Central Point, Oregon
There are two views when it comes to spending your days tethered to your spouse.
Some recoil in horror. Others, like the driver I spoke to last week in Florence, Kentucky speak wistfully of a better life with a spouse on board.
“There’s gotta be love in the truck” for the team to last, a Bruckner’s Volvo Sales Rep told us last year at the Dallas truck show. “Doesn’t matter what kind, but it has to be love.”
Big fleet and single truck owner operators have learned that love makes the team more profitable and safer.
There is a secret to success.
“You learn to get mad and get over it in a few minutes,” says Michele, who teamed twice with husband Mel in their almost 25 years together. They married 22 years ago passing through Minden, Nevada.
A second marriage for both, Michele and Mel have had two businesses together, logging and trucking. Their first turn at trucking was in 1989 when the forest economy in the Pacific Northwest tanked. They traveled 49 states, as far as Prudhoe Bay, Alaska in five years.
“The best thing was seeing all the places,” she says of surviving the frenetic pace of air freight.
Forestry improved and they returned to logging, selling out in 2006, deciding to take one more pre-retirement turn over-the-road as Owner Operators with their own Authority, which is how we met them, at a truck repair shop in Fontana, California at the end of our second air freight load. This time, Mel drove and Michele booked the loads. Last year after five years pulling a double-drop lowboy trailer hauling heavy equipment they mostly hung up their keys. Mel continues to run a logging truck to keep busy.
He says teaming only works ”if you really like each other. And we only get mad because we love someone.”
Schneider National threw all its resources at us to get us through the New York State Commercial Driver’s License exam because, as the instructors pointed out on several occasions, we were not just any team, we are a husband and wife team and the statistics showed we had value.
“Husband and wife teams stay together and with the company longer,” we were told. “They are used to each other’s hygiene standards.”
Husband and wife team marriages have a different magic to them. Twenty and 30-year marriages are common, so is a shared enterprise, more than having kids, including a military background. Most couples we have met have been business owners together or separately, like the couple from Oklahoma, married 33 years with two children and a small business resume, before climbing into the truck seven years ago.
“We just operate as a team,” our friend George from Tulsa says. ” Sometimes I think that she thinks she gets the raw end of the deal with the paperwork, etc. At the same time she wouldn’t trade some of the things I do out in the weather, crawling around under trailers replacing bad wiring, etc. so it’s a trade off; a team thing,” he says.
The relationships are both traditional and progressive. Traditional in that 50s housewife kind of way where the wife typically does the paperwork, looks after the food and the inside of the tractor, the husband does the outside work looking after the truck. It’s such a common division of labour that one shipper in California pointed it out to me as a quirk of husband/wife teams.
And progressive, because while there’s an element of adventure to the lifestyle, “love” teams are also about the business. Ask our friends Eddie and Salena about their occupation and the answer is business owner. Business is the focus of Phil’s and Diane’s teaming adventure, although paperwork is shared. There’s All Things Bradbury, two solo drivers, Brad and RuthAnn, who meshed.
Our friends from Tampa, Florida, are another couple who have traveled more than 30 years and a few businesses since the alter. She is all about the numbers, assembling financial data on their operation that would make a Fortune 500 CFO jealous, while he focuses on the truck. In the end, outside or inside the truck, both make it run.
MacGyver likes to say that between the two of us, we make ONE really smart person.
Husband/wife teams are the only drivers who have the potential to make out like bandits in this business. Fewer miles go further. Two unrelated drivers, think two guys, who are the bulk of the team drivers, must pound 6,000 to 7,000 miles a week, depending on the rate, to support two families. If both husband and wife drive, 4,000 miles may be enough, all the income comes into one household. As the old trucker jokes goes, the “income goes into one pocket — hers.” Just like it’s more economical for a couple to live together, it’s more profitable when the team is one household.
There’s the social aspect, like twins, teams always have company. If there’s no freight, there’s someone to play with while waiting on freight. If a tough decision must be made, there is someone to talk to.
Physically, husband and wife teams, in an unscientific, anecdotal study, seem to be in better shape than solo drivers. Eating less fast food, walking more. She’s looking after him and he’s looking after the truck. One of my most important jobs is to ensure that we are eating well, lots of fruit and vegetables and only a little sweet — although today we indulged in cinnamon twirls from Albertson’s in Central Point, the best cinnamon buns since Hornbacher’s in Fargo, North Dakota — keeping the variety in the meals. Four years of 200 or so sandwich-based dinners and hors d’oeuvres taxes the culinary creativity.
Most importantly, and endearing, husband and wife teams speak well of each other’s contributions and skills. There’s an old world chivalry to their interactions, polite, respectful, even grateful. They get mad, no one and nothing is perfect, poor decisions are made, maybe a little too much husband tip sharing, but through it all the respect shines.
They sit side-by-side even when they don’t need to, they seem to move in tandem, which is our joke, even when we have more space, like a hotel room, which in some places is twice as large as our New York apartment, we still follow each other around, a step apart.
There is only one significant complaint. There is also too little love in the truck. Conventional tractor sleepers generally have a 42 inch bottom bunk and a thinner top bunk. Most teams, like us, sleep on the bottom bunk alone when the other is driving and together when possible. The top bunk is storage, where we keep our folding bikes, spare truck parts and a yoga mat. No truck manufacturer has seen fit to design a true team truck with more flexibility in the layout. A team layout with no top bunk, and built-in storage, so neither member bongs their head. This is home for week’s at a time.
So, as they say out on the road, if the truck’s a rockin’ don’t come knockin’.