What Is It Like To Be A Truck Driver?

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David Parnell, truck driver ambassador, stands in front of his truck
David Pannell always wanted to be a ‘super trucker’ — the man in the big rig. He did that for a while before deciding he wanted to spend more time with family. (Credit: Courtesy David Pannell)

David Pannell has been trucking for a while. Over the years, he's driven 18-wheelers, flatbeds, tankers and refrigeration trucks. His current truck of choice is a 30- to 40-foot, tri-axle dump truck, which he uses to haul organic and non-organic mushroom compost. 

The 57-year-old is the owner of Cornerstone AG Organics in Toughkenamon, Pennsylvania.

Why did you get into truck driving?

I got into trucking when I was growing up. My family had its own mushroom business. I worked on the mushroom farm as a truck driver and running the tractor. I had no training. It’s just how I grew up. I went to a truck driving school — All-State Career School in Essington, Pennsylvania — when I was 25, in case I wanted to get another job. The program took three months. I earned a certificate and my CDL (Commercial Driver’s License), which made it legal for me to drive Class 8, big vehicles like semis. 

Did you always want to be a truck driver?

I always wanted to truck. I wanted to drive the big truck — be a “super trucker.” In our world, “super truckers” drive a nice semi with chrome, neon lights and a sleeper. I did it for a while, running state by state. And then I got married. I took jobs where I wasn’t always on the road. Trucking has always provided me with money to take care of my family, my two boys. At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about — family.

What does a typical day look like?

Before I leave the port — which depending what I am running, could be anytime during the day or night — I walk around the truck and do a visual inspection of the tires, hoses, lights, etc. I make sure the load is secure and then I start driving. If it’s a long haul, I can’t run more than 10 hours nonstop without taking an eight-hour break or I can be fined. That’s for safety reasons. If I’m running perishable items, for example, and I have to make multiple stops, I can drive for 12 hours. No two days are the same. It all depends what the job is. 

What do you like most about being a truck driver? 

I’m not stuck in an office. I get to see different things every day and deal with different people every day. And I get to be by myself a lot. I like being by myself. 

And least?

The crazy hours. The crazy starts, like leaving at 9 p.m. and driving through the night and then sleeping during the day. 

What’s the most common misconception about being a trucker?

That all truck drivers are dumb. I’ve met a lot of intelligent men who left desk jobs to get behind the wheel. Hopefully, my boys will want to get into this. 

What do you wish you knew about the job before you got into it?

How demanding it is. How stressful it is to hurry up and get to where you are going. If I miss my delivery time, I could sit for hours not making any money. 

What personality traits or qualities would make someone a good fit for this job?

You have to like being alone. That’s No. 1.

No. 2 is you have to be self-motivated or you will not make money.

No. 3 is you have to remember to be safety-conscious all the time. 

Why would you recommend that someone become a truck driver?

An old country boy I know put it this way: "If you ever want to see what the U.S. and Canada look like and make good money doing it — drive truck."

If you weren’t in your current industry, what would you be doing?

I would like to be in carpentry. I actually framed houses for about a year. I liked it. 

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