Bryant Walker, of Los Angeles, started driving a truck at an age when many veteran truckers think about calling it quits. Last summer, Walker (then 51), retired from a three-decade career installing office telecommunications systems to pursue a boyhood dream of hitting the open road in an 18-wheeler.
change careers in less than a year
"Trucking appeals to people who have wanderlust,” said Rajkovacz, who helps new drivers get established. “For someone who spent a life cooped up in an office, the open road has an intoxicating appeal.”
In just the past 12 months, he took a commercial driver’s license course (much like our adult ed CDL course here at MCAS), used his savings to incorporate and buy a semi, found a driving partner and started looking for loads (cargo needing movement). He’s been going nonstop since the beginning of June, driving half the time and working on the business from home the other half, when his partner takes over.
“It’s been great,” Walker said. “I grew up around trucks, I had friends who drove trucks for more than 30 years. I have a couple who still drive, and one of them is going to team with me for a year or two.”
midlife crisis and career transitions
Finn Murphy worked as a long-haul mover through his 20s and returned to the trade at 50. A midlife crisis and divorced inspired him to walk away from a wholesale textile importing business in New England for a new chapter in Boulder, Colorado. “It was a difficult time,” Murphy said. “I did what a lot of guys who have a commercial driver’s license do — something happens in your life and you take to the road again to deal with it.”
Murphy’s been on the road again for the past nine years and even wrote about his adventures in a new memoir, The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road. Might be worth the read for those interested in this career. "The satisfaction I derive from my job is to be the captain of the move from beginning to end,” Murphy said. “I like the continuity and working with families.”
rookie commercial drivers over 50 is the new norm
Surprisingly, it’s becoming more common for people over 50 like Walker and Murphy to pursue second acts as truck drivers. “I’ve even seen retired airline captains of 747s” become truckers, said Joe Rajkovacz, director of governmental affairs and communications for the Western States Trucking Association in Upland, Calif.
Also, more women are climbing behind the wheel with their commercial driver's license. “Trucking appeals to people who have wanderlust,” said Rajkovacz, who helps new drivers get established. “For someone who spent a life cooped up in an office, the open road has an intoxicating appeal.”
Newcomers will find plenty of opportunity for work. The American Trucking Association estimates the trucking transportation industry will need 890,000 new drivers through 2025 to keep up with demand and to replace drivers who are retiring, among other factors.
Pros and cons to a life as a trucker
Time away from home can be lonely; spending days at a time sitting in a semi cab, eating truck-stop food can be unhealthy and the work can be physically demanding. People think they'll see the country and meet people, but mostly what they see are the painted lines of the highway, and many of the people they meet work on loading docks don't always treat truckers with respect, Rajkovacz said. Not all homeowners are hospitable to moving crews.
If you enter with your eyes wide open and being a truck driver in midlife can be quite rewarding — both personally and financially.
Be your own boss
For one thing, it's fantastic to be able to call your own shots and work only when you want to, Murphy said. He’s a contract driver for Joyce Van Lines, a nationwide mover handling high-end corporate relocations. When working, Murphy puts in up to 12-hour days packing and loading people’s possessions with the help of local crews; crossing the country to get to the client’s new home; unloading and sleeping — for weeks at a stretch.
Pay and benefits
Veteran high-end movers like Murphy can pull in six figures. Last year, the median wage for heavy- and tractor-trailer truck drivers was close to $20 an hour, or $41,340 a year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Truckers can earn more driving hazardous materials, flatbeds or tanker trucks or by earning other specialized certifications. Pay for other types of truckers varies depending on the type of license a driver holds, specialization and the part of the country he or she works in.
Murphy earns enough from truck driving that he doesn’t do it during the winter; he doesn’t like driving in snow. During his off-season, Murphy works for a Colorado group that teaches people with disabilities how to ski.
Walker hopes to gross $25,000 to $30,000 a month this year. “The average trucker can’t make that as a solo trucker, but we can because we’re working as a team,” he said. Company drivers may also get medical benefits, 401(k) retirement savings plans, disability and other insurance and paid time off. Independent contractors need to pay for their own health insurance and retirement benefits, not to mention the cost of buying or leasing a truck.
Getting Started as a Trucker
The first step to becoming a trucker is getting a commercial driver’s license, or CDL, required by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and state transportation departments.
Many short-haul, local or regional trucking companies won’t hire drivers without six months to a year of long-haul driving experience. As a result, entry-level trucking jobs are often with long-haul carriers. Those are some of the most grueling, sending drivers on cross-country trips that could last weeks or even months, quickly weeding out people who decide life on the road isn’t for them.