Nathan Swilling, 34, remembers when he was “that guy” — the newbie trucker holding up traffic, making a mistake or two … or even three. Despite how the transportation industry is part of his heritage — several uncles drive various types of trucks and many women in his family work as fleet managers or dispatchers — he remembers getting into the industry for the wrong reason.
He said, “[I was] in it for the money,” something he admits draws in many young drivers. “That’s not the right way to think about it,” he adds.
Swilling said it “pays decent” but today, he realizes it’s a lifestyle. And nine years later, hauling a variety of freight, primarily specialized and oversized, is an adventure as an owner-operator with ATS out of St. Cloud, Minnesota.
“The serenity, the freedom, the adventure, seeing the country,” Swilling said at the Petro Stopping Center in North Little Rock, Arkansas, of why he enjoys trucking, but more complicated loads provide “the challenge — saying you’ve done it.”
One of those challenges was a 197-foot-long wind blade that he transported 421 miles from southeast to northwest Iowa.
“Patience with other people on the road,” he said was his strength when cars darted around him. “It’s totally understandable — I don’t want to be behind me either,” he laughed.
He’s traveled the lower 47 — all but Vermont — preferring to drive in places like the South with his 2012 Peterbilt 389.
He said his best advice for a new driver would be to “do plenty of research about the company” to make sure they have integrity.
“They should go the extra mile to help a driver,” Swilling said. “No one wants to be treated as a number.”
Swilling admits he’s a different man than when he first got into the trucking industry, in more ways than one. Three years ago, he accepted God into his life after watching his wife Michelle find her faith again.
“It was rubbing off on me,” he said, adding that while out on the road, “I was listening to a sermon and it woke me up to the life I was living … I started crying, I never realized it.”
Ever since then, there’s been a dramatic change in his heart “and I’ve been on fire for Him.”
But that comes with some unique challenges in itself.
“I’m not a people person at all,” Swilling said, something he asks God to help him overcome. “I’ve noticed the Lord, He puts me with these people,” those that need spiritual fulfillment at the right times. He’s been able to share his faith with at least four out of the five escort drivers he’s worked with on specialized projects of late.
“I’m not perfect … but I want to be an example” of what a Christian is for fellow truckers, he says. When he’s home he attends Gateway Church in Southlake, Texas.
The key is not just hearing and knowing about God, but “you have to have a personal experience with Jesus. He died for us so we could live.”
His faith has changed every aspect of his life, including wanting to spend as much time with his children — five between him and his wife ranging from 3 to 23 years old — when he’s home in Hurst, Texas, usually a few days out of a month.
“I can’t stand being away from them,” he says, and tries to do fun family outings like dinner and a movie when he’s home.