How long driving: 32 years
Drives for: Atlas Van Lines
Route: All 48 states
Truck: 2009 Freightliner Columbia
Birthday: Jan. 18, 1958
NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — When The Trucker arrived at the Petro here to interview drivers for feature stories, we happened upon Joe Elmer as he sat reading our July 1 issue.
Elmer, a driver for 32 years, of Cabot, Ark., was at the truck stop because later that day he’d be boarding a Greyhound bus to Buffalo, N.Y., to begin a new job with Atlas Van Lines, and because his wife, Stevie, works at the Iron Skillet restaurant.
His last job, driving reefer, was with a small company that didn’t pay him, so on the day The Trucker talked with him he’d been without trucking work for a month. He quit that company after just three weeks of work and spent a month doing odd jobs until he signed on with Atlas Van Lines.
Joe and Stevie met at the Petro 10 years ago and after her shift they “went dancing and a month later we got married,” Elmer said.
The moving van job won’t be a new type of work for Elmer since he’s done it in the past. He worked for Red Ball Movers for 14 years.
“When I move a household, they send guys out to help me unload,” Elmer said as he explained how his new job will work. “Sometimes we have to pack everything and unpack. It’s different than freight hauling where you are paid by the mile or load. Furniture is a different ballgame. You load and unload yourself and they pay drivers 54 percent of the fee. Out of that comes my fuel and my help [to load and unload].”
Elmer said for a $5,000 job he’d end up with about $1,200 after paying for fuel and people to help with the job.
“Rough estimate I’ll make $16 to $18 per hour,” Elmer said. “I know what loads to pick and not to pick. With some dispatching (for regular freight haulers) you have to take a load because you’re a company driver.”
Looking back on his career and having had to quit the last job because of non payment, Elmer said he’s learned a thing or two.
“Never go for a small company, go for one that has benefits and pays taxes and treats you like a human,” he said. “But to some big companies you’re just a number. You don’t have to worry about getting your paychecks, though.
“Some of the big companies treat drivers bad and don’t pay them much. They don’t teach them good enough when they go to school. They don’t teach them to back up. I don’t think they should be able to do that; they should teach them right.”
Elmer said that he knows what’s wrong with trucking and what it’s going to take to fix it.
“The reason the industry is messed up is drivers won’t stick together,” he said. “We need to get all the drivers to have a strike — all we’d have to do is say so and people would clean out the stores because they’d be afraid there wouldn’t be any food.
“Drivers don’t care anymore. They say they’ll lose their job if they strike. A lot of truck stops are getting rid of TV lounges because drivers tear them up. …Something’s got to be done. One driver out of 50 can ruin it for other drivers because he’s [expletive] off about something. …There are some good and bad drivers. You’ve got some gross drivers, too.”
Elmer said his father was a truck driver. He’s got nine brothers and five sisters.
“My mom had 32 grandkids and 16 great grandkids,” Elmer said, adding that he has two grown children and two grown step-children. He’s also got two grandchildren ages two and four.
Elmer said with the new job he’ll be able to get home whenever he wants but won’t come home if he has to drive an empty truck more than a couple of hundred miles to get there.
“Besides that I’ll lose my stomach — I’ll get back skinny — I tell my wife ‘you’ll fall back in love with me.’ We get along even though other people think we treat each other bad by the things we say,” he continued. “I love my wife dearly. There’s not a thing I wouldn’t do for her. No matter where I am, if she said she needed me home I’d be there. My wife and kids come before anything. I may lose my job [to come to their aid] but that’s fine.
“I’m always going to make it one way or another. I don’t like to argue and fight because you say things you don’t mean to say.”
Barb Kampbell of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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