By Bill Hudgins, columnist
My friend and ace gearjammer Rufus Sideswipe went with me to the Mid-America Trucking Show last year. As we arrived, the breeze picked up, bringing with it the aroma of grilling Kentucky pork chops.
“First thing I want to see,” Rufus said, “is the recruiting area. I wanna see if they do it any different since way back when I looked for a job there.” After walking around a bit, I asked if it looked different.
“The girls are prettier, and most of them have on more clothes than they did way back when,” Rufus replied. “Trucks are prettier, too,” he added.
Rufus owns a vintage Cornbinder, a classic design though it always seems to need more aluminum duct tape. Its doghouse and crawl-through into the bunk would drive me crazy.
But over the years Rufus and the truck have kinda molded to each other and, though he calls it things his mama would frown at, deep down he loves it.
We stopped randomly at a recruiter booth in front of a gleaming cab, said hello to the recruiter and shook hands. The recruiter started his pitch and after a few minutes mentioned the rig.
“Sir, what do you drive now?” he asked Rufus, who told him.
“Well, I can understand why you’d want to move up! We at Roadard & Putwaywet Trucking run only the latest model KenFreightErbiltVolTionals. We even offer lease-to-own in 96 months,” the recruiter gushed.
“Hmm, that’s eight years,” Rufus said. “But this brochure of yours says no equipment over six years old. How does that work?”
“Let me show you the interior,” the recruiter said quickly, opening the driver’s door and gesturing us to look inside. “Notice the comfortable seats, the genuine simulated wood dash and the spacious bunk – 38 inches wide! – with storage space for three weeks worth of clothes.”
Rufus blinked. “Three weeks of clothes? Say, tell me about your home-time policy.”
“Did I mention the well-positioned reading light and the pull-out writing surface for paperwork?” the recruiter forged ahead. “You know that a comfortable cab and sleeper increases driver satisfaction and retention.”
Rufus smiled. “I’ve heard that, but you know that most everyone runs pretty new equipment now and has since before you were in long pants, but driver turnover doesn’t change much. In fact, it’s been going up over the past year.
“So maybe soft seats aren’t as good as hard cash? What do you guys pay?” Rufus asked.
I noticed that several drivers and their families had stopped to listen, creating a roadblock that stopped others, too.
The recruiter saw them, and his voice got a little tight, but he carried on. “We at Roadard & Putwaywet Trucking are competitive in the industry. But more to the point, we believe in providing our drivers with the tools they need to run efficiently.”
“Let me get this straight,” Rufus asked. “You pay what everyone else does and, like everyone else, your equipment keeps the driver more or less comfy while he’s going lickety-split for weeks?” Rufus asked. The now-sizable crowd had begun to murmur.
“Did I tell you about the stereo system?” the recruiter squeaked, and all of us laughed and walked away.
Rufus shook his head. “They make you comfortable so they can work you to death. Where do they get ideas like that?”
We headed over to the KenFreightErbiltVolTional booth for a press conference. “And so,” a suit type declared as we walked up, “this year’s Roadavenger offers the latest in driver comfort, efficiency and productivity, which, as we all know, improves driver retention.”
Until next time, be safe, make money and get home often. LL