We caught up with Over-the-Road and regional driver Nathan Hensley while he was finishing up his workweek on a sunny Friday afternoon drive through Knoxville. Nathan’s a friendly, down to earth guy who is deeply involved with his family, church, and trying to fix the things he breaks in his DIY projects. We took some time to talk to Mr. Hensley and ask him what it is like to be a professional truck driver and what it is like to work for Roane Transportation. Here’s our conversation.
How did you start your career in professional driving?
I have been a truck driver for about 11 years now. Like a lot of guys in the industry, I was initially introduced to driving a truck by my dad, who was also a driver.
Tell me about your position, and what is your typical day is like?
There is not much normalcy to my days. Our dispatch assigns me a load, and I pick it up and deliver it. I usually don’t go to the same place or haul the same loads. That is fine by me, though; I’m pretty laid back and just go with the flow.
For people who don’t know, what is the difference between OTR and Regional routes?
I have driven both Over-the-Road (OTR) and regionally, and still do a little of both. I’m currently running regional routes east of the Mississippi. The main difference is the amount of time you get back home. When you are driving OTR, you’re delivering to nearly all the lower 48 states, and you may be gone for three or four weeks at a time.
It’s been my experience that it can be easier driving OTR and you can make great money; but being away from your family can wear on you after a while. If you do have a family, it takes everyone’s participation back home to make it work smoothly. You have to have an amazing support system backing you up.
Do you have the same clients you deliver to every week, or does it differ?
Well, when I was doing OTR, it was usually delivering to the same clients over and over, but it’s a different group on the regional routes. I would say I don’t deliver to the same client very often, but when we do, it’s delivering to a home improvement chain or transporting different materials to construction job sites.
How did you get started at Roane Transportation, and what are your favorite things about working there?
How I got started is sort of ironic. I was driving for another trucking company in 2012 and was an “outlaw” type outfit. They had a management change, and the company was starting to go downhill. Initially, I did not want to drive for a company that was using e-logs because I had never done it, and it seemed alien to me. This was the way a lot of old school truckers felt. Once the government started cracking down and making everyone use e-logs, though, I wanted to work for a company that already understood the process. I saw Roane Transportation out on the road often and decided to call them up and ask for an interview.
Roane Transportation primarily pulls their loads on flatbed trailers, and I’ve always loved pulling flatbeds, so that was appealing to me.
What are the differences between driving a van truck and a flatbed?
I like to joke and say that driving a flatbed is like driving OTR, it takes a special kind of stupid. Ha-ha. By that, I mean that there are days when it’s pouring rain and windy, and I come in soaking wet from tarping down my load and see a van driver that’s all nice and dry, and it makes me wonder what the heck I got myself into. Joking aside though, I love pulling a flatbed, but it can be much more physically demanding and more challenging than driving a van trailer. I also like the variety of hauling flatbeds. I don’t really care much for monotony or repetition, and there’s a huge variety in what I’m pulling from day to day.
Why should experienced drivers look at Roane Transportation for employment?
There are three big reasons why people love working here.
One: they are big enough to make a footprint but small enough to know the driver. Everyone in the office knows who you are, and you’re not just a truck number.
Two: I have done this a hand full of times and stay gone 3-4 weeks and come back for a weekend. And I can change to going home every weekend (Flexibility).
Three: If you do your job, they work with you on home time or giving you your preferred routes. It’s a two-way street, though, and you have to show the company that you’re willing to perform when they need you.
Is it difficult for an inexperienced person to land a job in truck driving?
Is it difficult to get into truck driving? That’s a tough question. I like to say that truck drivers are born and not made. By that I mean that people that have been around driving their whole lives seem to understand the hard parts of the job
When I see people that get into trucking that have never been around trucking, they quickly figure out that you might not know when the next time you’ll get a hot shower or even be able to sleep in an actual bed or when you’ll see your family again. I know a lot of new drivers bounce from one company to another for a few years, and then they get out of the business altogether.
It is more challenging to stay a driver than it is to land a position as one.
Is there anything that will eliminate someone from being hired as a trucker such as a speeding ticket or traffic accident?
Everyone makes mistakes, and most companies understand that. If you have just a couple of speeding tickets or accidents on your record, a lot of companies will still offer you a chance. Unless the company is already in heat over multiple accidents or tickets on the job or you have some serious violations, in which case they probably will not hire you.
What are the significant differences between being an owner-operator and being a company driver?
Being an owner-operator is something I wanted to do, but the economic downturn in 2007 and the hassle of government compliance were things that turned me off from wanting to run my own trucking company.
What type of equipment do you use at Roane? / What kind of truck do you drive?
I drive a relatively new Peterbilt 389. That was another thing that drew me to Roane Transportation. They try their best to make sure that our equipment is top-notch.
There have been a lot of discussions around driverless trucks lately. Is this same job going to exist fifteen years from now?
I don’t think they’ll ever get driverless trucks working. If they did, I wouldn’t want to even be on the road while those things are around.
Is driving a truck a high-stress position? If so, how do drivers handle that stress?
It can be, but that leads back to another reason I like working for Roane Transportation. They don’t push you too hard when you experience things outside of your control like bad traffic or bad weather. Occasionally you will have a load that needs to be there right away, but they understand if you run into obstacles and that takes a lot of the stress out of the job. I pray a lot and just try to block everything out other than where my truck is and what’s around it. After you drive for a while and as you get put into these high-stress positions, you learn that you cannot let things get you too stressed out and to just relax and drive.
What is the best thing about driving for a living?
Personally, I think it’s more like the sense of being behind the scenes and helping people get what they need. A lot of people are realizing that without truckers, you aren’t going to get the goods that you need.
A lot of people outside of the trucking industry think the best part of driving is about going and seeing places. We’re not paid tourists, though. You do not really get to go sightseeing unless it’s right off the interstate.
What is the worst thing about driving for a living?
The worst thing about driving is different for everyone. Being gone for long periods and away from your home and family is always tricky for me. When driving OTR, you are going to make more money, but you will be gone all the time, and you have to find a balance to that.
Are you seeing any changes to delivery/transportation services because of the coronavirus outbreak?
I have seen it change. I always get asked a million questions every time I stop to make a drop, but I’ve seen a change in people’s moods and in the atmosphere in general. I noticed a drastic decrease in traffic on the interstate when stay-at-home orders started happening, but it seems like everyone is getting bored now and getting back out on the roads.
Where are you originally from, and what made you want to live there?
I am from a little town in East Tennessee called Greeneville.
Who has inspired you in your life, and why?
I would say it has to be God. That’s the way I have always lived my life: to help and to care for others.
What do you like to do in your free time?
I usually like to work on things: DIY jobs and mechanics. For a while, I got into high-performance diesels – truck pulls and the like, but it got expensive. I also do a lot of activities with my church.
What makes for a good day on the job?
Wake up, drive, and park without injuring anyone or being in an accident. I am different from a lot of people in that I try not to let things outside of my control get to me. I adapt, overcome, and get on with my day when things are going sideways, but getting into an accident will ruin your day. As long as that doesn’t happen, I consider that a good day on the job.
What one stereotype about truck drivers would you like to see corrected?
Generally, people think tractor-trailers are these big, obnoxious things that are in their way. 9 times out of 10, though, we are trying to get out of your way. I think in general that there’s a negative view of truckers as being degenerates and some people bring that on themselves, but for the most part, we’re ordinary people trying to make a living.
Trucking Company That Values Its Drivers
At Roane Transportation, we put our drivers first and stand behind making home time a top priority company-wide. Roane Transportation offers a variety of flatbed driving options that guarantees we have the job you’ve been looking for. Contact us today for more information or check out our online application if you’re interested in a new driving career.