NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A CMV inspector in Florida told a group of drivers recently that even if the shipper doesn’t fasten down a load securely, once the carrier and driver accept the load, it’s on them to make sure it’s safe. And that’s one of the things 18-year career driver Steve Huddleston likes about being a flatbedder: being in charge of his own load.
The 43-year-old owner-operator says he’s the one who makes sure his load is tied down properly and everything is safe and secure. The Little Rock, Arkansas, resident, who is leased to MJS Transportation Inc. in West Decatur, Indiana, also likes getting out of the truck cab and getting physical exercise.
“I like being hands-on,” he says. “I was a dry van driver for two hours and I said, “take it back, I don’t like this. I don’t like being in the cab doing nothing.”
He tried being a company driver, which lasted about six months. When he requested hauling to certain parts of the U.S., he says, they paid no attention and made him deliver places where he hated driving. That’s one reason he’s been an owner-operator for 17 ½ years. “I want to deliver where I want to go.”
Also, being an owner-operator lets him be in charge of carefully maintaining his 1999 Kenworth 549.
It’s so old, he says, it’s exempt from having an electronic logging device retrofitted in. Anyway, “how could you do it?” he asks. “There’s no wiring” in the cab for an ELD. That’s why he says well-maintained trucks of this age are in demand right now.
“I just had someone offer me $80,000 for it and I turned it down.”
Huddleston is out on the road about two weeks at a time and hauls mostly steel products such as coils. “It used to be two to three months at a time,” he says.
Like quite a few professional truck drivers, trucking got in Huddleston’s blood early in life.
“My dad (also named Steve) would take me with him in the truck in the summers.”
Huddleston’s eyes light up when he remembers those days of driving with his dad.
What made it so fascinating?
“The freedom,” he says, his face breaking into a wide grin. “I’ve been everywhere in the U.S. and from Canada to Mexico, just everywhere.” He and his wife Stephanie have a 19-year-old son, a 23-year-old daughter, a 7-year-old granddaughter and a 4-year-old grandson. His kids so far haven’t expressed any interest in trucking.
When he’s home, it’s all about spending time with family and getting out in the woods on his four-wheeler.
Of course, not every professional driver can boast of being taught by a father or other family member like Huddleston.
“There’s not as much freedom; there are too many inexperienced drivers” on the road now, he says.
“You can’t train somebody for three weeks and then turn them loose. That’s like putting an infant in a car and expecting them to drive. Why would you do that?”
And, he says, newbie truck drivers don’t seem to know blinkers exist because they don’t use them in their personal cars. Student truck drivers should be trained by someone who has been driving five years or more, he believes.
The rules and regulations have also made the trucker’s job more difficult, he says.
With computerized logs, he says a half million trucks are moving on the roads while the other half million are at the truck stop. “By 6:30 tonight there’s no place to park. What are you going to do?”
And he notes that his home state of Arkansas is closing rest stops right and left. “They say it’s for remodeling but they just don’t want the truckers there,” he maintains.
Bottom line, “If they’re going to make these rules, they need to give a little so we’ll be able to follow them.” That’s probably something every trucker can agree with.