It used to be common to see sons following fathers into the trucking business, but nationally the number of second-generation truckers is shrinking. Is the multi-generational trucking family dying off? We talked to several multi-generation drivers to hear their stories, as well as their suggestions to attract younger generations to the industry.
When Craig Ellingson was growing up he loved to get in the truck with his grandfather Don Vollmer (his 1950s truck is pictured below). "As a kid I always kind of wanted to be a trucker like my grandpa," Ellingson said. "He and his four sons started in the trucking business driving log trucks."
Several of Ellingson's uncles stayed in trucking long term. Wayne Vollmer stayed in the logging business and his uncle Roger switched to hauling groceries. On Ellingson's father's side he also has trucking in his blood. One of his uncles hauled grain, another did long haul, and yet another worked as a local driver.
But surprisingly when it came time to choose a career path Ellingson didn't immediately think of trucking. "I gave farming a go for awhile, and then I worked at an ethanol plant," Ellingson said.
It wasn't until he was laid off of work at the plant that he reconsidered his childhood dream. "Six years ago I decided to go to trucking school and get my CDL," Ellingson said. "It was one of the best decisions I have ever made."
We asked Ellingson whether he would have considered trucking as a career if it weren't for his family's legacy. "You know, I don't know that I would have," Ellingson said. "I was always interested in farm trucks and big equipment, but I don't know that I would have gotten into it if it weren't for my grandpa and uncles."
For his part, Ellingson is hoping his son continues the family business. "I would love for my son to join me at some point," he said. "He is getting married soon, so I will give him a bit to settle in and then start encouraging him more."
Doc Love enjoys the freedom of the road. "I’ve worked jobs where you make really good money but you have a boss right there all the time," Love said. "When I’m asked why I do it I tell people, 'look out that window! It is because of the view! Because I don’t have someone looking over my shoulder all the time."
Love's appreciation for the road comes naturally. Like Ellingson he is also a third generation driver. "My grandfather on my dad's side did local groceries and dairy and my dad ran fuel tanker and grocery," Love said.
Even though Love's grandfather retired in the late 1970s he couldn't stay in retirement. He ended up back in the drivers seat for a grocer when Love was young. Because his grandfather was occasionally in charge of childcare, Love remembers climbing into the cabover style truck with his sister and going on runs. "No matter where we were delivering, he would make us crawl over the doghouse [center console area, see picture] into the back for a nap at exactly noon."
Love laughed as he recounted another memory of that truck, "One day he went and got the truck greased, and as a little three year old kid, I thought the fifth wheel looked like a slide. I had brand new pants on too!"
Despite those fond childhood memories it wasn't until his retirement from the military that Love seriously considered a career in trucking. Love was tired of sitting at home, he wanted to see the world, and was already a trained diesel mechanic. Going to get his CDL felt like the next logical step.
Love still remembers his dad's advice, "Check your mirrors every 15 to 20 seconds. Be courteous to your fellow drivers on the road. Be safe, and always think three steps ahead."
Jeff Eschen never intended to be a trucker. He watched his dad and grandfather in the industry (Eschen and his father's trucks pictured here) and wanted to be home more for his kids. But when push came to shove, Eschen turned to the road as a temporary solution. Now after 17 years in a truck Eschen is pretty sure this isn't a temporary solution any longer.
"I learned that there are lots of ways to be there for your kids," Eschen said. "I definitely miss some things, but I hope my being on the road is teaching them other things that most kids don't learn."
As Eschen fell in love with the industry he realized that he didn't need to wait for a future career, he already had one. "My perspective went from making money to realizing there is a lot more to this," Eschen said.
Now Eschen is passionate about helping young people see the value of the trucking industry. He serves as a Road Team Captain for the South Dakota Trucking Association and goes to area schools and community events to promote trucking and safe driving.
Eschen credits his father and grandfather for getting him interested in the industry. He believes we need more drivers talking about the positive side of life on the road.
People need to know that you can be a driver and be a good parent and spouse. Young people need to know it is a rewarding career. Eschen stated it well, "You get to see so much stuff for free. It isn’t everyday you get to wake up in a different state and get paid for it."
How Do We Encourage More Second-Generation Drivers?
In talking with our multi-generation drivers one thing came across loud and clear. It starts with FIRST-generation drivers. If first-generation drivers aren't proud of what they do their children will not view it as a viable career.
No drivers, you are not just a trucker. You are an integral part of the supply chain in our culture.
Be proud of what you do and consider building a legacy with your children. Teach them what you love about the road. Show them the beautiful places you see. Talk about the technological advances in our industry.
Keeping multi-generation trucking going starts with the people who are currently on the road every day.
If you need tips on talking to your kids about trucking, let us know in the comments below. We are a second-generation family trucking company, and we have several father and son and mother and son teams.
If you are looking for a company that supports building a legacy for your family, we would love to talk.