Surf and Turf
“I knew what I had to do; I had to release the mainsail. But I just sat there; I was too scared to do anything. My heart stopped. I knew it took a lot to sink these boats, but if you capsized one, that would do it. She eventually came back upright, but I just sat at the tiller for 45 minutes not moving. I couldn’t get over being that terrified.”
Ruch got the boat to her slip. But he didn’t take her out again for more than three weeks.
Ruch left the U.S. Air Force after 10 years in a uniform, mostly as a navigator for C130 transports, the last four years in Birmingham, Ala. When he went back to Tacoma he started looking for work that would satisfy the uncertainty he felt being back in civilian life.
Today it’s waterfowl, but when he relaxes on deck, Ruch might just as easily be watching seals or otters play in his Puget Sound backyard.
“I’d been in a fairly independent job in the Air Force, with no one looking over my shoulder all the time. But for my last four years in Birmingham half of my time was paperwork, and I hated that. I was grinding my teeth every minute doing that stuff. I thought driving a truck would be for me, and I decided to give it six months to see if it suited me, and it did.”
He began his OTR career in January of 1992 driving for Schneider. His home was at his mom’s, until he moved onto his current boat in April of 1998.
“People either love living on a boat or hate it. For me, it’s the only place; I love it,” he says.
Eight years ago Ruch decided he would buy his own truck and run as an owner-operator. It took him two years of researching owner-operator life to buy the Freightliner FLD with a Detroit 400. Now he hauls “anything” in a dry box for Crete.
“I figured out I would buy a used truck, look after it and pay it off, and then I could take more time off and do more sailing. I went to Crete Carriers, bought a used truck and paid it off in three years. After I paid it off, I went three weeks out, then two weeks off, and I spend Thanksgiving to April 1 off the road living on board my boat. In summer I need to run hard and earn. I’ve driven through snow and ice and had busted chains and so on. I can do it, but I don’t have to.”
Ruch said a full two years of planning and talking endlessly to owner-operators at truckstops went into his move to owner-operator. “It takes time because one owner-operator will tell you something and up at the next truckstop another one will tell you the exact opposite. I’d buy some of them dinner just so I could sit with them and ask every question I could think of. I put a lot of time into studying it. I wanted to work it all out before I bought. I didn’t want to just buy because it sounded like a good idea.”
Then Ruch made his choice. “In those two years the only two companies I never heard a single driver say a bad thing about was Crete and a company that pulled doubles. So I called Crete. I told them I wanted to be an owner-operator and they said, ‘Do you have a truck?’ When I said no, they said they wouldn’t take me on. They didn’t know me, and they didn’t want an owner-operator that was not familiar to them. I liked that. A lot of companies would have said, ‘Sure, come on over.’ I liked their standards. So I was a company driver for six months, then bought my truck.”
Ruch also had a little luck when he moved into the owner-operator ranks.
The former company driver of the Crete truck Ruch bought had gotten into it brand new and beautifully spec’d. He’d treated it extremely well and was planning to buy it when it came up for sale and become a Crete owner-operator. But before the deal could be done the man had to go into the hospital for major medical work, and Ruch stepped in and “bought it out from under him.”
“I didn’t know until later that I’d gotten a great deal because of his misfortune,” says Ruch.
Ruch, who drives the lower 48, has looked after the tractor as well as a tractor can be looked after. “I rarely idle if I can help it. Lifetime, on this tractor, my idle is under 20 percent. It has over a million miles on it, and the engine has never been rebuilt. I took it to the Detroit people last year to see if it needed any work. They took it apart and then just put it back together. It didn’t need anything.”
Ruch said his sailing style is a lot like his driving style. “I’m cautious. I like to have a good margin for error.”