Farming is like a puzzle in that it has many pieces. A farmer grows the crop and cares for the livestock but what then? Can he or she do it all by themselves? Who delivers the farmer their seed to plant? Who delivers the veterinarian their supplies for animals? How does the crop get delivered to where it is needed – like the local grain elevator or co-op? The answer to those questions is a semi-truck and driver, the number one job in America. One in every 15 workers in the country is employed in the trucking business.
As an Agriculture in the Classroom program coordinator, I have had the opportunity to present the lesson, Many Hats of an Iowa Farmer. In this lesson, students learn about all of the different jobs a farmer gets to do on the farm. But a modern-day farmer requires many more hats than any one person could wear at the same time.
That makes a lot of sense when you think about it, since almost everything a farmer needs for the farm, or sells from the farm, is hauled and transported by truck. Literally and figuratively speaking, the truck driver is the one who connects all of the pieces. They are sort of the Modge Podge, or the glue, of the farming community.
But what does it take to be a truck driver? I asked our friend, owner and operator Joe Leaders who works together with his dad, to tell me what a day looks like from behind his very large windshield.
Joe learned how to drive truck from his father and was required to take a special test when he wanted to drive a truck commercially. A Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is needed in order to legally drive a semi-truck on the roads. Driving a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) like a semi-truck requires a higher level of knowledge, experience, skills, and physical abilities than is required to drive a non-commercial vehicle like your family’s car. Semi-trucks are much bigger than cars and having additional training and experience helps keep them and you safe on roadways.
“You try to keep costs low by being your own mechanic. You tend to get good at maintaining your vehicle.” Part of Joe’s fleet of trucks also includes four different kinds of trailers: a grain trailer, a flatbed trailer, a pot, or livestock trailer and a drive-in trailer, also called box trailer. He is able to help farmers and agribusinesses transport a lot of different types of materials with all of these different trailers.
In order to transport their load and cargo safely, a driver needs to know what they are hauling each day and how to hook up or attach to the appropriate trailer to the truck. One semi-truck can pull many different kinds of trailers. When loading livestock, it is important to be aware of the size of animal, what they weight, and how to properly load them so that their semi and trailer, also called a rig, stays balanced.
Knowing the height and weight restrictions for each road is a very important part of a truck driver’s job. Every road has a limit of how much weight a semi-truck can haul. Carrying too much weight in the semi-truck and trailer could damage the road and might be unsafe for the driver. The weight of a semi-truck and trailer is spread out onto all of the vehicle’s axles. It take a bit of math and knowing how many axles your equipment runs to make sure you are staying “road legal”. Heavier loads may still be road legal if the weight is distributed across more axels. Eighty thousand pounds is the weight limit for most trucks. However during the COVID -19 pandemic more goods have needed to be shipped and transported. Joe and other truckers received permits allowing them to carry slightly heavier loads. Even when some areas are shut down, agriculture materials still need to be trucked to the places. Going under bridges can also be a problem for truck drivers. Drivers need to know exactly how tall the truck and trailer is and what is the bridge’s maximum clearance. Most bridges on public roads have a clearance of at least 14 feet. Most trucks have a maximum height of 13 feet, 6 inches so that they can safely pass under.
The seed that needs to be planted each season, fertilizer that is applied to fields, livestock which farmers raise to sell, equipment that is purchased from dealerships, and the food that farmers eat themselves is delivered across the county by hard working truckdrivers. They spend hours on the road sometimes away from their families for days at a time. Truckers are required to keep a logbook, tracking their miles and hours, and making sure not exceed the 12 hours of drive time. Some things need to be hauled and transported over long distances. These journeys – sometimes across the country might take several days. Joe has traveled from Iowa to states as far away as Georgia. Everyone in America relies on truck drivers like Joe to bring them almost every item they eat, use or wear.
Joe says, “The best part of driving truck is going new places and meeting new people. And showing my sons around the country when they have the chance to ride with me.”
Do you know a truck driver in your life? Extend a great big thank you to each and every one!