Larry Wissel, 54, is one of the proud few who has served his country in the military and on the nation’s highways as a professional trucker for more than 30 years.
“It’s good training,” Wissel said of his military service. “I got to do a lot of things a lot of people couldn’t do.”
Driving a 2007 Century Freightliner as an independent contractor, Wissel has traveled the lower 48 hauling anything and everything.
“I got flexibility with driving the truck,” Wissel said. “They’re all interesting; each and every load is something [interesting]. I’ve hauled a lot of government loads. I’ve done reefers, dry van, doubles, tankers. I tried flatbed once, [but] didn’t like it.”
Wissel has seen a lot while out on the road, but said he can’t forget about the older driver at a truck stop north of Indianapolis he saw standing in the parking lot staring out at seemingly nothing.
“It was like 20 below zero; he’s standing there staring with no coat on. I walked by and asked, ‘Are you alright?’” Wissel said, as the driver told him of his harrowing 360-degree turn with his big rig on the highway just moments before being able to pull into the truck stop. “That road was extremely slick,” he said, adding that the driver was OK.
It’s scenarios like this that Wissel said new drivers should talk to industry veterans about to find out how to handle tough driving situations behind the wheel.
“My best advice is to take your time because it takes time to learn everything. It’s a lot of material; you’ve got a lot of different terrains and weather [conditions]. The best thing you can do is drive what you can handle. Don’t do any more than you think you can handle,” he said. “A lot of guys get the sweaty palms. They’ll try to push themselves when you know inside in your mind, you know when you’re pushing it too far … Every driver has to learn his threshold.”
Wissel said one of the most important issues to address in the trucking industry is to make sure drivers that emigrate from other countries are better trained on U.S. trucking regulations.
“A lot of them are not very clear on the fact that the United States requires certain guidelines and safety procedures and things being kept up to a certain way on vehicles,” he said.
Around Christmas, Wissel said he usually takes time off to stay home in Deland, Florida and goes back on the road in March. When he’s home, he’ll occasionally rent a Harley from a shop in Daytona Beach and cruise up and down the Florida roadways on his own or with friends or relatives.
“That’s the nicest time to be in Florida, it’s the best months, it’s the coolest” temperatures, he said. “[I’ll] run down a bunch of back roads … to St. Augustine or U.S. 1 down to Miami.”
Though Wissel admits “every state has something special about it,” he is more focused on completing the task at hand.
“You’ve got to stop and smell the roses, they say. But for me, it’s just getting from point A to point B.”