Musical Trucks

| April 07, 2005

Keeping the amount of ‘stuff’ that you have to transfer to your new ride to a minimum can make slip seating bearable – and save you an aching back and lost time.

Why do so many truck drivers dislike having to switch trucks? Is it because they love their old steed so much that they experience a deep sense of loss when they have to leave it behind? Maybe. But even drivers who go to a thoroughbred from a bobtail nag sometimes voice their displeasure in no uncertain terms. And many over-the-road outfits that require their drivers to slip-seat soon discover the drivers often prefer to go to work for someone else.

Kevin Rought, a J.B. Hunt driver, puts it this way: “I wouldn’t work for J.B. if I had to slip-seat. I’ve gotten into trucks that were pigpens, and I’ve gotten into trucks that had plenty of mechanical problems left over from the last guy. His problems became my problems.”

J.B. Hunt has a variety of programs to accommodate drivers who don’t want to slip-seat, according to Dallas James, an ex-driver who is now the company’s director of recruiting. “Our drivers stay out at least two weeks and get two days off for every seven days out. If they don’t want to give up their truck, they can take two of those four days off and bank the other two days up to 30 days total,” James says. “We also have a variety of other ways a driver can keep his truck and even take it home, depending on where he lives.”

While Rought expresses a common attitude, it is about routine slip-seating rather than having to switch trucks once. The root of the problem may lie in the fact that a truck becomes a home rather quickly for the OTR driver. He packs everything he needs for his long stint when he leaves, and when he comes home, he leaves nearly everything but his wash in the truck. Having to unpack and repack every time he parks the truck at the house is a waste of precious time and a big hassle for most drivers (though this attitude is often softened if he is getting a newer truck).

On top of the hassle of moving, if a truck has been inhabited by someone with a distinct lack of concern for his personal hygiene or for the mechanical condition of the truck, the new driver is faced with the choice of having to put up with someone else’s dirt or cleaning it. Being surprised at the terminal by your boss’s request that you take Pigpen’s truck for a couple of weeks, you may decide to find another job, a job where you will not be put in that position. At J.B. Hunt, trucks are cleaned inside and out and disinfected before another driver gets into them. “We work hard to make sure our trucks are ready for another driver who is switching out,” says James.

If you don’t want to switch jobs to avoid switching trucks, you may need to find yourself some disinfectant or air freshener. And you will want to talk to the mechanic whose job it is to keep the trucks road-ready. A more-than-thorough pretrip in this situation can save headaches down the road. In this spot, no one should rush you into taking the truck.
Keep this in mind: the DOT has regulations about accepting responsibility for a truck if it is not roadworthy.

One problem shared by everyone getting into a truck for the first time is unfamiliarity with that unit. Smaller companies in particular have a habit of giving a driver his truck without mentioning that it has a turnaround transmission or that the fuel gauge reads half a tank high. All of this might be solved by a little spin around the block with the boss or a mechanic and the asking of a few pointed questions: When was this truck’s last preventive maintenance? Can I get an extra fuel filter? What kind of oil and antifreeze does this truck use?

But more than likely you will have to figure most of this out for yourself, so it is important to be watchful until you learn the quirks of your new ride. Stick your tanks until you figure out whether the fuel gauge is accurate, and don’t run through the gears like Mario Andretti until you know the shift pattern. Checking the brake lining for wear is a very good idea, and hooking and unhooking a trailer to verify the landing gear and fifth wheel mechanism are in good order could save future headaches. Check the hub oil, and find out whether your new unit has self-adjusting brakes. Pump the brakes down to verify the warning buzzer comes on, and make sure the truck maintains air pressure with a brake check. Check the oil and water. In other words, do everything you should always do but don’t when you get into your truck.

If you know you might have to switch trucks, a little organization can go a long way in making your move easier. Knowing how long you will be out and packing accordingly can cut down on the amount of gear you need. Your personal preferences regarding when you do laundry and how often you like to change your shirt will also dictate how much you take along. You will be much better off if you can get away with a bedroll, one personal bag and a briefcase for paperwork. As Matt Watson, a driver for the Mickow Corp., remarks, “It’s all the little stuff, the food and the paperwork stuffed in the drawers, that’s hard to move. I use grocery bags.” While grocery bags may work, staying organized and doing laundry more often makes switching trucks much less painful.

Kevin Rought says he wouldn’t stay with J.B. Hunt if he had to slip-seat.

Team drivers have it twice as tough. They have to move twice as much personal gear as the single driver, making it doubly important to stay organized. Keeping personal gear separated in the truck means quicker and easier organization when moving into the new ride. Even for the single driver, it is easier to move two or three smaller bags than one huge duffel bag. Crawling in and out of trucks with a large duffel is awkward and can be dangerous. The stress of moving can easily cause you to forget the three-point exit or miss your footing.

Paperwork is a problem for Watson. “I have so much paperwork that if I don’t keep it all in one place, I can’t find anything when I need it, let alone have to move it.” Having two folders, one for paperwork that needs to be mailed in and one for blank bills, etc., may help you stay organized and ready to move if necessary. A radio that is not permanently installed and a quick-release antenna can also save a lot of time. This helps even if you don’t switch trucks because you can take your radio out of the truck when you park it for the weekend. A bedroll rather than separate sheets and blankets can save time and aggravation, though you may prefer the comfort of more permanent sleeping arrangements. You may want to have a stuff bag along in case your bed can’t be rolled.

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