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Driver Spotlight – Jeff Pelletier

Driver Spotlight – Jeff Pelletier

It’s 1985ish, Tears for Fears – “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” is on the stereo, or was it the eight-track?  I ended up regretting that choice; although the sound was better, I couldn’t quite get over the fadeout during the song, and then the big click-clock of the head moving to the next track. I’m in a green cabover heading downtown on I-70 in St. Louis for my first regional run.Nothing can compare to your “first trip” in a semi. Although it was short, to the rail yard, I had to circumvent the underpass of the old railroad trestle just south of the Gateway Arch. Yes, the interstate had a “low bridge” in downtown Saint Louis, and those that did not know to stay in the center lane ended up losing their top; literally, creating nightmare traffic for the rest of the interstate travelers of the day.

I had graduated from “spotter” to “driver”. Container freight in St. Louis was pretty good back in the 80’s and I was busy from sunrise to sunset moving – spotting trailers for the local cartage company. I did need a medical card back then, but the “company doctor” took care of all that paperwork in the back of the mobile office. I just signed a few forms and was on my way.

After a few months, spotting became an “art”; forty to fifty trailers a day from the remote yard a mile down the road to stage them for both our drivers and those “cowboy long-haul drivers” that occasionally brought loads in from all parts of the country. The “outside drivers” would pull into the lot downshifting, and engine brakes blaring.  Some; you could hear a mile away, down by the Mississippi River barge docks. These drivers had a look and feel all their own; they were the last great cowboys of the concrete.

 
 
 
 

 

Drivers were all about style. Cowboy boots were shiny, belt buckles were large, and the plaid shirts were pressed and tucked into their straight-legged jeans. Flip-flops? You’d be “shot on sight”. Drivers carried many forms of “protection” back then.

Hats were a given, and you could almost “regionalize” the type of hat to the state, or region the trucker grew up, or currently worked in. Cowboy hats were of course from those out west, or southwest. The baseball hats that had the “deep” curve were from the south.

I could never get the eastern drivers categorized into any one single hat, but their brash demeanor would give them away almost instantly. All the drivers came into the yard and immediately respected the meager yard rules that were posted, and also instantly asked for the nearest phone, to call dispatch. I don’t believe that the term “headset” had been coined just quite yet.

Trucks back then were not at all about “creature comfort”. You were lucky to find just the right crosswind to get any air into the cab, and the side scoops did work, only for the sleeper. Stepping up the ladder into the truck was a planned action since you had to start on the right foot to get into the truck with the left foot first. Oh yeah, after crawling over the “doghouse”, the sleeper was quite cozy. Just enough space to put in a cot and blankets. Air seats were just coming into vogue, but spring-ride was still the common seat of the day. Trucks ran 24/7 back then. If you were not moving, you were not making money. Some things never change.

Containers were 24 or 40 feet in length and were mainly from overseas. Continental (US based carriers) containers did not come into fashion until I was out of the industry for a few decades, and when I returned, they were already entrenched into the transportation system.

The term “Just In Time” meant you made it to the drive-in right before the movie started, or got to the market Saturday evening before they closed “for the rest of the weekend”. My deliveries were for a certain day of the week, not a certain hour of the day.  Boy, have things changed over the years.

Time moved quite differently back then. I was in the industry for a few years before “life” happened, and I moved on to different jobs through the years.

Climbing the corporate ladder took me in and out of the transportation and logistics industry throughout my career. I earned my certificate to perform “Lasik” while coordinating movement of the fleet of lasers across the U.S. and ensuring all the drivers were D.O.T compliant. I did survive a review from the dreaded Department of Transportation regional office.  It was almost as bad as my IRS Audit in 1995. That’s another story though.

 
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Jeff with billionaire Warren Buffett.
 
 

I managed the movement of reporters and photographers with the numerous television news stations after graduating Magna Cum Laude with a degree in communications. I remember my wife at the graduation ceremony only weeks before the birth of our first son. St. Louis heat in June is not welcoming for pregnant women. Not a happy camper, but a trooper for sure.

I got out of the news business and went into media production and ended up winning a few awards including a “Telly” for audio, and some collegiate trophies for work during my study for my Master’s Degree. I’m taking the extended degree path though since “life” happens.

September 11, 2001, I was planning on two weeks of vacation to welcome the birth of my second son on September 12; (planned cesarean). Interesting how plans don’t always go the way you had thought. I ended up writing the corporate letter for those who lost loved ones after the attack. I still have Bernie’s signature somewhere.

The “Big Crash” of 2008 changed many lives, and we all had to either sink, swim, or adapt and change. I did the best I could.  Weeks of layoffs felt like the draft to me. Sooner or later my number would be called, and I would have to adapt quickly. That day came, my number did come up, and that Thursday before thanksgiving I was called up to the executive boardroom. I knew it was coming, I just wasn’t sure how big the axe was going to be, and who would be swinging it.

The Director of Human Resources and my boss were in the room. Here it was a week before Thanksgiving, Christmas is on the horizon, and I’m on the chopping block. I sit down and start listening. I go into a daze with thoughts of civilization crumbling; what was I going to do to support my family? Then I saw the two stacks of paper and asked what was happening. They said one was my “term package” and the other was my new “consulting contract”.

What?

Contract?

What did I miss?

It seems that during my mind numbing world doom and destruction thoughts, they had explained that there was too much still on my plate as an employee and that it was my turn to go, but they needed me to continue on as a consultant, to complete those projects. Whew, I dodged the hatchet, but I knew my time was limited. I started my consulting business the next day.

Over the course of the next few years, I moved the family to Boise, ID to get back into television news as an Assistant News Director and Assignment Manager. I directed national news coverage of a Congressional Senator’s professional implosion; moved on to construction marketing, winning multi-million dollar projects; shooting groundbreaking video for combat troops training for deployment in Afghanistan and AAR (After Action Reviews) using GPS to pinpoint everything from the direction the troops were shooting, to the accuracy of their shots; moving back to St. Louis to take care of my mother (she passed away in August).

I managed million-dollar advertising budgets, produced and directed trade show entertainment and floor displays, built and managed websites, you name it, I worked at it.

I was all over the board, and couldn’t “settle-in” to a profession. One day my wife said, “go back to driving; that’s where I met you, and you were happy then”. In August of 2012, I went back to school, again. I couldn’t use my driving experience of decades ago, and also couldn’t claim my previous use of around seven driver’s licenses at once. (it was a common practice back in the day) (shhhh…please) ….

 
 
 
 

 

I ended up going to Schneider to restart my career and went through all the options available to me; Solo, Team, Solo Trainer, Team Trainer, Owner Operator. It all was good, just not fulfilling, and the stress of being an O/O, in the end, got me to thinking, oh the good old days.

I ended up quitting Schneider for a “tour company” driving for Paul McCartney, AC/DC, and 5 Seconds of Summer. Tour life was different now as a married, family man, and family was suffering severely.

I hired on with Nussbaum back in October. I now feel “at home” and looking forward to creating the rest of my career here. I just got into my new truck, and am telling everyone that you can rip my hands off the steering wheel when I’m finished with this one. It’s great!

I’ll tell you more about it in future articles, hopefully not as long, but still full of life. Oh yeah, and my new CB has more than 23 channels as well. I look forward to sharing my thoughts, and life experiences on the road with “70 feet of steel”.

Blessings to you, driver! See ya on the flip side! I’m starving the bears; the coops are closed, and it’s clear all the way back to the lou! 

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