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The search for a good truck: Inflation puts community college CDL program out of reach

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When Iowa-based Brad Carman trained in 1997 to get his CDL at Southeast Community College in Lincoln, Nebraska, he was in the first class of CDL instructor Lyle Gruntorad. A few years ago he was on a run with a load of Bridgestone tires and stopped at the Bosselman truck stop in Grand Island, Nebraska. He saw a group of Southeast trucks there and "went in to see who the instructor was," Carman said. "Sure enough," it was Gruntorad, who was with students, and it turned out nearing retirement. Carman "told him I was still driving, and that it had been a good career for me."

Southeast Community College training truckLyle Gruntorad (left) and Brad Carman with one of Southeast's training rigs in 1997

As memorable as the experience was, Carman added, it also brought him back to thoughts on his own training days. He remembers thinking then: "what a way to retire or go out, teaching the next generation." 

On Friday, Carman will be 56 and is "feeling a little old" himself these days, he joked with me this week. But importantly, he's making good on that old thought and Gruntorad's legacy in his life and career, currently working with staff and administrators at Iowa Western Community College to stand up a CDL program there.

Brad Carman holding his dogBrad Carman"When I saw that Iowa Western was starting a program, I wanted to be part of it" instantly, said Carman. Ideally, "I would like to make it as successful as the school that I had went to. I didn’t know anything about driving a truck when I started. I knew I liked to drive," generally speaking, though, "and my dad had driven for Greyhound for 28 years. But otherwise I didn’t know anything about it."

Community-college training programs have long been a refuge for new drivers with sometimes limited resources to invest in expensive training. The course at Southeast in 1997 was 10 weeks' worth of study. "I was down on my luck and completely broke," Carman said, yet his father, who'd investigated the course himself after he retired from Greyhound, "told me about the school and that it only cost $400 to go." 

Carman didn't believe it, yet he's still got the invoice to prove it.

invoice for CDL training from 1997$429.50, to be exact.He remembers a lot from those early forays into professional driving, including a head instructor at Southeast sharing the difficulties he'd experienced getting the program up and running. Carman is going through a few similar such difficulties now, namely securing equipment sufficient to truly get the program under way. 

Administrators ideally are looking for donated equipment -- one reason Carman reached out to me this week. Administrators had doubtless budgeted for equipment procurement, yet "with the recent inflation and the time that possibly went by" since that budgeting began, Carman said, "I think the numbers are a little out of reach with what was originally planned" in terms of outlay. It's a reality that certainly won't be lost on this audience, given what the last couple of years have done to pricing.

a parked white semi-truck and trailerThe good news for the program is that Panama Transfer donated this truck and trailer to the effort. The bad? It needs about $15,000 worth of kingpin and tire work to bring it up to compliance for on-road training -- it could well serve on the backing range, Carman said, yet the simulators the school's invested in just won't cut it for a quality program, of course, he knows.

Carman's kept emphasizing that there might well be another "company or someone else out there ... willing to help us, with a loaner, or a donation," or reasonable pricing on a DOT-compliant rig. "We just need to get the word out that we are looking for something. It doesn’t have to be anything fancy at all. Just something worn-out but able to pass a DOT inspection would work to get started with. It will be running empty, primarily."

If you're reading, and have ideas for Brad Carman, email him via this link. 

And join me in wishing him a happy early birthday. Here's hoping it's a good day Friday, Brad.  

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