If you ever have been passed by a Roadway truck, you might have noticed the big custom made wooden boxes that many of the company’s drivers carry to hold their radios, tape players and CBs, strapped conspicuously into the passenger seat. As Roadway drivers are generally home every night or every other night and have little to carry, these boxes make sense. Short-haul and slip-seat drivers need an easy way to manage their gear. A driver with this kind of job wants his own radios, and he wants a good looking, self-contained unit in which to carry them. Most drivers do not have this luxury and must deal with packing and unpacking constantly. As Bob Knoop, an independent driver who often fills in when a regular driver is unavailable remarked, “Just as I get familiar with where to store it all, it’s time to give the truck back to the regular driver.”
Whatever kind of driving you do, you are probably always looking for a better way to carry, store and manage your gear. What you take with you has a great deal to do with your comfort level on the road. If you are a long-haul driver, out for a week or a month, what you take with you can make the difference between a good trip and a very bad one. Howard Glass runs for a private carrier and has a regular route. He is never gone more than four days. For Howard, things are simple. His main concern is which books on tape to get from the library.
It is not as easy for most drivers as it is for Howard. Most drivers need to plan. You might say that managing your living and working space is as important as managing your time. If drivers are experts, they are certainly experts at time management. Taking space management seriously can only add to your efficiency and comfort. Of course, knowing the nature of the outfit you signed on with and how long you will be out has a direct bearing on what and how much you take. Some outfits let you take the truck home. This makes things so much easier that it is often used as an enticement to attract new drivers. Not having to take everything out of the truck at a terminal, take it home, then cart it back and arrange it all again is worth some cents per mile. If you have to do that, you will probably take less gear than you would like, and the likelihood of shortchanging yourself goes up.
You may be lucky enough to drive for a company like J.B.Hunt, where the larger terminals have a rack to which drivers can pull up when loading and unloading personal gear. Slip-seat drivers in Hunt’s operation make extensive use of this facility, according to Tom Sapp, corporate safety manager. Despite such aids, the hassles of packing and unpacking gear influences a driver’s decisions about what and how much to take. But drivers begin organizing their gear pretty much as every traveler does: Necessity is the mother of packing. Among necessities, clothing is first.
Many drivers like to shower every day, which means that if they are out for the typical 10 to 14 days, they will want to take clothes for at least a week and plan to do laundry about halfway through the trip. Others find that the demands of the job do not permit the luxury of daily showers, which make fewer clothes necessary. If a crease in your jeans and a new starched shirt every day is your style, you may want to invest in a hanging suit carrier. This will allow you to put each shirt and pair of jeans on a separate hanger, to be carry it into the shower. Long and thin, suit carriers are easily stored on a hook behind the passenger seat or in a closet if you have one in your sleeper. They maintain the condition of your clothes, and they are easy to take out of the truck when you get home. Some drivers have a set of clothes for the truck and simply leave them there, doing laundry on the road all the time. This is an option, although if you like that crease in your jeans, it is probably efficient to take everything home. There are few facilities for getting things ironed and pressed in truckstops.
As your time on the road progresses, it becomes more necessary to keep clean and used clothing separate. If you throw your jeans and shirt over your shoulder still on the hanger, you probably want to take a bag in that carries your shaving kit and other necessities. It is convenient to have a bag with more than one compartment so that used clothing can be stored separately.
If you like to work in work clothes and not worry about mussing up the crease in your jeans, a decent carry-on bag will probably be more your style. Of course, coveralls are an option, particularly if your wagon is a flat. However, storaging coveralls can be a problem, especially once they get dirty. The side box may be a good place for coveralls, rolled and slipped into a plastic bag and kept near the front where they can be grabbed before handling your cheater bar or straps. The problem with storing coveralls in the side box is that having to get out of the truck in rain or snow to put them on defeats the purpose of wearing them. You may have room under the seat for them.
Depending on the size of your sleeper, you may choose to unpack your clothing to store it. If you are driving something like a mid-roof FLD, there is adequate hanging space in the closets but not much drawer space. Consider the plight of owner-operator David Cramer, whose rig “Bed and Breakfast” is the size of a small apartment, with little drawer space. Cramer, who built his sleeper himself, has resorted to an outside closet box mounted on the rear of the sleeper. At any rate, many drivers will choose to keep the bulk of their clothing rolled and stored in the bag they bring from home. Some have a single set of clothes in a smaller bag they carry in with them so that they are ready for their next shower when the opportunity arises, and they do not have to take the time to pack in the short time that may be available. This smaller bag is also very useful because it keeps your old set of clothes separate from the clean ones. After that hurried shower, your used clothes can be put in the bag to take out to the truck. A laundry bag with used clothes can be kept out of the way in your side box, ready to grab when you get in the car to head for the house at the end of your tour.
This small carry-in bag can also be useful to carry radios, books, tapes, logs or any of the assorted paraphernalia you need to make the road livable. Even if you don’t slip seat, you may not want to leave your radio in the truck when you park it for your home time. Tapes and books are items that can also disappear out of notoriously easy-to-break-into tractors. And if you are like most drivers, your logbook needs work before you head back out. Putting all that stuff in the same place means keeping it organized at home for easy transportation back to your ride.
The passenger seat is probably the leaswt used space in any solo operation – unless you run for Roadway. It is a good place to store paperwork because it is accessible and does not get in the way of your movements in and out of the sleeper. Storing atlases, extra logs and all the paperwork you need on the floor between the seats will create frustration before it creates convenience. A strap around the back of the seat to hold a knapsack full of stuff you might have to grab at a moment’s notice may be just the ticket.
Perhaps the most difficult piece of baggage to handle is your bedroll. No matter what kind of operation you work for, you will probably need one. Pillows, blankets and sleeping bags are bulky and cumbersome to move. A bedroll with a shoulder strap is probably the best way to keep your hands free to deal with other items. Rolling out a bedroll on your mattress is much easier than unpacking sheets, covers and pillows, then repacking them to take home. Of course, the bed is the most important part of your sleeper, and you want it to look good. A bedroll well-made-up and cared for is just as neat as covers and sheets that have to be handled one at a time.
Winter carries another set of requirements because it is easy to bring wetness and dirt in on your clothes. The space you live and work in is so small that even the smallest amount of clutter or dirt can make it hard to live in. A boot scraper on your step can be a big help as can a wooden hanger for your jacket. Keeping a wet jacket away from paperwork and bedding is a real necessity in tight quarters.
No matter what the size of your horse, how long you are out, what kind of operation you run for, or the season of the year, the comfort level you want in your living space depends on how you move around in the cab and where you can put things so that they are available when you need them. Organization will be much easier if you think things out at home and settle on a routine way of packing that includes necessities first and adds luxuries as space allows. A sleeper the size of David Cramer’s “Bed & Breakfast” isn’t always necessary. Then again, odd situations like changing jobs may mean changing your packing habits. Or, you may simply find a hobby you want to pursue, like surfing the net. Howard Glass takes his laptop and is a regular contestant in short story contests, for example. Such changes mean rearranging how and what you pack. It is entirely possible to live well out there if you have the discipline and patience to plan. Even if you’ve been on the road for 20 years, there are probably some adjustments you can make that will add convenience and interest to your home away from home.