When we talked to Larry Van Driesen he was traveling through Cedar City, Utah, but he took some time to answer a few questions for us on his long career in trucking, 51 years, in fact! Larry has been driving for South Dakota trucking companies for his entire career. He admits that has seen a lot of changes, but he is still going strong and loving his work. We also talked with Larry’s wife Marilyn on what it was like being the wife of a trucker both in the past and now. They both had fascinating insights on the history of trucking in South Dakota.
K&J: Tell me about your family.
Larry: My wife Marilyn and I have two children who both live in Sioux Falls. Marilyn used to teach school, so she would ride with me in the summer. But we moved to Sioux Falls two years ago and now she is busy with the grandkids so she doesn’t travel with me as much now. We have four grandkids. My son has a boy and girl and my daughter has two sons. Our oldest grandchild even rode to Rapid City with us and I remember he had fun counting the antelope. The other grandkids have ridden with me around town and enjoy it. It is just part of who grandpa is!
K&J: You’ve been trucking for 51 years, but 33 of those have been with K&J Trucking. How did you hear about them?
Larry: Well, for 18 years I hauled livestock. I came to Sioux Falls wanting to be done with livestock. At that point I had no idea what K&J Trucking was or that it was in Sioux Falls. While in Sioux Falls I ran into a friend of mine in who drove truck on a sanitation route and I told him that I wanted to try long-haul trucking. He said that he had a friend who worked on his sanitation trucks and big trucks too and I should talk to him. The mechanic recommended K&J Trucking and the rest is history.
K&J: How was it transitioning from hauling livestock to driving a reefer trailer?
Larry: The transition to reefer was a learning experience. I knew nothing about them other than hooking it up and going down the road. I give K&J a lot of credit for being with me through that transition period. I told them I might call with dumb questions and they said, there are no dumb questions, you just call.
K&J: What changes have you seen in the trucking industry since you first started?
Larry: Obviously when I started very little of the interstate system was done. So that has been a big change that affected me. Also the equipment now is so much better. The seats are probably the biggest innovation from a personal standpoint. They are much more comfortable. When I first started my truck had no air conditioning, no power steering and no air-ride suspension. The heating system also wasn’t great. Things are much better for drivers now.
K&J: What is the hardest thing you have had to deal with over the years?
Larry: I guess, they come in increments. You adapt to them as they come. Keeping up with rules and regulations is sometimes a challenge, but nothing that I can’t handle. They tend to come out in increments. One challenge coming up is the electronic log-book mandate. You wonder about that. I don’t think they will be a problem, but there is up-front anxiety getting used to anything new.
Probably the hardest thing other than that would be the weather conditions coming out of the Midwest.
K&J: When you meet someone and tell them you are an OTR driver, what is their reaction?
Larry: Generally I think they have great respect for you. A lot of them wonder how I can be gone that long. I just tell them, we are not all created to like the same things. From my perspective I have been on vacation for 51 years. I genuinely enjoy my job. Yes you miss things back home, but you also experience some really cool things on the road. There are definitely pros and cons.
K&J: What technological changes have you seen since you started driving?
Larry: One big thing in technology has been cell phones. I can remember when I first started trucking and I was hauling livestock I could only call when I got to a pay phone at a truck stop or my final destination. There were lots of times before cell phones when they would have you come back home because they got a call that changed plans. Man, if I would have had cell phones then it would have been a lot easier. My first phone was an old bag phone. I don’t remember the exact date but it would have been somewhere in the late 80s or early 90s. That thing was big. The reefers are different too. New units are more efficient and have better capacity along with an improved r-factor. Back in the 80s, if you took a load of ice cream to Arizona in the summer you were in trouble. Now you don’t have any issues.
K&J: What do you drive and how often do you get a new big rig?
Larry: I drive an off-white Peterbilt 579 it is a 2017. I’ve been an owner operator since 1976. In 1993 I started on a 3 year rotation of replacing my trucks. There are lots of schools of thought on that, but for me it works well with the depreciation schedule. I’ve found that if the truck gets much older than that you start having more maintenance issues.
K&J: What do you appreciate about K&J Trucking?
Larry: Really good people. Treat you as an individual. With other large companies you are just a number. It is a family. Everyone knows you and you know everyone else. When you call in the morning, they know your name, who you are, where you are at. I have nothing but good to say about K&J Trucking.
K&J: Will you ever retire?
Larry: Well, my wife says this should probably be the last truck. But I don’t know that I will ever give up completely. Thankfully I’m healthy and K&J has said they can keep me busy!
K&J: What do you do to stay healthy on the road?
Larry: I walk an hour a day unless it raining, snowy, or icey. My wife and I both do that. We also watch our diet. If you don’t do something physical with this job you start to gain weight and deal with health issues.
K&J: What is the secret to a good relationship on the road?
Larry: The cell phone has helped immensely. We talk often. It helps that my wife understands my love for driving because she also loves to travel. She has been to China 25 times. She would go over for 4-6 weeks at a time and teach English to Chinese teachers. We have made travel a priority for our family. We have had several exchange students over the years, including 2 sisters from Brazil. They still call us mom and dad and we have traveled to Brazil to visit them 6 different times. My wife called me yesterday and they are having a big 40th birthday that we would love to attend if we can make it work. Marilyn’s favorite trip was a river cruise from Amsterdam to Budapest.
K&J: Last question, what is the weirdest load you’ve hauled in a refrigerated trailer?
Larry: I hauled aluminum coils to a boat factory during the winter. They needed the controlled environment of the refrigerated trailer to keep the coils from getting cold and sweating. If those coils were to go on a flatbed in the winter they sweat and rust.
A Trucking Wife’s Perspective
K&J: What should we know about Larry?
Marilyn: Well he will be 73 in May. He walks an hour every day and he eats healthy for a driver. He mostly eats out of the truck: fruit, yogurt, milk and other healthy foods. Larry doesn’t really have any hobbies. I worry what he will find to keep him busy if and when he retires. But when he wakes up in the morning he wakes up with a smile on his face looking forward to what he is going to do and what he is going to see on the road.
K&J: Marilyn, what was it like being a trucker’s wife when your kids were young?
Marilyn: When I first got married and we had kids it was harder. My father was a salesman and was gone a lot so it didn’t seem as hard. Kids missed him at school events. That got a lot better when he started at K&J because they made a point for him to be around more.
The children were in the truck every summer. The old trucks had the cab over the engine so between the driver and passenger seats there was a thing called the dog house. It was a flat piece covered with leather. That is where we changed their diapers. It was nice and warm. We had a double sleeper at that time so it was easier to take the kids along. We always said they had more miles under their belt than any other children in their school. We took them all over the US in the truck and K&J supported that. Both our kids still love to travel. All four of us have wanderlust.
K&J: What advances have you seen in the trucking industry?
Marilyn: Well trucks are quieter now since the engine is in front now. New trucks are more fuel efficient. The refrigerated trailers have improved. They are so computerized it lets you know what is wrong and if it doesn’t tell you, Larry just calls Lou at K&J and he talks him through. The trucks have better tires... better everything.
K&J: What is the secret to a successful relationship with a truck driver?
Marilyn: The early days were hard. Long distance rates were expensive so we got a 1-800 number so he could call me for a monthly fee that was cheaper than long distance, but now with cell phones it is much better.
Larry calls me sometimes 5 times a day for a fuel price or just to check in and say hello. If I need to ask him something I call him and I communicate with him a lot. A lot of people are shocked, but we have really worked at communication. I miss going along with him. In the past, if I could I would go along. But our daughter really needs me to help with the boys and I love being with them. When we lived in Platte I got to go with Larry more but I didn’t see the grandkids as much. We just make it work.
K&J: From a spouse’s perspective, what is it like working with K&J Trucking?
Marilyn: K&J Trucking is so good to him, but really they are that good to anybody. You get a lot of bonuses and perks for working holidays and for maintaining safety. They treat you like family and know you by name. They have regular safety meetings at K&J and you have to attend to keep up on safety regulations. K&J provides a free lunch and encourages everyone to bring their spouses. I can’t explain it, but they are family. The are just terrific people.
If you are interested in driving regionally, we want to talk to you! K&J is hiring regional drivers in the Sioux Falls, SD area, Kearney, Nebraska area and the Guymon, Oklahoma area. If this is you, click below and we can see if K&J is a good fit! (We are also hiring long-haul and intermediate!)