When we pulled into the Bordentown Petro, Wes and I were anxious for dinner. The buffet had just been replenished, and everything looked good.
In line was a driver balancing his skillet in one hand and holding his young son, dressed in pajamas, in the other arm. His wife and older son stood behind him holding their cast iron plates. After we filled ours, Wes sat down with a grin on his face.
“That brings back memories of my boys and the times we spent in the truck together. They spent hours jumping on the bunk laughing their heads off. I laughed a lot, too. It seems like all they talked about was farting,” he said with a chuckle.
Being a divorced father of two young kids and trying to get miles in can be tricky business. Wes often combined the two. Over dinner, he told me about a time when he was driving a cabover Kenworth hauling third-class mail. His son Jess was about 11, making Garrett 6. They were out of school for a few days, so he brought them along.
Off one of the main roads on his run was a go-cart track. The boys didn’t have to twist his arm to stop. He was already pulling over before they even asked.
It had started to rain, so the place was empty. They had the wet track to themselves, and they chased each other around the mini-highway, spinning and fishtailing.
Whether it was a go-cart track or a chicken farm, if he thought the boys would enjoy it, Wes made it a part of the truck driving experience. Garrett once told me that as a kid he always thought of his dad’s truck as a home on wheels.
Most of the time, truck driving is thought of as a job that takes you away from home and family. Yet often, truckers talk about bringing one relative or another along with them in their cab. Or they’ll drive a loved one across the country to visit another family member. Many times, I have watched a car pull up to a parked cab. Minutes later, someone climbs out the passenger side of the 18 wheeler and hops into the four wheeler. This kind of truckstop family reunion happens every day.
Wes has taken me home to my oldest son and his two daughters, as well as my sisters and their families, more times in the past year than I have been in the last 10. Dispatch Qualcomms him on Friday mornings. They ask if he wants to see relatives over the weekend, and if so there is a Victor, N.Y., load ready to go. (Most of my family lives in Rochester.)
First thing Saturday morning, the cell phone rings, and a head count is taken for breakfast. When Wes pulls the cab into Denny’s, the table for 10-plus is already set. The young ones beg to sit next to him. Tia, all of 8 years old, always asks if she can drive the truck after breakfast. Nick, her brother, wants to toot the horn again and again. Joanna and C.J. just want to see how much food they can get on the floor before Wes pays the bill.
The road doesn’t always take you away from home; it often brings you there.
When we were about to leave Bordentown, Wes had a chance to talk to the father of the two boys. They had just come down from Bangor, Maine. The boys were on vacation from school, and they had a whole week together in the truck ahead of them.
The father said it wasn’t like making a usual run – a lot more stops needed to be made. Wes commiserated with him, explaining that I had been with him for most of last week. They both had a good laugh and said they would never choose another line of work.
“Truck driving isn’t a career; it’s a lifestyle,” Wes always says. It is a family way of living.
Susan Dyer, a freelance writer for more than 20 years, has been sharing the cab and the open road for a year now with her partner Wes Schilling – an owner-operator for more than 25 years.