By Charlie Morasch
Whether you’re hauling live animals from Fargo to Fayetteville or driving a dedicated mail run, chances are you’ve met your share of interesting drivers at roadside restaurants, truck stops and loading docks.
Land Line Magazine talked to a few OOIDA members recently about the jobs they had before they headed out on the open road.
Mark Kroger bought his first rig at the age of 21 – a 1979 Kenworth cabover and reefer trailer he hauled meat in from Iowa to Los Angeles, pulling produce on return trips.
Mark enjoyed trucking’s freedom, which was different from the routine of municipal jobs he’s had.
Mark – an OOIDA member from Claude, TX – joined his suburban San Antonio-area fire department to earn a steady paycheck with benefits.
But he never let go of trucking.
Like many firefighters, Mark used time away from the firehouse to ply another trade, though his wasn’t near home like many of the other civil servants.
In 2004, Mark began hauling refrigerated produce and meats for Seaboard Transportation to prepare for life after his 18-year career as a firefighter.
Fellow firefighters were busy using their downtime to work as contractors, landscapers, craftsmen and ordained ministers, but Mark was headed down the open highway.
Trucking was a natural fit for Mark to work during his regular four consecutive days off from the firehouse and his occasional three-week vacations. The job’s freedom offered a respite from 24-hour shifts spent mostly in a fire station, he said.
When Mark retired in January, he began driving full time.
“I’ve always enjoyed getting out and traveling, seeing the country,” Mark said. “There are certain challenges and opportunities that are kind of nice when you’re in business for yourself.”
While some manufacturers make both fire trucks and over-the-road tractors, the vehicles are more different than alike, Mark said.
“A long drive on a fire truck is about four minutes – a long drive over the road is about 800, 900 miles or so,” Mark said.
Truckers and others Mark encounters act surprised when he tells them he’s also a firefighter.
“It’s not something people hear everyday – if they know you’re a fireman versus a trucker, you get a different reaction,” Mark said.
“It’s kind of too bad in a way – it’s sad to see what’s happened to the trucking industry as far as our public image. That’s something we could sure work on – it would do the industry more good than anything else.”
Firefighters and truckers can be known for having health issues related to their job, but Mark says he’s in relatively good health.
“I’ve got some good habits and some bad habits,” he said. “Altogether, I’m doing OK.”
OOIDA Member Shelley Brinker and her husband, Bob Brinker, Grayling, MI, have become celebrities in national show truck competitions alongside their 2000 Freightliner Classic with custom-painted “The Legend of the Black Pearl” pirate theme.
Shelley, however, had two successful careers of her own before becoming half of a team driving couple – all the while raising three children.
Fresh out of high school in 1968, Shelley joined the U.S. Army with her then-boyfriend. The two planned to remain together through the Army’s “buddy system.”
After signing up and shipping out, Shelley said “I never saw the boy again.”
“Bob says I’ve got something better now,” Shelley said, with a laugh.
During the Vietnam War, Shelley was in charge of filing death notices for families of killed soldiers from the East Coast. She was in Vietnam for 11 months.
Shelley estimates she filed more than 10,000 of the notices.
“I have a hard time looking at the (Vietnam Veterans Memorial) wall,” she said. “It’s kind of depressing.”
Shelley said she’s seen quite a change in the military between today and the strict atmosphere she remembered enduring.
“Now, the kids in basic training have little stress cards they hold up when they’re tired,” said Shelley, who revealed a glimpse of her own “gunny-style” drill sergeant passion. “They call it ‘relaxin’ in Fort Jackson.’ Back in the day, you didn’t hold no stress cards up.”
Shelley went through infantry training before the government decided to stop offering the training and its certification to women.
After retiring from active duty in 1971, she took a job working for General Motors as general foreman on their chassis engine line for pickup trucks. Shelley said she was one of the first women who directly supervised five foremen, and her group was responsible for 260 employees who moved 60 engines per hour.
“There were a couple of days I went up to the girls’ room and bawled my eyes out – it was a lot of stress,” she said. “But, I always felt good about that because I feel I paved the way now for a lot of female supervisors on the floor.”
During her first year, men on the assembly line yelled catcalls and played pranks, such as putting a dead bird and snake in Shelley’s desk drawer.
After the men got used to working for her, however, her group won several production awards.
While working at GM, Shelley raised three children with Bob, joined the military reserves and earned a bachelor’s degree.
Shelley occasionally reflects back to both the good and bad experiences of her life while she and Bob work 140,000 miles a year in between truck shows.
“As long as I’m on the ground and moving, I’m happy,” Shelley said. “I can’t complain about a thing.”
Carey Taylor’s voice booms staccato through the phone line, his accent stemming from a speech impediment he’s had since birth.
Don’t feel bad for him, though. Carey, an OOIDA life member from Parker County, TX, says his unusual speech and his job as a truck driver open doors to conversations with people that he otherwise may never have spoken to.
He describes the accent as a cross between Cajun and Scottish and says he’s been told he looks like Santa Claus and Kenny Rogers.
“A lot of people wonder, ‘where in the hell are you from,’ ” Carey said. “It breaks the ice – it kind of opens some doors.”
Carey has worked for 14 years working 12-hour night shifts driving for Salty’s Well Service, a job he says allows him to make good money while spending lots of time with his family.
“I make more money now and I’ve been home more, too, no BS,” Carey said.
Carey, however, wasn’t always a truck driver.
Before that he worked on an assembly line building F-16 Fighting Falcon jets for Lockheed Martin before he was laid off during company cutbacks.
“That was about the best job I ever had,” Carey told Land Line. “That was a damn good job, with the benefits and everything.”
Still, Carey said he’s enjoyed having time to himself on the road and the adventures he has when he meets other people on the road each day.
“I’ve met a lot of nice people all over the United States and Canada,” Carey said.
Carey said trucking has taught him three absolute truths:
• Hands-free devices are a must for drivers who take cell phone calls on the road.
• All states should have a consistent highway speed limit.
• And last: “If you can drive in New York City,” he said, “you can drive anywhere in the world.”