Monday, January 20, 2014

True Story: I'm a Long Haul Trucker

This is one of many True Story interviews in which we talk to people who have experienced interesting, challenging, amazing things.  This is the story of Jurjen and his career as a trucker.


Tell us a bit about yourself!
My name is Jurjen Hettinga and I'm 33 years old. I was born in the Netherlands, immigrated to Canada in 1982, and I now reside in Kitchener, Ontario. I've been a long-haul truck driver for 12 years. For fun, I enjoy mountain biking, working on cars, running Tough Mudders, and spending time with family and friends.‎

‎How did you get into trucking? 
Growing up on a farm, I was always fascinated with the variety trucks that would come to the farm. Cattle trucks, dump trucks, even giant crane trucks kept a kid's imagination spinning. I particularly remember a blue Freightliner cabover delivering feed being my favourite.‎ 

I decided to get into truck driving after going away to college and driving back home on the weekends, passing all the trucks. It just seemed like something I'd enjoy more than sitting in a classroom. 

What are some of the most common misconceptions about truckers? 
The thing I run into most is the belief that truckers do drugs (meth, crack, amphetamines etc). I'm not sure why this myth persists. Another common misconception is the level of freedom we have. Yes, we get to see the country - but it's through a window at 65mph. We rarely have time to stop go sight-seeing. We're always on the go, on tight schedules, ‎‎constantly in touch with dispatch and customers. It's a high stress job with long hours away from home. 

Drivers are often portrayed as rednecks and cowboys in films and television. While they certainly exist, the average trucker is typically a well informed, clean cut professional. ‎

What sort of training did you go through before you started driving?
I took a six-week training course at a driving school and then another four weeks of training with the first company‎ ‎I worked for. There is always ongoing training - safety, compliance, hazmat etc. 

Can you tell us about an average day on the job?
My typical day starts when I wake up at a truck stop, or ‎rest area, or parking lot of a customer (my truck has a full high-rise bunk, two beds, a fridge and a microwave.) I inspect my truck, update my logbook, have a quick bite to eat, and hit the road.

I typically make three or four deliveries or pick-ups per day, driving an average of 800 kms a day, sometimes up to 1200 kms. My days are typically 14 hours or longer. I'm usually away from home 2-3 days at a time, but occasionally as long as 10 days.‎ Weekends tend to be short - home Fridays or Saturdays, back out Sunday or Mondays.

‎‎‎About how much money do you make? 
I typically make around $75,000 a year. For the right company, and if you don't mind being away from home a little more, 100k a year is possible. ‎

What are the best parts of being a long-haul trucker? The biggest challenges?
Best parts are working on your own, meeting new people, ‎seeing things, and actually driving a big truck! Random napping is also a huge bonus!

For me, the biggest challenge is balancing demands of customers and dispatchers with legal requirements (hours of service) and trying to maintain a life outside of work. Another challenge is leading a healthy lifestyle. Long hours behind the wheel, irregular sleep, and poor eating habits are hard to avoid when on the road. On that note, truck stops have really started adding healthy meal options, plus some even have exercise rooms.

‎‎Do you think this will be your lifelong career? 
No, I'm actually looking to move into something else within the next year. I'm hoping to get into service advising at an automotive dealership. ‎I want to have more free time to do the things I enjoy, see the people I care about, and hopefully start a family. 

What advice would you give to others who are interested in becoming a trucker?
Do your research, talk to as many truck drivers as you can. If you can, try to go on a run or two with a truck driver to see what it's like. There are many different kinds of companies, hauling all sorts of things, and each comes with its own set of challenges. 

It can be a rewarding career if you find something that fits within the lifestyle you want lead.

Thanks so much for sharing your story, Jurjen!  Are any of you guys truck drivers - or have you thought about becoming one?

13 comments

  1. My aunt and uncle are a team of truck drivers, so one of them is literally working around the clock. They really enjoy it. It hasn't been their career, just the last few years, and a few more still to go, then to retirement. They have very few expenses, like working together, love seeing the country, and my uncle has always enjoyed long drives. My aunt is teeny-tiny, so I often ask her how she can even get up on that big truck, but she handles it just fine. :) With both of them working, they usually do between 4,000-6,000 (on a really hard week) miles a week. Crazy!
    Sarah M

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  2. This is great article. As the daughter of a long-haul truck driver, I know how stressful and difficult the job can be. Also, the pervasive stereotypes around truck drivers are often demeaning, offensive and untrue. My father has always been able to provide very well for my family as a result of the long hours he works, and the amount of time he is away from home. In fact, I have been able to pursue a PhD as a result of his support. However, his work is very under-appreciated and he has had to make a lot sacrifices. It's important for the general public to understand some of these challenges when forming opinions about 'types of people.'

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  3. yeah! I def appreciated this feature because my great-grandfather and grandfather were truck drivers. they provided for their families while working demanding hours. I often see people on the road cutting-off these trucks or driving recklessly near them and think that there needs to be more respect for the dangerous and demanding job the truck drivers are doing -- many of these truck drivers are doing their best to maintain a safe road environment while some cars just zip around not caring about the hazards they create for themselves and the truck drivers. anyway, just had to get that pet peeve out there and say that im glad truck divers are getting seen through this post in another light!

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  4. My aunt and uncle tag-teamed for a few years, as well. Eventually, just my uncle continued on solo. I always thought that his job sounded so exciting, but he was away from his kids a lot and I know it wasn't an easy life for his family. Anyway, great to have this featured on here. Always so interesting for folks to share their lives!

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  5. Really interesting story! I like that Jurjen is actively trying to change some of the stereotypes around truck driving.
    It sounds like a tough gig.

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  6. Very interesting story! Thank you Jurjen for sharing it with us, and letting us see into his world. I always "assumed" what a way to see the country, but never thought that you really don't get to see much as you're driving down the interstate.

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  7. So happy to read this interview! As a daughter of a long-haul truck driver, I find it funny (and sometimes annoying) the ideas and stereotypes people have about truck drivers. It might be interesting to see if you can find someone to interview about being related to a long-haul driver! Get their perspective about the long stretches their husband/father/wife/mother are away, the perks, the downsides.

    And thank you, Jurjen, for the work you do! (As a fellow Canadian, who knows, maybe you've delivered something that has helped me in some way :)

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  8. awesome story, thanks for sharing jurjen.
    as an observer, I always imagine truck drivers do see a lot, and I've always been fascinated with people that move fast and long distances like pilots and drivers. More so than the places you see, I bet it is quite fascinating the people you run into, and all the stories -one way or another- that you have to tell
    when I was younger I always thought somehow I'd end up a truck driver, but I don't really like driving and when I do i 'that' slow driver… Id make a terrible one "oh hold on lemme go take a photo of that abandoned sign" :)

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  10. This isn't the most exciting or scandalous interview you've done, but it's a good read none-the-less. I like reading about people's day-to-day experiences. This puts truckers I pass every day in a new light. Thanks for the perspective, sir!

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  11. I really enjoyed this. My dad was a long distance truck driver in the 1990's and early 2000's and usually drove from Virginia to California. His salary was around $35,000 annually and although he found most of the other truck drivers to be professionals like himself, he also encountered some of the low-life types that fit the stereotype - prostitution at truck stops is a huge problem, for instance. He also had to deal with some trucking companies and dispatchers that encouraged drivers to cheat in their log books by saying they were sleeping when they were really driving.

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  12. Thank you everyone for the kind words and comments, I wasn't expecting this sort of positive feedback at all!


    I really feel anonymous in my work. We're out on the public roads in big shiney trucks yet somehow remain hidden in plain sight. I suppose no one really thinks about those large, slow rolling obstacles out on the highway other than how inconvenient it is to be stuck behind one. Just get around the truck, flip him the bird, get to Starbucks!

    I'm glad I could shed some light on an industry that delivers everything single thing we touch, consume, and use in our lives.

    Give the next trucker you pass by the "blow your horn" signal for me!

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