The other day, I got a remarkable email from one of my readers. He told me a story of when he nearly drove right into a funnel cloud in the wee hours of the morning in his semi truck, nearly ending his life.
Luckily, he managed to only end his career, not his life.
Online, he goes by the pseudonym “wolverine307” – or, Wolverine for the rest of this post. In the late 90s and early 2000s, he was an off and on OTR (Over The Road) truck driver. He drove thousands of miles transporting stuff from here to there. Back and forth, and it never stopped.
I’m fascinated by truck driving stories. As a full-time traveler myself, I can testify first hand how much you see on the roadways. Stupid (unaware) drivers, all kinds of weather, nasty accidents.
But, the story that Wolverine told me was easily the most interesting I’ve heard. I immediately asked if I can post it on the blog, and he agreed.
Wolverine, take it away.
A funnel cloud nearly ended him
The toughest thing about driving a truck
Thus, in order to stay in everybody’s good graces
Once, I had a load I needed to get to Wichita before the close of business on Friday. If I failed to do so, not only would everybody be disappointed and upset, but I’d have to sit on the load until Monday, thus denying myself the chance to get another load going somewhere else.
It was the day before the delivery was due. I was driving north up I-35 south of Oklahoma City (OKC). I had the radio on for weather reports because it was tornado season. The skies looked ominous. I’ve seen this movie before.
I know how the sky looks for tornadoes.
It was about noon and I hadn’t eaten all day. Once I got to the northern fringes of metro OKC, I stopped for lunch. The local diner had the TV set blaring the local TV station and it was doing non-stop weather updates.
Remember the devastating Moore, OK tornado?
A tornado had just touched down in Moore, about 10 minutes or so south of where I was sitting. The map had markers for all of the sites that had tornadoes touch down in the area.
I was not comfortable with driving into such storms.
I decided to grab a motel room (because it would have a TV) and see if the storms would move on. Hopefully, tomorrow would be a better day.
I calculated that I needed to hit the road no later than 2 AM in order to be there before the receiver closed for the day. I turned in early.
I woke up at about 1 AM, showered, got dressed, and flipped on the TV for an update. No change. The day was going to be just like the day before. Tornadoes all over the area.
This time, however, I was going to be driving in the dark. I wouldn’t even have the advantage of seeing them approach.
I hit the road anyway.
I had the radio on trying to get a clue as to where the tornados were hitting, but the local broadcasts are geared towards the local market – expecting only locals to be listening.
They all know where Smith County and Jones County are located. I don’t. If they would’ve rattled off the names of the nearby cities I might have had a good idea where I was relative to these deadly storms.
I was driving blind.
I very well could’ve been driving into the teeth of a tornado, but I had no way of knowing. Finally, the sun came up, and out into the distance in front of me, there it was.
About 5-6 miles up the interstate (I’m guessing) I saw a funnel travel across the roadway.
Way too close for comfort. I can’t do this.
It was then and there that I decided that this was stupid. I’m literally risking my life in the ice storms, tornadoes, traffic, etc., for peanuts.
About a week or so later, I dropped off a load near the company terminal. I told the dispatcher I was coming in. I dropped off the truck and bid them farewell.
It’s like playing Russian Roulette out there. Eventually, you’re gonna get the loaded chamber. It’s just a matter of time.
I could tell you about driving west on I-70 down the mountains just west of Denver BEFORE they put the chain warnings up. That’s fun too. Nothing like hauling 80,000 lbs of killing machine down icy inclines.
Between the all-nighters, bad truck stop food, stupid drivers, weather, road construction, surly warehouse people, everybody (and their brother) trying to rip you off, and everything else, it’s no wonder why there’s a shortage of truck drivers nationally. The pay nowhere near compensates you enough for the risk you take, both physically and legally.
There are some parts of truck driving I miss: The freedom of the road, no boss looking over your shoulder, seeing different parts of the country, etc….
But overall, I’m glad I’m done with it.
Is driving a truck a “FIRE” advantage?
There is no question that driving a truck can save you money. Minimal expenses and lots and lots of business deductions. A shortcut to financial independence and early retirement? Maybe. It’s possible.
There is still a cost to this career, and it might not be just about dollars.
Wolverine argues that there’s another side to that coin – the risk of making tragic decisions with your health (and life) under the stresses of schedules, demands, and deadlines. He set out on the roadway in the pitch black at
The sun was the only thing that illuminated the danger.
The time away from home can strain relationships. Many truckers drive more than 100,000 every year – that’s a ton of miles. Lots of hours by yourself, sitting in traffic, eating truck stop food. Why? Most drivers don’t get paid unless they are delivering.
The wheels gotta be in motion for the cash to keep flowing.
Of course, the point of this article isn’t to convince you that driving a truck is a bad career. Certainly, people can and do enjoy long and successful careers as truck drivers.
Rather, it’s a prompt to get us to ask ourselves an important question: How much is too much? At what point do we go too far for the almighty dollar?
What say you?
Steve is a 38-year-old early retiree who writes about the intersection of happiness and financial independence. Steve is a regular contributor to MarketWatch, CNBC, and The Ladders. He lives full-time in his 30′ Airstream Classic and travels the country with his wife Courtney and two rescued dogs.