A Day in the Life of a Jetco Driver.
By Stephen Hadley
It was still dark when I pulled into Jetco’s parking lot on a cold and clear December morning. Trucks, some with engines idling, were lined up as far as I could see in the yard, yellow-orange parking lights illuminating the ground in front of them and sending shadows crawling along the warehouse wall across the lot.
It was a Monday, and by 6 a.m. Jetco’s drivers were congregating in the dispatch office, sharing tales of the weekend with each other while awaiting their load assignments for the day. That’s where I met Jasson Murray, a quiet, unassuming driver quick to offer a smile to others gathered in dispatch.
I’d be riding along with Jasson for the day, learning what a driver does and trying to understand many of the challenges facing the men and women who make their profession on the nation’s roads and highways. It’s a profession that is confronting a serious shortage in its ranks following the economic downturn of the past few years and ever stricter requirements being imposed by federal regulators. In fact, the American Trucking Association estimates that the industry will need to hire more than 200,000 drivers in the coming two years to keep up with economic demand in the U.S. alone.
Jasson is considered by many at Jetco to be an excellent driver. That was evident immediately upon watching him around a truck. Trucking is in his blood. In fact, his family is full of current or retired truck drivers. It was his family’s influence that fostered an early love of truck driving and continues to sustain his enthusiasm today. On this morning, Jasson treated his truck like a prized jewel, slowly walking along its exterior, examining every body contour, tire tread and engine component to ensure the vehicle was safe and ready to roll. He said the pre-trip inspection is about more than safety. It allows a driver to fully gauge and assess the truck’s current condition and consider carefully if it’s up to the day’s load-hauling demands.
Since Jetco has worked hard to replace its fleet with newer, more fuel-efficient trucks in recent years, the pre-trip inspections these days are geared toward checking that the tires are in great condition, the signals are working, and that the engine fluids are at the proper levels. Once completed, Jasson climbed into the cab, reviewed the paperwork for his first load of the morning, put the truck into gear and maneuvered his way through the lot to find the chassis and empty container that he was to deliver to a client.
Another inspection of the chassis and then the container itself was completed before we ever set out on the road to our destination. It was a check and recheck process that would be repeated throughout the day, not only to ensure that truck and trailer were as safe as possible on the road but that the container was being delivered as advertised.
“Those minutes you spend doing the inspection are so important,” Jasson told me. “It can mean the difference between getting there safely or not at all.”
Once on the open road, the rules clearly changed. No longer were we isolated in the protected environment of Jetco’s staging lot. Riding up higher in the cab of the truck gives you a vantage point of obstacles ahead of you in the roadway and also a glimpse into the interiors of passenger vehicles of the other drivers on the road.
And that view wasn’t a pretty sight. Everywhere I looked, I saw drivers either texting on their phones, talking on their phones, reading maps and books, applying makeup and basically doing everything except driving. Jasson said that’s typical on today’s roads and freeways. It makes driving a truck – which often is loaded with valuable cargo worth tens of thousands and occasionally millions of dollars – a very dangerous and expensive proposition.
“You have to be aware at all times,” Jasson said. “As a driver, it’s our job to anticipate the problems that lie ahead and to be ready for a car to make a sudden move into our lane or do something else most wouldn’t expect. We’re definitely on the lookout for issues all of the time.”
Jasson’s concentration and hyper vigilance to drive safely were on display throughout the day. He has perfected the art of staying relaxed and remaining cool under pressure, his eyes always moving as he scans the road ahead and his years of experience taking hold in keeping him and the fellow drivers on the road safe.
Our first destination was a chemical manufacturing facility in northeast Houston to drop off the empty container we had attached at the Jetco yard. From there, we’d head to a container yard to pick up another chassis and container.
At the container yard, I learned that finding the right chassis – one that is both road-worthy and up to safety code – is easier said than done. The place was stacked to the gills with chassis in all shapes, sizes and configurations. They were also tagged with red and green stickers to indicate whether a chassis passed inspection for road use. We were looking for green tagged chassis. But even those didn’t always meet Jasson’s specifications. He drove down row after row looking for the best chassis he could find. His experienced eye caught sight of a few in the distance. To me, they all looked the same – metal frames painted in reds, blues and greens with varying number of wheels and axles. To Jasson, the good ones stood out.
Once Jasson found one to his liking, he backed up, hitched the chassis to his truck and we were off to wait in line while an empty container was loaded onto the chassis we just picked up. The process of loading a container onto a chassis is a sight to behold unto itself. Rows and rows of containers are stacked as far as the eye can see at this particular yard. A specially designed forklift has been outfitted with a mechanism that allows it to grab the container off of a stack, transport it to the waiting truck and chassis, and carefully drop it perfectly locked into place so the driver can proceed to the next destination without ever turning off the vehicle.
This process of picking up a container and chassis, dropping it off and then finding a new one gets repeated day after day, week after week by truck drivers all over the U.S. and the world. In fact, this method of moving containers – from the port, rail yards and other locations to businesses and warehouses – is the engine of our economy.
“I don’t think a lot of people realize how important this job is,” Jasson said while waiting outside for paperwork at the container yard. “Without us getting these containers from the port and rail yard to the customers, there wouldn’t be products in stores and we wouldn’t be able to get many of the things we have here in the United States. A lot of people depend on us every day and don’t really know it.”
Stephen Hadley, a former newspaper editor and reporter, is the owner of Houston-based Inkspot Creative.