In late April the South Dakota Trucking Association announced they had selected two new members to join their prestigious Road Team.
We are proud to announce that one of the newest Road Team Captains is Jeff Eschen, one of our owner operators! Jeff has been at K & J Trucking for 8 years, but his history with trucking goes back much further.
We interviewed Jeff to learn more about his history with trucking and why he is passionate to be a part of the Road Team, and what he hopes to contribute!
Jeff's professional history with trucking began in 2002 in Watertown, SD. He was 23-years-old, newly married to his wife Tricia and he was looking to make more money than he was making as a diesel mechanic.
"I didn't have a long-term perspective when I started," Jeff said. "I was in it to make money and I thought it would be a short term thing. I never even thought to consider it as a career."
All of this is somewhat surprising considering that diesel runs in Jeff's blood. His dad was a trucker, as was his grandfather and his great-grandfather.
In fact his grandfather and great-grandfather had a trucking operation, Eschen Trucking, that hauled grain for many years. Jeff's father followed in their footsteps and became an owner operator at the age of 18!
The photo below is of Jeff's truck next to dad's truck.
"Since the mid 1950s there has been at least one Eschen involved in trucking," Jeff said.
But growing up in the late 80s was a tough time for many trucking families. Business was booming, regulations were light, and truckers were spending more and more time away from home and family. Jeff personally felt the consequences.
"It was really hard having my dad away so much," Jeff said. "He was really good about taking us out on the road with him from time to time, but life with a parent on the road can still be hard."
Tricia and Jeff are blessed with three children. Brandon is 18, Bridget is 14, and Brady is 12. They are three reasons that Jeff never let himself consider trucking as a permanent career.
As the years went by, Jeff couldn't deny that trucking was a career he enjoyed. It gave his family a good life. They were overcoming communication barriers with frequent phone calls and video chats. And, he was very good at it.
So good in fact that he started to compete in trucking competitions to showcase his skills. Through participation in the South Dakota Trucking Championship Jeff learned the importance of safety and growing as a professional within the industry.
"When I first started driving it was all about working and making money. Safety wasn’t really a huge concern for me back at that time," Jeff said. "But about five years ago my perspective went from making money to realizing there is a lot more to this. Trucking is a legitimate career and I should take it seriously."
Applying for the Road Team
Since then Jeff has been intentional about developing as a professional, taking advantage of opportunities presented by both local and state groups. That is how he got connected to the South Dakota Road Team.
The Road Team is an elite group of seven drivers from across the state. All members are required to maintain an excellent safety record, show leadership and speaking abilities and commit to presenting the industry professionally.
"At first I was super nervous to even apply," Jeff said. "I'm not a big talker and I get a little nervous. But I knew that I wanted to make a difference."
Jeff has found that being a part of the team helps him to feel more confident because he is speaking and sharing about something that is second nature: trucking.
"Some of these young kids have never even been around a truck," he said. "So we can explain how they get their groceries, their clothes. It helps to promote trucking, and that we’re not out here to be in your way."
Jeff does school presentations with groups from elementary through high school. He and other Road Team Captains show students what trucks look like up close, let them sit inside, and tell them about how truckers live while on the road. A big part of their presentation is teaching how to safely interact with trucks.
With older children, the Road Team visits driver education classes, doing hands on presentations with real trucks (and cars) to illustrate blind spots and safe driving around trucks. Jeff finds his inspiration by looking at his own children.
"My kids are getting to the age where if I can teach them something about driving safe around trucks, it is something they probably aren’t going to get in the regular classroom," he said. "If I can help the Road Team bring this into more driver's ed classes it helps keeps everybody safe."
Jeff's first trip to talk with a driver's education class was in Lennox, SD where he illustrated safe driving.
Talking with Legislators
Once a year Jeff and the other Road Team Captains will have the opportunity to travel to Pierre to talk with the legislators. Their presence shows lawmakers that drivers care about upcoming legislation and puts a professional face to the trucking industry.
All the Road Team Captains volunteer their time for these events. It is a big sacrifice with regular monthly commitments. But even though Jeff hasn't been on the team long, he already knows it was the right choice.
"I would encourage any driver to join," Jeff said. "You’re an ambassador for the trucking industry. We want to get young people interested in the industry, make the roads safer, and improve the image of truckers."
If you would like to request a trucker come to your classroom, or if you are a South Dakota truck driver and you are interested in learning more about the Road Team, contact Michelle Wells at the SDTA.
Interested in learning more about our drivers and what makes K & J Trucking unique? Click below!