Commercial Truck Driving Career: Is it for You?
One Career Ends and a New One Begins
As many of my readers know, I'm a retired police officer turned actor and writer. Acting and writing were not two careers I had planned on, but fate, and more importantly, God, made my second career choices for me. You see, my life was law enforcement, where I spent 28 years, but several heart attacks, along with other circumstances, caused me to take my money out of the retirement fund, and look for a less stressful job at the age of 50.
In 2004, my family and I moved from Mississippi to Tennessee, where I decided to get my commercial license and begin a truck driving career. I was unaware at the time that trucking was also a very stressful and demanding job, but I took on the challenge with determination, and the realization I could see many parts of the United States I had never seen before. But I had another obstacle in store first; obtaining a commercial driver's license.
Steps to Becoming a Commercial Truck Driver
The process of obtaining a commercial driver's license (CDL) will eliminate many people from becoming a truck driver. Listed below are four major hurdles I had to clear to get my CDL.
Have a high school diploma or get your GED.
- There is no actual requirement in most cases that you must have one of these, but even if you receive your CDL, most employers require you to have the diploma or GED.
Have a good driving record.
- Moving violations lessen your chances of getting hired by many companies, and having prior DUI convictions and drug-related offenses will almost definitely narrow the playing field.
Obtain a Commercial Driver's License.
- Even though there are federal guidelines for CDL requirements, every state has its own qualifications, so you should find out what your state requires. Another qualification is passing a written exam about laws and equipment and being able to conduct a pre-trip vehicle inspection, and of course, pass an actual hands-on driving test. In most cases, would-be drivers should take a state-certified driving course to be able to pass these exams.
Pass the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation (FMCSR) exam.
- The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulation exam consists of a written test, and a medical examination, which includes hearing and sight tests, plus drug screenings. You'll need to take and pass the physical once every two years after that.
The Next Step
Many trucking companies are looking for drivers with a least two years of driving experience, and since I had none, I was placed with a trainer for a period of time. These trainers allow you to get hands-on experience while they instruct you and complete an evaluation of your skills. This is just another test you must pass to obtain employment.
Once this orientation is complete, you are ready to venture into your new career, but there are still many hurdles.
The Start of a Cross Country Journey
Staying away from home and family adds to the stress of the job, as most truck drivers would agree. An example of being on the road for an extended period of time is showcased with one of my trips.
In the summer of 2004, I picked up a load in Memphis, Tennessee and carried it to Richmond Virginia, where I had a short layover. I then picked up a load and transported it to Newark, New Jersey, where I dropped it and once again picked up another load and headed west, with stops necessary to fall within the guidelines of commercial trucking laws. On my next leg of this journey, I took a load from New Jersey to Salina, Kansas, where I had another short layover. At this point, I picked up a load of car batteries there and headed for Sacramento, California. This was the most exciting, but stressful part of my trip, for I had never crossed the Rocky Mountains, and definitely not in a semi, fully loaded.
I saw some beautiful country in Colorado and Wyoming and got my first view of the Great Salt Lake in Utah, as well as the Bonneville Salt Flats in the desert there. Next, my excursion took me along I-80 through majestic Nevada to the California State Line at Donner Pass. Now it was time to put on my big britches and cross the pass.
It was early June, but there was still some snow in areas on each side of I-80, and the road grade had begun to change dramatically. I nervously descended into the lower elevations of eastern California, and again descended further down toward Sacramento. It was like two different worlds.
After dropping my load of batteries, and spending the night in Sacramento, I was off again, headed south to Salinas, California, where I picked up a load of wine and headed toward Los Angeles along scenic Highway 101, which runs along the coast of the Pacific Ocean. This was another amazing sight I'd never seen. At this point I was approximately 1,800 miles from my home in Somerville, Tennessee, that is if I was routed back along the I-40 and US-84 W route, but that wasn't the case.
California to Texas
After a layover in Los Angeles, I took another load to Phoenix, Arizona and proceeded north with a new load to Flagstaff, and across to Alberqurqe, New Mexico, where I dropped the load at a Coco-Cola warehouse, and proceeded south with more cargo, going to El Paso, Texas. At El Paso, I picked up my last load, which went to Memphis, Tennessee. I went home from there and had a day and a half off with my family before I was sent out again.
Health Ends Truck Driving Career
My entire trip took two weeks and covered approximately 6,345+ miles. I was still tired when I started my next runs and stayed that way until my health finally caught up with me again later in the summer in Winter Haven, Florida, where I transported a load of bottled water as Hurricane Frances had just left devastation there. I had a heart attack unloading the water and was transported to a Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center in Lakeland, Florida. I was stented there and was flown home. This ended my truck driving career, due to the fact I could no longer pass the medical physical. I had only driven for six months.
After some time back home, I began writing and acting and that is what I'm doing now through the Grace of God. So, If you are young, and want to take on the challenge of driving a semi, I say, "go for it," but if you are older with medical problems and a close bond to your family, you might choose another profession; maybe writing and acting.
© 2019 Gerry Glenn Jones