How to Become an Owner Operator Truck Driver - Joe's Story
As the head of the One Armed Bandit Express, Joe will tell you that he had an interesting and somewhat unconventional journey to end up as an owner operator with K&J, but we couldn't be happier to have him here with us! In fact, you might have seen him featured in our AutoSock video, which you can find here. We took a few minutes to chat with Joe about his journey in trucking. If you are considering a career in trucking, take a few notes from Joe!
So first things first, where did the name, "One Armed Bandit" come from?
My left arm stops about three inches below my elbow. It's called Amniotic Band Syndrome - basically, in pregnancy, a congenital band can float around a limb and restrict the blood flow. I chose that name to represent all of the hoops I had to jump through to get into trucking - but it was all worth it.
How long have you been in trucking and what initially got you interested?
I've been driving since about February of 2012. I started out driving grain trucks during the harvest season to get some experience. I'm a third generation trucker. I think I always knew it was a matter of when, not if, I would find my way to trucking.
Tell us about how you got your start with trucking.
So in July of 2011, I was working at a company that decided to cut seventy workers nationwide - I was one of them. In that job, I travelled all over South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, and Nebraska. I was behind the windshield - I've always loved my windshield time.
Within a week, I decided that I was going to do this (get my CDL and get into trucking). When I told my wife... to say she thought I was crazy was an understatement.
What did you do first?
I started asking around about getting my CDL, what I would need to do to get in the truck. I got met with a lot of blank stares, probably partially because of my arm. But people would always tell me to go get the books, study, and take the test. As I was studying, I was also applying for jobs and watching a lot of YouTube videos. And my friend let me work at his company as I could.
I learned that because of my arm I would need a skills performance evaluation certificate [In accordance with the FMCSA, "Drivers with physical impairments which affect their ability to safely operate CMVs according to their medical examiners, or with missing limbs (e.g., a hand or finger, an arm, foot or leg), are required to obtain SPE certificates."] and that I would have to deal with the government to get it. I called and got ahold of an individual in Atlanta, explained who I was, what my situation was with my arm, and I just got silence. They basically told me it was never going to happen.
So I went about my business, working on the CDL, and when I had time to spare, I would go to the truck stops and start walking around, talking to drivers, asking what I would need to do.
What did the other truck drivers have to say?
I asked about twenty guys if they were going to start driving for a company, who would they drive for? Eighteen of the guys answered "K&J Trucking" as their first answer - the other two answered K&J second.
Then I started talking to Jen at K&J, and she told me I would need to go to driving school and get some experience driving. I went to a few local driving schools and they wanted me to get my CDL on my own before they'd let me drive - I thought that was pretty weird. A lot of transportation companies and driving schools flat out said they wouldn't hire me - at the time, I thought it was because of my arm situation, but I later learned it was because they didn't hire out of South Dakota.
So I kept talking to Jen and said, "If I come drive with you guys. . . " what's it like, what's your suggestion to get some experience driving? She told me to go to the local grain elevators and start asking some questions.
So that's exactly what I did. I helped out a couple of different guys in Hartford and Beresford with their harvest seasons for a couple of months, and of course, I loved driving.
It was then that I pulled the trigger and took my CDL test. I had kept in contact with the government lady in Atlanta - they were hoping I would just go away, but I was persistent. They started throwing hoops: I would have to get a medical card, I had to do third party testing for my driving test. I went out and found the toughest guy to give me the test - no one can say I went the easy route. It sounded like he was going to fail me right off the bat. But I passed!
What did you do next?
At that point I went to K&J again, a guy from Southeast Technical Institute's CDL program sent me and told me to say hi to Shelley while I was there. At that point I didn't have a clue who Shelley was! But I stopped to talk to Jen and mentioned I was supposed to say hi to Shelley. She happened to be walking past and heard me; she sat me down right then and there and we talked for maybe an hour and a half. It was a really great conversation; but I still had no idea who she was!
When I got home I pulled up K&J's website - when I found out who Shelley was, I figured I'd just had my interview!
When it came time to decide on a job, how did you make that decision?
There had been a couple companies who were decent to me, but no one had said, "Sure, come on in!" and given me the time of day like K&J had. Two days after that meeting with Jen and Shelley I got a call from K&J saying they'd really like me to come drive for them.
Now, with K&J's backing, I went back to go get my medical card and I can see that I'm so close, I'm almost there. The lady in Atlanta wanted me to get a prosthetic to take my driving test. I didn't want to do that.
But I went to the prosthetics place in Sioux Falls anyway - normally, they get referrals and things like that, but I just walked right in their door. "I've got no job, and no insurance, I just want to buy one of these."
They were probably shocked to see you!
They were very shocked! But they kind of surprised me and built my prosthetic to my specifications so that it was lighter than normal. In the end, it was supposed to be about $3,000, but they were such nice people. I was paying for it out of pocket so they knocked $1,000 off of the price and let me make payments. My wife and I take banana bread to their office every year for Christmas now!
So now I have my prosthesis, and someone was finally sent out to do all the road tests so I could prove I could do them. I've got my whole CDL now and everything looks fine. Shelley let me use one of her trucks and logs, I had someone with me in the truck for insurance purposes, and all.
But sure enough, two weeks later, it showed up in the mail that I had passed.
It was a very up and down journey, I'm surprised I'm not in better shape from all the hoops I had to jump through! But I couldn't drive for any other company.
What were some of the challenges you encountered when starting out in trucking?
I get a lot of drivers who come up to me at stops and tell me that they have a lot of respect for me for what I'm doing - so I've had no issues with that. Otherwise, just being away from home. The biggest challenge is when things come up at home and you can't be there to help out. A strong spouse at home is the best thing you can have.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to get into trucking?
Make sure it's what you want to do. It's not just sitting behind a wheel, it takes a work ethic.
What do you like best about K&J?
The people, without a doubt, and the atmosphere. I'm not just a number, it's always my name. They know my wife and daughter; my daughter could walk in any day of the week and everyone there knows who she is, they know she just got married, and that she's a teacher and lives in Minnesota.
I don't want to work somewhere that's so big that I'm just number 97, where they ask, "Why are you home so often? Why aren't you driving at midnight for sixteen hours?" K&J cares about their drivers, and cares about them as people.
How do you like owning your own truck? How long have you been an owner operator?
I love it! I like being an owner operator much better than being a company driver because I'm more in control. Of course, with more responsibility comes more headaches, but I still love it. I've been an owner operator since May of 2013. Want to learn more about becoming an owner operator? Click here!
What do you see in your future?
I've considered buying a couple more trucks and getting some drivers underneath me; I've got an opportunity, maybe 7 or 8 trucks with K&J!
Thanks for answering our questions, Joe!
You never know where life is going to take you. If you're interested in trucking, but don't have any experience, don't let that deter you! If it's what you're passionate about or if you feel like you'd be a good fit, you can make anything happen with a good work ethic and some elbow grease. Don't let people tell you no. Keep persisting, just like Joe did. Maybe you'll even find yourself a part of the K&J family!
If you want to start a conversation with Jennifer, just like Joe did. Click below!