Career Options

| April 07, 2005

For a while, John and Cindy Cegalis each drove trucks of their own. Then, when Cindy wanted a new truck, she sold her old truck to John. Two years later they married and continued to drive separately. Now John runs heavy haul for DDS in Baltimore, Md., and Cindy stays home on their horse farm in western Pennsylvania. Inside their big, beautiful log home John and Cindy spend plenty of time together. “We have a very balanced life,” Cindy says.

John drives about 50,000 miles a year in his 379 Pete, pulling his own three-axle stretch drop complete with a stinger and two axles. He makes enough money to have plenty of home time. “I’ve been home over a month,” John says. “I just turned down a load because it was too short to make us any real money.”

An ideal situation, you might think, unreachable for the fleet driver who doesn’t want to spend the two years or so it takes to learn how to haul the truly big stuff. But these days the top-end fleets are offering plenty of deals to keep their drivers happy. It is no longer necessary to own your truck to be able to structure a lifestyle you enjoy and are able to afford.

Consider the deal Celadon in Indianapolis is offering. “To smooth out the revenue stream of our irregular route drivers and give them quality home time, we are offering a week off with a $1,000 paycheck after 30,000 miles,” says Ron Betz, vice president of Celadon. Such deals are becoming more common. At Roehl Transport in Iron Mountain, Mich., home time programs range from a typical 11 days on, three days off to seven on, seven off. For those who don’t like routine, deals like this are a real alternative to the dedicated run that gets them home every day or two or every week at the same time. “I never wanted a dedicated route,” says Betz, who is also an ex-driver. “I was one of those guys who didn’t want to know where I was going to be tomorrow.”

Consider Schneider’s Home Run program in which three drivers share two trucks over the year and CRST’s team program in which teams are out 20 days and home 10, sharing the truck with another team.

Celadon offers both longhaul and regional dedicated runs. “Regional dedicated drivers get home every night or every other night,” Betz says. “They earn a few cents less per mile than the longhaul guys, but they don’t have the road expenses the longhaul guy has. So they pretty much have the same amount of spendable income when their run is over.”

The dedicated longhaul driver earns as much as the irregular route driver and can make plans at home because his schedule remains constant. Betz adds, “Another advantage of the dedicated run is that the driver is getting the same amount in his paycheck every week.”

At Roehl, a variety of dedicated and irregular route fleets provide what Bob Rader, the company’s executive vice president, calls “multiple career options.” “Carriers need to recognize different lifestyles to keep drivers,” Rader says. “Our turnover is in the low 70 percent range while the ATA is reporting industry-wide turnover of 119 percent. The ‘Life Outside the Truck Concept’ we promote has helped us retain drivers.”

Rader says Roehl keeps its drivers busy. The drivers in the seven/seven fleet are averaging between 2,900 and 3,000 miles per week. Van drivers are making 34 cents per mile and flat drivers 36 cents per mile in the seven/seven, seven/four and seven/three fleets, and drivers in the seven/seven fleet can earn an extra $30 to $40 per day as trainers. Given these options, it is easy for drivers to structure their income and still have quality home time.

In addition to considerations of distance from a terminal to home, many drivers object to slip-seating. In the seven/seven fleet, two drivers share one truck. But the drivers know each other, and the truck remains with those two drivers only, Rader says. In the seven/four and seven/three fleets, three drivers share two trucks. If a driver is dead set against slip-seating – even the modified slip-seating offered by some lifestyle fleets – he has many fewer options.

It must be noted that dedicated freight comes and goes. Betz says dedicated loads are bid on bulk miles and can sometimes be underbid by another company. Also, freight contracts expire and dedicated runs can disappear. Other types of lifestyle runs are not subject to this. Fleets running seven/seven, etc., are still irregular route fleets, and drivers have the luxury of running free and not knowing where they will be every minute of the day. The loss of one freight contract will not change their lifestyle like it would that of a dedicated driver.

For many, the coast-to-coast turn hauling produce holds the appeal of plenty of miles and money. But this kind of drive often means little home time. Sarab Sarong Singh and Jatinder Singh haul produce out of the San Joaquin Valley in central California to the East Coast. They do a turn a week and take a day off before starting again. Each has his reasons for undertaking the grueling schedule of a coast-to-coast driver.

Jatinder Singh owns six trucks along with the one he drives. He supports three children with his salary and income from the other six trucks. “I have a large house and a big mortgage,” Jatinder Singh says. “I have to drive a lot now. But I plan to get off the road when I have enough money.” Jatinder Singh, who was the first American Sikh to drive for JB Hunt, says the trucking lifestyle is hard, but he is willing to do it to pay off his house and maintain his family.

Coast-to-coast turns are neither irregular routes nor dedicated routes but a mixture of the two. Jatinder and Sarab Sarong have neither flexible home time nor the adventure of the unexpected. What they have are lives that are almost entirely lived in their truck. “This is not a career choice for me,” says Sarab Sarong. “I have an import-export business I am trying to start that will give work to single mothers in India. The money I make here goes into that effort.”

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