lot better than the rate of one load that 10 people want. I thought that was a good thing to keep in mind and it made me realize how owner-operators constantly need to be thinking like business owners.
Lastly, we talked about being different. Being different allows you to separate yourself from the competition and be somebody your clients always go back to. What Henry does to be different is simply wear a tie. This way he looks presentable to his clients and people trust him with whatever he is hauling for them. It really only takes something that simple to separate yourself from the others.
I learned about how advanced trucks are becoming
Henry drives a 2018 Freightliner AeroX 72” RR Sleeper Cab. It had a lot of the new technology that has increased the safety and efficiency of driving a truck. Henry has been in the trucking industry for over 30 years and has driven many trucks with varying degrees of technology. A few of the features that really stood out was the adaptive cruise control, the radar system, and the lane departure warning system.
Henry is able to set the adaptive cruise control to a certain speed with parameters for how much faster or slower than that speed the truck can go. The truck has a GPS that works with the adaptive cruise control so that it can plan it’s route rather than just react. For example, the truck doesn’t just react, and speed up, when going up a hill. Rather, it is able to see that a hill is coming and plan how to get up and over the hill with the best fuel efficiency. This usually involves speeding up the truck a bit early and putting the engine in “neutral” once it knows it can make it over the hill and down the other side.
The two other features that really stood out was the radar system and the lane departure warning system. The radar system is able to track the vehicle in front of the truck and let Henry know how far away the vehicle is and how fast it is going. The lane departure warning system is similar to rumble strips on the road. Every time the truck was starting to go out of the lane it was in, the lane assist would make a beeping noise to warn Henry.
It was amazing to see how the technology worked together in the truck and imagine where advancements could take it in the future. Even though the technology in the truck may make it easier to drive, you still have to understand the features and how to use them to your advantage.
I learned that trucking is hard work
Above all, I left the truck with so much gratitude for what truckers do. Simply put, trucking is hard work. Being on the road by yourself, away from family, driving every day, and having to put up with the stress of trucking would not be easy. Because I was on the road for only a few days, I didn’t really feel all of those struggles that truckers have to go through. However, I was able to imagine what it would feel like if you were on the road during the majority of the year.
Even though I imagined how hard trucking would be, I also imagined how exciting it could be. If you are in a role that you love, traveling places you enjoy going, staying on a schedule that works best for you, and making good money from it, the hard work would be worth it. I can also imagine the thrill of starting as a company driver, eventually starting your own company and finally having a goal of owning your own fleet. Working toward a goal like that would make getting on the road every day a little bit better.
I did learn how hard trucking can be but I also learned how truckers can make the hard work feel a little bit better.
I’m going to remember all of the things I learned while on my trip and keep them in mind so that I can apply it to my work at ATBS. This trip has allowed me to become more knowledgeable about the trucking industry and will hopefully allow me to connect better with truckers through email, social media, and our website. I want to thank Henry for allowing me to be on the truck with him for a few days and maybe one day I will have the opportunity to do it again.