In continuing our professional truck driver interview series, we spoke with Tim Larue to talk about landing your first truck driving job, what it’s like to drive, the differences between driving a flatbed and doing LTL driving, and life in general. Tim is one of several local drivers for Roane Transportation, and so he only delivers loads in the Greater Knoxville area. Still, Tim has a wealth of information about driving a truck professionally.

So how did you get into truck driving?

My father drove a truck professionally and so did my uncles on both sides of my family, so I was always around the industry as a young child. When I was old enough to work, my dad got me a job working on the loading docks, and I learned the ins and outs of the business. As soon as I was able to drive professionally, I already knew that was what I wanted to do. I have been driving a truck now for nearly 35 years.

How did you get started at Roane Transportation, and what are your favorite things about working there?

In 2008 when the economy took a nose dive, I was driving locally for a different transportation company that was based in Knoxville. I lived in Roane County and was making the commute every day. After the recession, the company I was working for did a round of lay-offs that I was affected by. When I started my search for a new position, I started locally, and that’s how I found about Roane Transportation. As it turned out there was a gentleman named Andy that I had worked with who had joined Roane Transportation as a driver and was very complimentary to the company. They decided to give me a shot based on my career in local driving, and I’ve been here 10 years now.

My favorite thing about working here is how respectful drivers are treated. Don’t get me wrong, the equipment is terrific too, but Roane Transportation is extremely family oriented. If you’ve got a problem, they listen to you and try to help any way they can. They care about their drivers, and so you are not just a truck number, but a human being. Steve, Aubrey, and Matt (Roane Transportation Management) are all on a first name basis with all their drivers. The caring that all the support staff has for the drivers is what makes the real difference.

With so many truck driving companies looking for drivers, what made you choose Roane Transportation?

I had personally been doing LTL truck driving, where you go out and do around 10 to 15 stops in one day, for about 25 years. I loved the work, but I was very interested in driving a flatbed since it was new to me and I found it both interesting and a nice change of pace from LTL driving.

Has flatbed driving been more difficult than LTL?

I wouldn’t say more difficult, but just different. Driving a flatbed is more laid back in some respects. You still have a deadline with flat bedding, but when you drive LTL, you consistently field phone calls wanting to know where you are at and when you expect to arrive.

Why should experienced drivers look at Roane Transportation for employment?

Well, I already mentioned they put their drivers in newer trucks. More importantly though, if you have a problem, they will honestly try to work with you to help you out. As a driver, some situations may cause aggravations or frustration. I’m amazed by the number of drivers that will just quit instead of dealing with the issue.

What are some frustrating things in truck driving?

You are going to get aggravated and frustrated. Drivers tend to quit instead of dealing with the issue. One frustration occurs when a driver unloads and sends in their “empty call” letting dispatch know you are ready for a new load. Your dispatch team may not have a load available immediately. In trucking, if you aren’t rolling, you’re not making money, but a new load may not always available. It’s frustrating, but our saying is “that’s trucking.”

Is it difficult for an inexperienced person to land a job in truck driving?

I might not be the best person to ask that because I have been driving so long. For example, when I started driving there was no such thing as a Commercial Drivers’ License (CDL). I have seen a lot of changes over the years like electronic logs and more restrictions and regulations. I would say though that being a truck driver is a great profession that can be very lucrative but is also a lifestyle choice. By that I mean driving is either in your blood, or it’s not. If you want to see the country and make money driving is great, but if you’re just out to make a bunch of money, driving a truck probably isn’t for you.

Does Roane Transportation provide additional training as the job requirements change?

When you first start working at Roane Transportation, they give you training and show you how they want certain things done, such as how to load specific items and the best ways to communicate with the support team.

What hours and days do you work? Do you have to spend time working outside of these hours?

I work outside regular business hours. Sometimes I do odd jobs here and there, but 95% of my job is doing something called pre-load. At 4:00am, I’m loading up trailers so that when drivers come into the yard, all they have to do is drop off their empty trailer and pick up a loaded one. By pre-loading, drivers can get in, pick up their load, and hit the road faster. I do this Monday through Friday.

What about the other 5% of the time?

If there is an oversized load that needs to be delivered locally, I’ll drive it where it needs to go. Other times, I will help by taking local deliveries that need to be made.

How stable a job is tuck driving? Is it seasonal? Are layoffs expected?

I think truck driving is a very stable career. There’s also a lot of employee turnover in truck driving because drivers are quick to quit a job when they are faced with policies or procedures that they don’t agree with. For example, you may tell your boss that you need off early one day, but the team may not have enough prior notice to make it happen. For that reason, I’d give new drivers the advice of making sure to mention a schedule change ahead of time. I think one of the big troubles facing truck drivers is communication. Drivers assume too much when they should be asking questions and communicating.

Are there other qualifications needed for the job?

Drivers need to be more observant of their surroundings. Many traffic accidents happen due to following too close. You are going to get cut-off by drivers, so you must expect this. A good driver is someone who can regularly be aware and pay attention. Also, being able to ask for help is an excellent quality to have. It is okay to ask for help if you don’t know how something should be done.

What kind of training, education, and experience would you recommend to get into this field?

Federal laws say you must be 21 years of age before you can become a truck driver. Also, many transportation companies won’t hire you unless you have previous truck driving experience. This creates this paradox where you can’t get hired because you don’t have the experience, but you can’t get experience without getting hired. There are companies out there that will hire someone and let them ride along with an experienced driver so that you can learn the ropes and get some experience.

Is there anything that will eliminate someone from being hired as a trucker such as a speeding ticket or traffic accident?

I don’t think a speeding ticket would eliminate a person’s chances of landing a truck driving job. An accident would depend on the circumstances, I think. Companies do look at your driving records, so it is kind of a case by case basis. I don’t understand why a truck driver feels the need to speed. These things are hard enough to stop when going the speed limit.

What are the significant differences between being an owner-operator and being a company driver?

The difference between owner-operators and company drivers is that owner-operators are essentially entrepreneurs/contractors, whereas, company drivers work directly in a company.

When a company driver has equipment issues, they radio for assistance and the company will send someone out to help get your truck moving again. Also, your company will be the one lining up and organizing your loads, so all you have to do is get there. As an owner-operator, it’s your rig and your trailer. If you need an oil change or new tires, you have to pay for those out of pocket. Owner-operators also have to get on the phone and find their own loads.

I’ve thought about being an owner-operator before, but I don’t think it would be the right arrangement for me personally.

What type of equipment do you use at Roane?

Because I am a local driver and don’t make overnight trips, I drive one of the older, day cab Freightliners. All the other drivers drive a sleeper cab.

I’ve heard that it’s sometimes difficult to find parking spaces for drivers. Have you experienced this? Any advice to new drivers on how to find parking?

This is another thing that local drivers don’t have to worry about since they are home every night. Truck stops are nearly always full after 5pm, or so, though. I see truck drivers who park on the interstate on ramps and off ramps though, and this is not safe. I think there is a need for more truck friendly rest stops on the interstate.

Is driving a truck a high-stress position? If so, how do drivers handle that stress?

At times truck driving can be stressful, and I think most drivers need to stop, take a proverbial “breather” and take an objective look at what’s stressing them out. I personally will call my wife when I am feeling stressed, and she will usually calm me down. How you handle stress is deeply personal but talking to someone works well for me.

Which state has the worst drivers?

I do not believe any state has the worst drivers.  You have good drivers and bad drivers in all of them. I have increasingly noticed younger drivers, both male and female, on their phones while driving and this is not good. I can tell you from my experience that younger female drivers between the ages of 16 and 25 need to pay more attention to their surrounds when on the road as I see them driving distracted the most often.

Do you listen to music or audiobooks when you drive? Anything you would recommend?

I seldom listen to the radio. I usually listen to the CB radio instead. The CB is a wealth of information for a professional driver that can help you out tremendously. If there is a traffic jam ahead, for instance, it can give you the time you need to make a decision on taking an alternate route.

Who has inspired you in your life and why?

My dad was my best friend, and we did everything together. We worked on cars together, fished together, and even drove tractor trailers together.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I like to fish. Actually, I love to fish. Mostly bass fishing. I also enjoy rebuilding and restoring second-generation Camaros. I used to work on cars a lot and fish a little, but now it’s the other way around: I work on cars a little and fish a lot. I think I’ve owned and restored somewhere in the vicinity of 30 Camaros. Some of them I made good money on and some I have lost money on, but it’s a hobby that I enjoy, nevertheless.

What makes for a good day on the job?

A good day on the job for me is when everything goes right and when everyone’s happy. Some days you have drivers who aren’t satisfied with the way things have been loaded, for example. So, a good day is when there are no hang-ups in the delivery schedule or personal conflict.

What one stereotypes about truck drivers would you like to see corrected?

One common and incorrect belief is that truck drivers are just sitting there holding a steering wheel all day, and that is just not true. Professional truck drivers must always be observant of their surroundings, avoiding distractions to keep themselves, other drivers, and their cargo safe. They often have to make decisions that will ensure that the load gets delivered on time as well.

What are the harmful recommendations or bad advice you hear in the truck driving industry?

I have not heard any harmful recommendations that I can think of, but everyone has their own particular way of doing things. I would not say they are doing things wrong, it’s just preference. When I started out at Roane Transportation, two drivers were helping me learn the ropes, and they were great. I remember they would say, “this is how I do this, but another person may do it another way.” Drivers should stick to the way their company wants them to do things and ask questions if there is something they don’t understand. Another example, should I have 10 or 15 straps securing this load? Ask someone. The BEST advice I got when starting my driving career was from my cousin who told me, “when in doubt throw on another strap.”

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you on the road?

I don’t know about crazy things, but I’ll never forget the scariest thing that ever happened to me while driving a big rig. I was delivering a load to Knoxville during my LTL driving job and was traveling down a city street. I was driving about 15 or 20 miles an hour, and this young girl runs out from behind a parked car into the road chasing a ball. Even though I was going slow and locked up my brakes as soon as she ran in front of me, there wasn’t enough time for me to stop my truck. Luckily, the little girl kept running instead of freezing up, and no one was hurt. I will never forget that day as long as I live, and the incident has made me a better driver because now I am always anticipating someone to run out in front of my truck.

I’ve also been able to help people out of their automobile after traffic accidents. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time to be able to help a fellow motorist. It’s pretty common for truck drivers to help pull people out of vehicles which have been in a traffic accident.

If you could only keep five possessions, what would they be?

My boat, tools, family heirloom firearms, family pictures, and my wedding album. There are some old cars I sold in the past that I would love to have kept as well.

Do you have a nickname? If so, what is it and how did you get it?

I don’t have a nickname, at least not that I know of. You might want to ask some of the other drivers; maybe they have a nickname for me that they don’t mention around me. Let me know what you find out.

If you could put anything on a billboard what would it say?

“Turn your life over to God. It will be better.”

Is there anything else you’d like to say on any topic that I haven’t asked about?

You can make a job better by not letting small things upset you. That’s the main thing I would say to drivers. Also, if you get hired as a driver a Roane Transportation, give them your best and you’ll get the best back. I’ve worked for 4 or 5 different trucking companies, and if you can find a driving job where the managers and operation staff treat you well and care about you, then that’s a place you can retire.

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