What It’s Like to Become a Big Rig Driver
No one is exempt from feeling the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people who had been in stable careers suddenly found themselves downsized and out of work. Becoming a truck driver became a safe, secure way to get into a stable career for many.
In considering trucking as a career, the first thing anyone needs to do is get their commercial driver’s license (CDL), which requires schooling and training. What does it take to become a certified driver? The following is the story of one of our drivers who found himself downsized from a career of 30 years. He couldn’t afford to retire, so he did some soul searching for what was next, and he landed on truck driving as a way of doing something different with stability.
The following is his story of taking his driver certification courses and getting his CDL before becoming a coast-to-coast driver at Hardy Brothers.
Once I decided to take on a new career as a truck driver, the big question was where to attend truck driving school and how much it would cost. I had limited money and limited time. I had one shot at doing this right or becoming a retail store greeter until retirement age.
At first, the easy choice seemed to be to take CDL lessons from a trucking company that would pay the tuition, but this was in return for a one-year commitment to driving for that company. The second options were either a private driving school or a community college school. That would get me the CDL, and I would be free to work for whatever company I desired, or rather, whatever company would desire me.
The private schools I researched had expensive tuitions that ranged from $3,000 – $5,000. The community college option would require about $2,000. What weighed heavily in my decision was I wanted to attend a school with a reputation so good that just having their name on my certificate would get me a job. Community College appeared to fit that bill, and that is the path I chose.
When I started taking the driver training course, I was surprised that we were driving trucks in the truck yard on the second day of classes. On day three, I was moving the behemoth on public roads. To learn to drive a car at 15 years old, I had to attend four weeks of classes before even getting to sit behind the steering wheel. And these CDL folk were trusting us students with big trucks after a couple of days?!?!
So, I was like, “Hey, look at me, I’m a truck driver!” But, oh how little I knew then. After that first day in the truck, where three students would alternate turns at the wheel, our poor truck driving skills with herky-jerky starts and stops, hitting potholes and curbs left us feeling as stiff and sore as if we had been in a wreck.
I crushed my fair share of traffic cones in the truck yard while learning to weave forward through obstacles. Straight-backing was no problem, as I had done that with tractors and small trailers on farms as a teenager. Offset backing was not that different from straight-backing; it was a matter of just moving the trailer over one lane. But backing a trailer around a corner? Such as turning the trailer 90 degrees backward to put it between two trucks already in place at a dock?…Now THAT was a new world altogether and was by far the most difficult part of earning a CDL.
For my official CDL test, the pressure was on. I had confidence, but still, my nerves were wacko. I made a few errors during the exam, but I passed the test the first time.
I often wonder about our instructors, who are veteran truck drivers. How do they not just throw up their hands and quit when seeing us amateurs unintentionally making a mockery of the driving profession? From what deep well of patience did they draw? I’m willing to bet that after class, when we students had gone home, they threw up their arms in bewilderment about all their life choices to that point. Whatever their inspiration was for teaching, I am thankful for what they taught me, and I’m looking forward to a great, stable career in trucking with Hardy Brothers Trucking!