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  1. Interview with a Van Operator Recruiter: the Challenges, Perks and Advantages of Life on the Road

    We sat down with Suddath Relocation Systems van operator recruiter Matt Gill who shared his insights about the van operator industry and what he hears about life on the road.  

    Q: What do you look at when hiring a van operator?

    A: Driving is only a portion of what van operators do, so while we look at their driving record and certifications, we also consider a number of other factors.  Customer service is a big part of the job, so we look to see if they are good with people and check their customer service skills. We also look at things like getting the job done efficiently, how they handle packing and loading, setting things up and special customer needs.

    Q: What are some of the best benefits of being a driver?

    A: The money and the freedom to go where you want to go are definite benefits. You can travel and see the country and stop different places along the way. You get to be your own boss. It’s interesting, no two days are the same and it’s always changing.

    Q: What is an unexpected perk?

    A: Working with different people; you get to meet people from all different backgrounds, and you learn to laugh and adapt to different environments, both positive and negative.

    Q: What is the biggest challenge van operators have?

    A: Ensuring customer expectations are met. You never know what to expect and things don’t always turn out the way you think they will.

    Q: Do you have any advice to overcome this?

    A: Be flexible and like what you’re doing because every day is different and presents new challenges and solutions. Like today, this new driver called me because he was struggling to get his truck into a place—it was too big and wouldn’t fit. We made a plan to get him a smaller truck so he could unload and reload more easily and complete the job.

    Q: What do you think is the biggest challenge facing the industry?

    A: Finding and hiring new van operators.  The job still has many benefits and perks as I have mentioned, however it requires a good fit with someone who can spend time away from home and work independently.  Also, due to increased fuel prices and required federal paperwork the scope of the job has changed.  I am hoping we can find a way to offset some of these influencers to a decreased van operator pool, because it can be an awesome job.

    Q: What separates Suddath® from other companies?

    A: What separates Suddath is its size, booking capacity and consistency. Suddath has 22 locations and a home office; this provides a lot of opportunity for the van operators to book tonnage in those markets. A reliable company with a great reputation, Suddath is successful at closing jobs.  In fact, I believe we are the largest booker in the UniGroup system (United Van Lines and Mayflower Transit), hauling more tonnage than any other company.

    Q: What is the biggest advantage of working at Suddath for van operators?

    A: Being a big company that books a lot of tonnage means more consistent work outside the busy time of year. Whether they are veterans of the industry or rookie drivers, our van operators have solid schedules even in the off season.

    Gill says that it used to be that there was a lot of loyalty with van operators, but today companies aren’t seeing that as much. Despite this trend, Gill believes that van operators continue to stay with Suddath for 25-30 years. Suddath commits to hiring the best and hardest working drivers with exemplary customer service, and they consistently provide work for their drivers year round. Suddath stands head and shoulders above the others and will continue to attract the best van operators around. 

  2. New Year, New Career – So You Want To Be A Van Operator?

    The typical questions people have about how to become a van operator usually include such things as how to qualify for your commercial driver’s license (CDL) and whether you need to pass a health exam.

    To answer the first question, a CDL is issued by the state you reside in. In order to qualify you must pass both written and driving tests.

    With regard to your health, van operators must carry a Department of Transportation (DOT) physical card signed by a licensed physician. This states that the operator has the stamina and is healthy enough to operate their vehicle and perform their job duties without problems.

    And while these are two somewhat basic but important things, what you shouldn’t ignore when making this career decision is whether being a van operator is a good fit for you.

    Here are some characteristics you’ll need to be successful:

    Self-motivated. As a van operator, you are unsupervised and deadlines must be met.  You need to be self-motivated to do what it takes to meet those deadlines.

    Good with business. Many van operators are owner/operators. That means they must be good at managing money including paying the bills for fuel, lodging, labor, workmen’s comp and insurance.  (If you are hired as a company driver, Suddath manages these expenses for you.)

    Committed to being out on the road for long periods of time. During the busiest times of the year, van operators are away from home for months at a time.   Other times, you might be away 2-3 weeks and back for a couple of days.

    Customer-oriented. Suddath is committed to making our customers’ moves as smooth and worry-free as possible. Our van operators understand that people are entrusting their most precious belongings to us. It’s important to have good people skills, patience and be able to make customers feel comfortable and at ease.

    Flexible. You never know what is going to happen on the road and during a move. From furniture not fitting through a doorway or into a room to road closures and all kinds of situations.  Things don’t always turn out the way you think they will, so you need to be a good problem solver and easily adapt to changing situations.

    If you see these characteristics in yourself and are excited by the prospect of a lucrative career that never gets boring and allows you to travel and explore the country, being a van operator might just be the perfect career choice for you.

    For more information on becoming a Suddath Van Operator please call 1.888.768.3056 or visit suddath.com

  3. Weigh Station Rules & Regulations

    November 14, 2012

    When you’re not a truck driver, you probably whiz right past weigh stations without really even thinking about it. But, if you’re thinking about becoming driver of a moving van, semi, or other large truck, taking notice of weigh stations will be a necessary part of your job.

    To ensure the safety of truck drivers and everyone else on the road, the Department of Transportation has many regulations for large trucks. They consider tire-load safety, road width, bridge height, and other on-the-road conditions to create these regulations. While there are some overarching laws and requirements, each state can determine some of their own.

    The variance of rules and requirement across state lines can make things confusing. However, most states’ laws are at least similar, including requiring trucks of 10,000 pounds or more to stop at all open weigh stations. Width restrictions are 102 inches in general, but some states require 96 inches or less.

    So, how is it possible to know whether or not you have to stop, and which states require which laws? Many companies that employ drivers have approved driving routes, where they’ve checked to ensure that their trucks will be legal. When in doubt, stop at all weigh stations. Getting pulled over for disobeying any regulations will most likely result in a fine, as will being over the state’s regulated wight.

    There are now some ways to bypass weigh stations, legally, without getting pulled over. In fact, it’s now as simple as enrolling in a program and using an app on your phone. However, not all systems are accepted by all states, so it’s imperative that you check before driving across state lines and attempting to use it. Try PrePassDrivewyze, or NORPASS.

    We’ve gathered these resources for you to learn more about weigh station rules. Try these:

    AAA Motor Laws - A list of weigh station rules by state.

    Coops Are Open - Search for weigh stations by state.

    eHow - A basic DOT weigh station regulations overview.

  4. Essential Gadgets for A Day on the Road

    Barrett Moving and Storage

    Driving a truck may seem like a one-man job, but there’s a world of little guys, ready to work hard to make your job easier. And you can skip the job interview: a truck driver’s best assistants can be found at the electronics store, yours for a small price. While a few gadgets can make big difference in productivity and satisfaction, it’s easy to get overwhelmed by the exploding technology market. Smart phones that talk? Mini donut makers? Electronic books? Relax–you can be a tech-savvy, efficient driver with only a few simple gadgets.

    GPS Device
    A global positioning system, or GPS,  is a driver’s best friend. Most manufacturers offer a model specific to trucking, with truck-specific lane guidance, truck routes, points of interest, service directories, and, of course, traffic updates and maps. You’ll never have to wonder if the upcoming bridge accommodates your truck’s height and weight. You drive, and the GPS will navigate, helping you boost efficiency, minimize fuel costs, and drive with confidence. Try the Garmin dezl or the Rand McNally IntelliRoute.

    Internet-Enabled Device
    Whether you opt for a smartphone, a tablet, or a laptop, Internet access makes life on the road much more liveable. Before you purchase a gadget, assess your needs. Chances are, you’re using the Internet for email, web browsing, videos, and staying in touch with dispatchers. A smartphone can do all of these, but for videos, you might want a bigger screen. If so, go for a tablet, like the Apple iPad or Google Nexus. Tablets also double as e-readers. Like smartphones, tablets can connect to wireless Internet, or connect via a 3G cellular network. Depending on data usage, plans are available from $15 to $50 per month. Luckily, most truck stops have wifi, so if you’re not quite ready to retire your laptop, you’ll still be able to connect. And there’s no shame in laptops. For drivers with significant computer work, a laptop is the best choice. Both Mac and PC laptops are getting smaller and more portable, allowing users to work efficiently and comfortably on the go.

    Digital Audio Player
    When you’re on the road day after day, the radio doesn’t cut it. DJ your work day with a digital audio player. During off hours, load an mp3 player or iPod with playlists and podcasts for sustained, hands-free listening. If your truck doesn’t have an accesible audio input jack, connect your stereo to an mp3 player with an FM transmitter or a cassette adapter. If you’d prefer to let the professionals curate your listening, opt for satellite radio. Sirius XM offers hundred of channels: wonderfully curated music channels, sports shows, news programs, and exclusive content from musicians like Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. You can pick a subscription package suited to your tastes, started at $15 per month. Satellite radios are available in portable models, so you can listen in the truck, in the sleeping berth, or at home.

    Power Inverter
    A power inverter is the most important gadget of all. Plug a power inverter into your vehicle’s 12-volt system and you’ll be able to use standard electric plugs. Instead of purchasing car chargers for each device, you can power up your gadgets by plugging them into a power inverter. This is the gadget that enables all other gadgets. But be smart–power inverters are often designed with truckers in mind, and although we might need a lot of gadgets in a truck, it’s important not to overload a power inverter. Stick to three outlets or less.

  5. DOT Medical Examinations: What are they?

    October 29, 2012

    Safety is extremely important in the truck driving industry. Van operators take on a very large amount of responsibility when operating a large vehicle. Not only are they responsible for a load of cargo, but also the safety of those around them on the roads. For that reason, truck drivers and van operators must undergo a comprehensive physical exam every other year to ensure that they’re fit to operate such a large vehicle.

    The U.S. Department Of Transportation requires this exam before a commercial driver can be cleared to drive. The exam includes four parts: medical history, vision and hearing, blood pressure and urinalysis, and physical and neurological test.

    During the medical history section of the exam, the physician asks about your medical history: injuries, surgeries, illnesses, medications you take, and habits such as smoking are all on the list of questions you’re asked.

    The vision and hearing portion of the exam is a very important part of the exam, as good vision and hearing are imperative to driving any vehicle. To pass this part of the exam, you must have a field of vision for each eye of 70 degrees or more, and have at least 20/40 vision. You must also be able to distinguish colors, especially those used on traffic signs and signals. The hearing test just tests to see if you have any significant hearing loss.

    The blood pressure and urinalysis portion of the exam ensure that your internal health is up to par. To be a driver, your blood pressure must be less than 140/90. It’s possible that you’ll pass the exam with pressures near this level, but you may only be cleared for 3 to 6 months or one year while you work on correcting it. The urinalysis tests for any abnormalities in your urine.

    The physical and neurological section of the exam is similar to a normal physical, where the doctor checks all body systems and reflexes.

    If you pass all sections of the exam, you’ll receive a copy of the results, and you may have it printed in card form. If everything went well, you’ll be good to go for 2 years before you need another exam.

    View the U.S. Department of Transportation’s physical qualifications for drivers.

    Image Credit: Alex E. Proimos

  6. Good Samaritans

    October 25, 2012

    Dennis Sykes and Chris Young, of our 283 Minneapolis branch were traveling from Chicago, IL when they stopped at a highway rest area. Chris Young, a driver in training who has been with Barrett for just over a year, saw a couple parked beside them with the hood of their truck up.  Chris, wearing his cowboy hat walked over to their truck thinking he might be able to assist them and asked if there was anything that he could do to help. Chris, as it happens had been a former mechanic and was familiar with their particular truck engine.   He was able to tell them what they needed to do to allow them to get back on the road and get to where they could get the truck repaired. Chris stated he loves mechanics and was very happy to help.

    The couple was most grateful for their assistance and sent the following letter:

    “I am writing to tell your drivers of trailer number 6ET-283, thank you so much for being kind and giving of their time. It is rare to find people that are willing to check on a motorist that looks in need of help.

    My husband and I were driving back from Chicago, IL on Sunday and our Flatbed pickup truck started having this horrible knocking noise. We pulled over into a rest area and my husband proceeded to open the hood to see if he could figure out what was going on. It was during this time that your drivers pulled up next to us. One of the men went into the rest area while the other young man (in a cowboy hat) walked over to our truck and started asking if there was anything he could do. This is such a wonderful act of kindness on his part and I just wanted to let your agency family know how appreciative I am that he would go out of his way to make sure that everything was alright. I am very proud that this young man works for our van lines as he shows a character that most now days don’t.

    Please let him know how much this small act of kindness meant to me. I didn’t get the two mans’ names, but I did get the trailer number so that I could give your agency a call today.

    They had and as far as I know, still have no idea who they were helping at that rest area.”

    This is not the duo’s first act of being good Samaritans. Dennis Sykes was traveling down the road in Arizona when he encountered a drunk driver. Dennis said that the driver was weaving all over the road and came close to killing several people. Dennis called the highway patrol and reported the drunken driver. Dennis was able to get the guy to pull over onto the side of the road where the driver promptly passed out. Dennis waited for the Highway Patrol to arrive to ensure that the driver didn’t get back on the road.

    We are very proud of our dynamic duo and pleased to have them as part of the Suddath/Barrett team!

  7. Van Operator Moves the World

    October 18, 2012

    Karl Holder is a Van Operator for 412. He can tell you with confidence that customers across the globe have the basic same needs. He’s seen it… and he’s done it.

    Karl is from Stevenage England. His twelve years of experience in the industry has allowed him to move customers in three countries; England, Ireland and the United States. No matter where he is on the globe, Karl enjoys the comfort and security of helping each customer establish their new residence, ensuring everything is in place, beds are assembled and the customer is smiling when the sun goes down.

    Karl described that in Europe, COE’s (cabover) tractors are the norm. While the COE format has existed almost as long as internal combustion trucks, these flat faced tractors are common in Europe due to their ease of maneuverability on narrow streets.  According to Karl, the ride in a cabover is a bit bumpy, but the view is great.

    When Karl is not on the road, he can usually be found enjoying family time with his wife, and his three children. Relaxation and family time are very important and Karl clearly enjoys every minute of it. What is Karl’s advice to other Van Operators? “People are people, across the globe. They all want their move to go well, and feel the comforts of home as soon as possible. You can get a lot of satisfaction in meeting those customer needs and when the job is done well, you’ll feel just as good about the move as your customer”.

    Karl, we feel good about your commitment and enthusiasm and we are thankful that you are part of the Suddath family.

  8. A Van Operator’s Encounter with a Tiger Shark

    October 11, 2012

    A Van Operator’s Encounter with a Tiger Shark

    Joe Szirovicza has been a Van Operator with Suddath since 2008. He currently hauls for 440. Joe speaks with great gratitude and a fine sense of humor about his job, his daily activities and his customers.

    When Joe is not working, you can find him in the water. He has been scuba diving for 20 years and is a Certified Dive Master.

    One of Joe’s most memorable dives happened four years ago while diving caves and ledges in Ft Lauderdale. Joe swam into a cave and onto a ledge to get a close-up view of the sea-life and vibrant colors. While a careful look is often rewarded with a memorable sighting of colorful species of sea urchins, on this day Joe got more than he bargained for.

    When Joe found himself submerged on the ledge, he was suddenly nose to nose with a 15-18 ft. Tiger Shark. If you don’t know, Tiger Sharks are well known predators, known to attack, using all 3,000 of their teeth.

    Joe was paralyzed with fear. Knowing he should not make any quick movement to escape, and breathing slowly, he waited for what seemed to be a lifetime, for the Tiger Shark to react. After a minute or two, the shark slowly looked around and slowly left the cave.

    Joe was counting his blessings and regaining his composure when he was shocked to see that the shark swam back into the cave almost immediately.

    Joe describes what happened next. “Suprisingly, the shark very slowly positioned itself back on the ledge, resting on the bottom, giving me one more look, then the large shark closed it’s eyes.”

    Looking back, Joe believes the shark just was not hungry or felt a small diver was not worth the effort. For that, Joe is grateful.

    Thank you Joe for your story and what you do every day to delight our customers. We are grateful for you.

  9. What Makes a Van Operator Successful?

    Bob Davidge has been moving furniture and cars in some form or fashion since 1969. He is currently a car hauler with Suddath. I spoke to Bob this morning and I noticed immediately that this is a man that believes strongly in doing the right thing.

    Bob starts each day with a strategy. The first goal for the day is “Do a Good Job”. Bob believes if you approach your work with the intent of doing it well, you will succeed most of the time. Next, Bob strives to “Tell the Truth”. He believes people will respect you for your honesty, even if the news is not always the best news. Finally, Bob feels strongly that he should always “Work efficiently”. Working smart and efficiently has always helped Bob stay focused, save time and stay on schedule.

    Bob gets up early every day and keeps a positive attitude throughout the day. He plans his day based on the needs and schedules of his customers. Bob is very passionate that service, pride and workmanship are goals he sets for himself each day.

    Bob was born in Detroit and has been around cars all of his life. His father was an engineer with Ford Motor Company and like his dad, Bob is very mechanically inclined.

    In addition to his long term commitment to work and focus on success, Bob speaks with pride of his greatest accomplishment in life – His nine grown children.

    Bob is celebrating a birthday milestone September 27. Happy Birthday Bob and thank you for your great service to Suddath customers! We appreciate what you do each and every day.

  10. Truckers in the USA

    August 23, 2012

    When an 18 wheeler passes you on the highway, you may not stop to think that this modern ways of delivering goods and materials is relatively new in the transportation industry. Until the 1930s most goods and materials were delivered using trains or horse drawn vehicles. It took the gasoline powered engine and moving from chain drive vehicles to those driven by gears to lead to the development of the trucking industry as known today.

    During World War 1, trucks were used in military operations and Roy Chapin began experimenting with long-distant trucking using vehicles with pneumatic tires. White and Mack were two of the manufacturers that emerged in the era. White had begun as a business manufacturing sewing machines.

    Diesel engines and better roads helped to spread the industry in the 1920s but it took until 1933 for all states to enact weight regulations. The Motor Carrier Act authorized the Interstate Commerce Commission to regulate the industry in 1935.

    Today, there are more than 26 million trucks on the roads of America, responsible for carrying 70% of the freight in the country. Truckers provide important public services and are responsible for transporting virtually everything in the American home, including the construction materials that build the home itself.

    A trucker must carry a commercial driver’s license (CDL) issued by his state of residence. In order to qualify for the CDL truckers must pass both written and driving tests. In addition, there are weight limits and endorsements that the driver must meet.

    If the vehicle or vehicle combination is over 26,000 pounds, the driver must carry a Class A CDL. In addition, the driver will need endorsements for trailers, air brakes and hazardous materials. A tanker endorsement is required if the driver will be transporting liquids. If the trucker carries passengers, such as in a school bus, he or she will need a passenger endorsement.

    Truckers must be in generally good health. In addition to the CDL, the trucker must carry a DOT Physical card. This card must be signed by a licensed physician stating the trucker is sufficiently healthy to operate the vehicle without problems. Unregulated hypertension, vision or hearing problems as well as a lack of the physical stamina to perform the job can disqualify the individual from being a trucker.

    Today, many individuals wanting to become a trucker seek training to qualify for the CDL. Many community colleges and private truck driving schools offer courses that lead to the CDL. These courses include time in the classroom as well as behind the wheel. Individuals may qualify for financial aid to help cover the cost of the courses. Interested individuals should speak to the financial aid office at the school they are considering.

    American truckers provide a vital service to fellow citizens. At some point anything a person buys was transported on a truck. From small delivery vans to the triple trailer rig, the person responsible for transportation was a trucker. With the right training, license and experience, one can become a part of this important industry.

    Guest post by Gonzo Journalist Trucker, just another trucker on the road.

    Image Credit: WarzauWynn