Trucks at Work

Advice from the road

I understand wanting to own your own truck, but do the math. Running to warehouses and dealing with dock personnel is most of the time not worth the money or aggravation.” –Elliott Volaski, a veteran truck driver in Goshen, New York

On occasion, I get emails from truck drivers from all walks of life – young and old, cagey veteran to fresh-out-of-school rookie.

Contrary to what one might think (at least in may case) few go on extended rants about the particulars of the truck driving profession in these missives. Rather, most are seeking to pass on a variety of wisdom gleaned from their experiences on the road (even from the training track) in an effort to make improvements to the trucking business.

[Even big fleets are trying to do this. For example, check out the clip below from C.R. England Safety Evaluator Ken Harwood, who shares a variety of tips and best practices for navigating truck stops.]

One such email came to me recently from Elliott Volaski, a now 56 year old driver up in Goshen, NY, who’s been on the road since 1979. And Elliott wanted to get right to the heart of things quickly.

“You know, to write 10 paragraphs relating to what I've learned would only contain the typical rhetoric: keep tires at the proper pressures, keep your filters up to date, make sure you can always pass a level one inspection, yada, yada, yada,” he said.

What he REALLY  wanted to discuss is how being a truck driver, especially those that are owner-operators, remains one of the toughest occupations in the trucking industry – yet how few of those contemplating “going independent” recognize how risky being on your own in trucking can be.

[Such risks are widespread – including managing one’s health while navigating the asphalt. For example, watch C.R. England’s Personal Health Adviser Julian Bonner discuss how to eat healthier meals while out on the road.]

“There are a lot of owner-operators still running loads that are just ‘break-even money’ because they are desperate,” Elliott told me. “They got all caught up with the ‘OO fever.’ That’s the biggest problem I see in the industry: the guys who are desperate and run these loads too cheap.”

From where he sits after a long career on the highway, Elliott said he fully understands the desire to own one’s own truck, to be the captain of one’s ship of destiny, yet he stressed to me a simple, unalterable maxim: do the math.

“Running to warehouses and dealing with dock personnel is most of the time not worth the money or aggravation. You’re at everyone's mercy,” he said. “It's the guys who can say, ‘Sorry, but that's not going to be enough money for that run,’ that can make things better for everybody. You’re not in this and risking everything all day just to make payments and fuel money: you need to make a profit.”

[This is also a theme constantly hammered home by my good friend and colleague Timothy Brady, a contributing editor to both Fleet Owner and American Trucker. You can view one of his many presentations below.]

Elliott reminded me (not that I needed much reminding!) that driving a truck for a living is a very dangerous occupation – and that an owner-operator has it even tougher, as they are always at bat with two strikes.

“On top of that, you’re away from home and making significant sacrifices to your family life,” he stressed. “Driving an 80,000 pound truck down the road is truly skilled labor – and doing it in the snow without incident makes you exceptional. My point: drivers of these trucks are incredibly underpaid.”

The bottom line, from where Elliott sits, is that more guys need to leave the freight on the dock – fleets and independents alike.

“The brokers and shippers are the only ones making out,” he explains. “All drivers, company and owner operators alike, are treated as third class personnel. Remember what Joe Fabrini said [in that 1940 classic trucking movie, They Drive By Night] to one of his freight brokers: ‘We take all the chances and you make all the dough.’ Some things will never change.”

Frankly, after all this industry has been through these last tough years, let’s hope things DO change – and for the better! 

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