Team driving can give you higher pay, better loads, greater opportunities and lower stress. You get to spend more time with your significant other or a good companion while making money and seeing remote places together.
At the same time, a team operation requires more than just driving while someone else sleeps. You must be willing to make the best of a relationship with your co-driver, especially if you’re dating or married to that person – a task that can be overwhelming given the long stretches of time together in tight spaces. Still, those conditions can work in your favor.
“Driving team with your spouse, you don’t have to worry about having to come home, and you’re there to comfort each other when something goes wrong,” says Jeff Mikel, who has been driving team since 1994 with his wife Fern, who was tired of her office job and wanted to do something different. “We get to spend more time together, and we get to go to more places together,” he says.
Eric Rittenberg agrees that the tourist aspect is a key benefit to driving team. “If you have downtime, you can go sightseeing with your partner, and you get to see quite a bit of the country that way,” says Rittenberg, who has been married to his wife Dolores for 32 years. “One day she said she would come with me, and she has not left – and that was 12 years ago.”
Kevin McKelvy, vice president of recruiting for Contract Freighters out of Joplin, Mo., has seen the difference that having someone in the truck makes. “We find that some drivers have an emptiness and a social need, and one way to fill that void is to have a significant other in the truck with you,” McKelvy says. “Driving team certainly solves many of the social problems of driving a truck.”
It also creates potential social problems.
“It gets kind of crowded with two people in there, and we stay out three or four months at a time, so we have to carry a lot of extra stuff with us,” says Jim Edge, who drives a company truck for CFI with his wife of 36 years, Shirley. “You have to have a good relationship and a good sense of humor,” Shirley says.
“Be understanding, not selfish, with your co-driver,” advises Rittenberg. “And you can’t let romance fall out just because you’re working; you still have to buy flowers, cards and little presents. You’re more than a co-driver, you’re also friends.”
“Make sure you’re compatible in small spaces,” says Candy Garner, who drove team before she married her team partner Steven in 1984. They haul produce and nursery stock around the Midwest states under their own authority. “We’re more compatible on the road than at home. My folks were very concerned that we hadn’t known each other long enough when we decided to get married after six months, but when you spend 24-7 with that person in such a small area, you quickly find out the good and the bad points.”
“The hardest part is being able to get along with the person no matter what the circumstance,” says Steven Garner. His advice to test compatibility: “Get in a camper – a very small camper – and live in it for seven days,” he says. “Only leave to go to the bathroom or to shower. See how you feel after seven days.”
Even the most compatible people tend to get on each other’s nerves eventually. “After about six weeks of being on the road together, it seems like we can’t agree on anything, and that’s when we know it’s time to head home,” Mikel says.
“Sometimes you have to make some sacrifices,” says Ken Brown, who is part of a CRST company team with Mike Homfeld. “You have to give and take. You can’t have everything your way.” But Brown and Homfeld have found a way to dissolve their differences of opinion. “We let the driver make the ultimate decision,” Homfeld says.
The hardest part, but probably the most important part, about disagreements between team drivers is not letting your anger get in the way of your job. “You have to face your problems since there’s no door to slam when you’re mad. It’s not like you can just stop and get out; you have a job to do,” Candy Garner says. “Sometimes I just hold my breath, and other times I just stay quiet until we can talk about our problem without screaming.”
“It’s hard when you have major disagreements,” Mikel says. “I just go to bed and let her drive. And when I wake up, I am usually over it. For most disagreements you just have to let it go and try to forget who’s right or wrong.”
Personality clashes can be much more common when the two people don’t know each other well.
“My first co-driver was awful,” Brown says. “He was a racist, and he hated women.”
“It’s miserable driving with a stranger,” Candy Garner says. “You don’t know their likes or dislikes or the way he drives. You have to be very guarded in what you say in case he takes it the wrong way.”
“You don’t know that person’s hygiene habits, religious beliefs,” says Steven Garner. “I don’t know how strangers can drive team.”
Apart from personality compatibility, compromises are often required on how to use a sleeper’s limited space.
“Our truck is packed; I have a lot of stuff,” Homfeld says. “That’s my thing. I collect stuff.”
“That was one of the first things I had to get used to,” Brown says about team driver Homfeld and his collection. “But we create space for each other, keep it pretty organized and clean up regularly,” Homfeld says.
Mikel’s advice for dealing with extra stuff in tight living quarters: “Own your own trailer, and you can stack up the extra stuff in there,” he says. “When it gets full, we know it’s time to go home.”
Still, for all its potential to create uncomfortable situations, team driving offers a lot of social support when it works.
“I think it’s easier to drive team than driving single,” says Candy Garner. “You have someone there who knows what you’re going through. You have a partner to vent with.”
“It’s nice having someone to talk to,” says Brown. “And Mike’s way more talkative than I am, so we end up talking to a lot of nice people on the road, and I’ve gotten really close to his family.”
Diana Alkire was trained by her husband Edwin, a 35-year trucking veteran. On the occasions when she joins her husband, who hauls food products for Grand Traverse Trucking out of Traverse City, Mich., she’s noticed a side benefit. “If I go into dock, we sometimes get in there faster because they remember me,” Diana Alkire says. “My husband’s just another guy to them.”
“Because we share driving responsibilities, he’ll help with the housework,” says Mary Schapmann, who has been running team with her boyfriend Barry Eckstrom for about three years. “It’s a lot easier to do when you work together.” Team driving has its ups and downs, says Schapmann, “but I can’t imagine not being together 24-7.”
“There’s no real downside,” Rittenberg says. “I love being with my wife all the time.”
Team driving isn’t for every couple. But for those who can handle the compatibility issues, it’s an ideal way to turn long, lonely rides into memorable miles.
“You can go sightseeing with your partner, and you get to see quite a bit of the country that way.”
– Eric Rittenberg with wife Dolores
HIGH MILES, GOOD PAY, BETTER FREIGHT
“We love teams,” says Mike Norder, Schneider National spokesperson. “That is one of our fastest growing business segments.” Of Schneider’s 800 teams, about 250 are owner-operators.
Schneider is hardly alone. In the many markets where delivery speed counts for almost everything, team operations are the most efficient way to keep a truck’s wheels turning. And the benefits to the shipper and the carrier pass through to the team drivers in terms of compensation and favored freight.
“You get better pay for running team,” says team driver Jeff Mikel, who hauls mostly government munitions for Landstar and is usually out for four to six weeks at a time. “And usually your freight is a lot lighter because it has to be somewhere fast, so you can end up getting paid for a full load even if it’s just two boxes.”
Contract Freighters of Joplin, Mo., has about 250 teams – about 40 percent of them owner-operator. CFI is always looking for teams, says Kevin McKelvy, vice president of recruiting. “Our customers are driving the need for us to add more teams because they’re not holding the inventory they used to,” he says. “They need the freight in a shorter time, and to keep the product moving requires more than one driver.”
Federal hours-of-service regulations allow a team up to 140 hours of active duty in eight consecutive days. A solo driver is limited to 70 hours in eight days.
CRST, out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, has approximately 70 owner-operator teams, with about 40 percent of those husband-and-wife teams. “For us, teams have created a niche in the industry because most of our freight is time-sensitive,” says Randy Scheel, director of driver development.
Better pay and better loads are key advantages of team driving, especially with just-in-time or expedited freight – which often pays better anyway. “The money is excellent because you can keep going,” says Eric Rittenberg, who hauls expedited for FedEx Custom Critical. “You can do three or four loads a day.”
And it’s not just the higher revenue, says Norder at Schneider: “The freight is typically better in the sense that 98 percent of it is no-touch or drop-and-hook.”
“You sometimes tend to get a better load, especially if you’re a good team, and you have a history of getting there on time,” says team driver Diana Alkire.
CFI’s priority teams, which have committed to 20,000 or more miles a month, get priority dispatch and a 4 cent per mile bonus. “Since CFI is an ISO 9000 certified motor carrier, we give our teams the opportunity to haul higher quality product than some of our competitors,” McKelvy says. “It’s not difficult to find people who can haul canned goods, but computer companies that are also certified want a certified motor carrier, and that pays more.”
SLEEPLESS IN THE SLEEPER
Getting comfortable with a team driver can be hard when you’re awake, but it’s a different challenge altogether when you’re trying to take your rest hours in a moving truck.
“It takes a while to trust the other person driving because everyone drives differently,” says Candy Garner, who drives team with her husband Steven. “If you can’t sleep while the other person is driving, you’re not going to get any rest, and you’ll always be tired.”
“I still don’t get really comfortable, but the trucks have gotten better,” Steven Garner says. “I can catnap, but I get little undisturbed sleep. It’s not that I don’t trust her driving – it’s the roads.” Every few days the Garners will stop and have a period of deep, undisturbed sleep.
“It just goes back to respecting that person,” says Mike Homfeld, who drives with Ken Brown as a CRST company team. “Don’t hit the brakes hard or slam the doors. Slamming doors may seem like a small thing, but it’s important.”
Even if noises, a bumpy road or rough driving don’t disturb your sleep, the schedule probably will. “When I get back in the truck after being at home for a while, the first few nights are rough,” says Diana Alkire, who has been driving team with her husband Edwin since 1985. “But after a few days, it’s not hard to get back into the grind.” They usually work in five-hour shifts.
While team driving may contribute to a fatigue problem, it also supplies a solution. If you are tired, you can hand off the wheel to your co-driver, granted he or she has some hours left.
“In our case, Dolores does most of the night driving, and we try to work in 8-hour shifts,” says Eric Rittenberg, who has been hauling expedited for FedEx Custom Critical for 12 years. “But it depends on who has hours and who is feeling up to the task.”
Randy Scheel, director of driver development for CRST, says there are safety advantages to having someone else in the truck. “If one driver is tired, there’s always a backup,” Scheel says. “They always have a ground guide in a backing situation, and the co-driver can be a second set of eyes.”
“Safety is paramount at CRST, so if you tell your dispatcher that you’re tired, they understand, as long as it doesn’t happen all the time,” Homfeld says. “I would sure hate to drive my best friend off the road.”