What About the Coachman? He’s SIC, and OK

I’ve always been fascinated by trucks, buses and railroads. Something about these giant moving things draws me in, and I always read stories about truckers, railroaders and coachmen. I remember once on a trip to Hungary with Kent. I kept asking, ‘what about the coachman, where will he eat…what will he do?” The answer, that I got from a tour guide in Malaysia, was and is SIC. “Sit in coach.” That’s why so many coachmen and guides smoke cigarettes, it’s because they have to do so much SIC.

Today an article in the WSJ caught my eye, about a topic I’ve been blogging about all year. Trucking companies are now swamped with job applicants, after decades of never having enough drivers. I remember when I sold hats and shirts, one of my accounts was Van-Pak, a good company that bought a lot of those things.

I once asked Leon, Van-Pak’s manager, why they needed to advertise so hard for drivers and why they couldn’t get enough. “There’s always more loads,” he said, “there are never enough trucks and drivers for all of the loads.” Leon is probably saying different things now. Nationwide the story reports that more than 3600 trucking companies went out of business in 2008 alone, and 137,650 fewer trucks are plying the interstates across the US.

Now the recruiters at Prime, JB Hunt and other big companies you’ll recognize from driving any interstate are being more picky. They’ve gone from a 130% turnover rate to just 65% for longhaul drivers. Still, the job is tough and many people try it and hate it. A man in Phoenix lost his job and went to driver training school, and landed a job with Werner Enterprises. Two months later he quit, and now drives a city bus. “I felt like I was part of a carnival,” he said. “Some of these truck stops are the filthiest places you’ve ever seen.”

Still, with 25,000 jobs lost, the whole situation has changed, and now the once unappealing job is much easier to fill. “We’re enjoying our newfound popularity,” said David Berry, VP at Swift Transportation in Phoenix.