Ok, here’s the thing. It took me over a year to finally get around to going to truck driving school. I had one delay after another, and now I’m about twelve days from graduating from Central Tech, IMO the best truck driving program in the state of Oklahoma. The biggest worry we all have, my classmates and I, once we get past the driving part of the state test, is where to go to work.
Evidently this is the burning question for all newly licensed CDL A drivers. The internet trucking forums are replete with one query after another begging for information and advice on how to make that all important decision, what to do with the darned license once it’s in the driver’s hot little hand.
A lot of that depends on how you got your training. Going through a company school sounds great on the front end, but you will come out a very poorly paid, indentured servant. The CDL mills are worse, and will stick it to you for up to 10 grand, yes, for a CDL class that should be around 1/4 of that at a state recognized tech school. If you go to a company school, you have no choice but to work for that company until your debt for the training is paid off, or they will sue you for the balance if you leave. CDL mills, same thing except you can generally pick your company. But make those payments or else! The tech school option is the best as far as giving you the freedom to do what you want with that CDL.
Now the seasoned drivers out there give a lot of the same advice over, over, and over again. Take any job even if it’s with a huge “bottom feeder” trucking company. Yeah, the .25 a mile pay will stink, you won’t go home for two months at a time. You’ll be living in a box the size of a small bathroom with a complete stranger who could be the next Ted Bundy.
Your spouse will be ticked off when they find out that you’re out there gallivanting around for less than stellar paychecks and they may flat out tell you not to bother coming home if this is how life is going to be from now on.
But just be a man and just suck it up. Stay with that lousy company for at least a year, then you can say you’ve paid your dues, and maybe, just maybe, some great company will pick you up (if you haven’t screwed yourself up by having an accident, getting tickets, letting your credit history get fouled up, screwing up your logbook, or generally doing anything else stupid.)
They warn baby drivers repeatedly to stay away from leaisng programs (which are aptly nicknamed ‘fleecing’ programs.) With good reason I’d say, as the leases put the brand new driver in the hotseat to come up with the moolah to cover a five or six hundred dollars weekly truck payment on top of the other truck expenses.
Now even I can tell that is going to be gobbling up any good money a new driver might make on mileage, and it’s a great way for the trucking company to get their freight moved at, again, the expense of the still-starving new driver. Most newly hatched lease drivers end up in the drink in 6 months or less. The big fish make out great and just repo and re-lease the same truck to a new baby driver.
Let’s just pretend that someone like me comes along and doesn’t really want to go the bottom feeder company route because, well, just because I know enough to see from afar that route is not for me.
Why? I’m no spring chicken, I’m actually a pretty tough old bird. I have already paid my dues in this life and don’t need to pay any extra dues just cause someone says I do. I say hooey to that. Don’t talk to me like I’m a naive child. Far from it.
I don’t take crap from anyone; I’m overly opinionated. Also, there is the fact that I will not now, or ever, put my life in the hands of a stranger / co-driver. I don’t know what freak I would end up with, but I guarantee you that in my experience, when anyone else tries to “pair me up”, I always get paired up with nasty freaky people. Just my karma? Meebee so.
Or like bajillions of other new drivers out there, maybe someone has a black mark or two against them. A ticket from 3 years ago, a gap in employment within the past 3 years, that sort of thing. Well, if you just don’t want to play ball the way everyone says it has to be played, what are you going to do?
As I have found out after spending a solid Thanksgiving week doing some serious investigation, there are other options, but the experienced drivers on the trucking forums are not telling anyone about them. I have come to the conclusion that a) They know this stuff but keep it to themselves to keep down competition, or b) They took the standard route and don’t have any idea that there are other ways to accomplish the ultimate goal.
Anyway, what I finally realized this week, as obvious as it seems in retrospect, a CDL does not restrict a new driver to driving semi tractor/trailers only! Eureka! Now we’re getting somewhere.
Boo! You say, boo to that, I wanna drive a big rig! Ok, calm down. Yep, I got that, and I want to drive one too. Not just because it’s great fun, but because you really can make a decent living doing it… if you don’t follow the flock and let some multimeggarich trucking company exploit you for pennies until you can’t afford to pay attention, let alone your bills. To every goal there are multiple pathways… You just have to be creative in your thinking and find them!
My digging around this week after being given a little hint by current and former drivers in my extended family got me thinking about my options. Now, granted, not everyone is in the same situation I’m in, but I was looking for a solution that would work for me. If you dig around enough, you can find something that will work for you too. Anyway, they kept saying one word (actually I thought it was 2 words, but nope, in this context it is one)…. wait for it….. Hotshot!
I’m like, huh? What the heck? Explain please. And they did in very vague terms. What I got was something like… “Yeah, well you haul stuff on a 1 ton truck with a trailer and they pay ya.” (me) “So you have to have a CDL for that?” (them) “Yep!” hmmmmmmmm……
This little exchange over ham and yams started my little wheels spinning. Turns out through doing a lot of reading over the past week that I am already half-way set up to start doing some Hotshot driving and I would never have known it.
Let’s see, pickup, check. (Mine is a 3/4 ton and most say you have to have a 1 ton. I disagree. I did a comparison between my 3/4 and the 1 ton model for the same year. Turns out there is no difference in towing / load capacity between the two.) Now for the trailer, most Hotshots run a 40′ gooseneck flatbed. My little truck won’t handle quite that big of a trailer, but I can go 30′. Hmmmm…
So before getting overly crazy with this whole thing I decided to do some real-world research. I spent several hours talking to a friend of my husband who started out doing Hotshot work and who now has a shiny new Freightliner tractor sitting in his driveway. Turns out he is doing pretty well. He drove Hotshot for a year or two and saved up for the tractor. Now he’s doing O/O runs brokered to him through several sources and he’s staying as busy as he wants to be.
As it also turns out, he went through a company school, got put on the road with a stranger / co-driver, and stuck it out for 6 months. According to him, that was a waste of his time and the real income began coming in once he got disgusted with the company who refused to route him home for Christmas.
After keeping him out 7 weeks, they finally let him go home for 2 days at Thanksgiving. When he asked 4 weeks later to go home at Christmas, they had the gall to tell him he was home too much and, no, they would not route him home. No lie!
He called, quit them, bought a 1 ton dually and drove it home. Started his Hotshot biz and now he’s an independent owner operator with his own authority and as much business as he can handle.
Turns out his load brokers may be interested in me, and there are tons of load boards out there where I can bid for work when it’s slow locally, or to get a return load so I cut down my deadhead miles.
So guess what route I’m going to take? Yep. No Ted Bundy’s in a box for this old gal!
I know it will wear out my poor, low mileage, babied 3/4 ton in about a year, but I also projected it out, and at 2000 miles a week (1500 paid, 500 deadhead) I can retire her and replace her next year with a used tractor.
And yes, for the first time in my life I actually have a well written, realistic business plan with projections out to 2 years.
And to you inevitable naysayers, yes, I know how much it will cost me for licensing, authority, permits, insurance out the wazoo, and all the other goodies I’ll be laying out the cash for to get the start-up done. So if all you want to do is point out what I forgot, don’t bother going there. Trust me when I tell you I have it covered.
Now, my route around the old mulberry tree may not be for everyone. I owned and operated a successful business years ago, and have the business savvy to make this work for me. And I happen to have a fully paid for asset to start with which immediately cuts my start up costs by about 50 grand.
Also, I live in a good area with lots of work available in this particular type of commercial driving. My husband is a lot happier knowing I can control how much I run, not leave it to some megacarrier who doesn’t give a hoot about my home life. So it’s a perfect fit for me.
The point of this whole rambling story is this… don’t believe that there is only one route to being a driver. Dig around, talk to folks, find out what works where you live, and go for it!
Oh, and I’ll keep you updated on how my little venture goes. I promise!