For Neal Hinker, being a driver for K&J is the ideal job. Trucking was a natural career choice. Like most teenage boys, he loved the idea of driving big machines, and he has always enjoyed alone time. When he realized he could make money doing both, he didn’t waste any time getting started. “I was the youngest guy in my class and one of the youngest guys with a CDL. Other companies looked at me and wanted me to be older and have more experience, but K&J saw something in me and gave me a chance.”
Hinker started with K&J in 1996 after several years hauling grain during harvests in Oklahoma, Kansas, Nebraska, and North and South Dakota. He has been with K&J for 20 years; 17 years as a company truck driver and then as an owner operator for the past 3 years. The K&J family has become part of his identity as a driver. “I quit a few years ago to haul grain,” Hinker said, “ I only did a few days at the new job and then came back to K&J right away. I actually quit on a Friday and I was back on a Monday morning.”
Financial Benefits of Trucking
Hinker enjoys being an owner operator because of the financial freedom it provides. “When I was a company driver I had to work more and do more runs. But as an owner operator I can make more money and put that extra income in an IRA.” While he loves his job, Hinker was quick to point out that his path isn’t for everyone. He recommended trying out trucking for a few years before investing in becoming an owner operator.
“You need a lot of patience,” said Hinker, “It isn't for everyone. Sometimes you sit and wait for a while when you get to a shipper and it can sometimes be 3-4 hours for loading or unloading. You don’t make money when the wheels aren’t turning.” Yet the positives outweigh the negatives. Trucking jobs pay well and are always available in every locality. In fact, when Hinker started, his parents were shocked at the money he was making. Hinker’s dad was a long-time stockbroker and yet Hinker was regularly bringing home more than both his parents, and without any student debt. When he took the leap to owning his own truck he benefited even more financially.
Why Own Your Own?
Owner operator truckers own their trucks outright and that give them the ability to customize their own trucks. For Hinker this was a deciding factor in investing in a truck. He has added special visors, a custom gear shift, custom fenders and lights to his truck. It is his pride and joy. But when you consider that Hinker spent 310 days of the last year on the road, having a customized home away from home is a smart decision. On average, Hinker drives about 500 miles a day over the course of around 11 hours. You could say that Hinker lives and breathes trucking. He enjoys attending truck shows like Wheel Jam in Huron, SD and has competed in the South Dakota Truck Driving Championship three times placing 2nd and 3rd in Five Axle Van.
Hinker also received a Highway Angel award for being a good samaritan and helping the CEO of a California wine bottling company who was stranded in the country without gas while driving his daughter to Madison, Wisconsin. Hinker was able to drive them to a gas station and help them get back on the road. While he enjoyed the thank you note and complimentary wine, Hinker says he just did it to be a nice guy.
Perks of the Job
Even though his job often keeps him away from home, he enjoys the perks as well. “When you’re on the road you get to meet and work with a lot of new people. If someone makes you mad, you may never see them again. You can’t say that for many jobs.” Hinker also enjoys taking his wife on a working vacation each summer for several weeks. “She joins me on the road. We stop for picnics together, go dancing in the evenings. Basically, it’s kinda like being on a vacation, but getting paid for it. I mean, I have to do hard work, but I get to see the country too. It is a lot cheaper than driving around in an RV.”
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