How long driving: 38 years
Company driver for Tony Transport Service
Truck: 2006 Freightliner
Hauls: Dry van
Birthday: June 28, 1948
Favorite Place to Drive: All over
NORTH LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — Stephen Straukas, Jr., is a hard working guy who goes about his day and his work with a positive attitude and this, in his opinion at least, is why he gets plenty of work — which not every trucker can say in this economy.
“I drive the East Coast,” Straukas said, referring to an area of the country that a lot of drivers refuse to service. “I go where the money is. I go where my boss tells me to go. I don’t complain. If you do what you’re told to do, everything works out. I’m going to try to buy my own truck in the early fall.”
Straukas owned his own truck back in the ’70s. He said back in those days everybody got along and helped each other.
“Now they want to sit back and act like a crash dummy,” he said. “How they drive. They don’t help each other. They aren’t friendly and don’t want to talk on the CB or at the truck stop. They don’t wish to socialize.” A crash dummy, he added, sits there and looks ahead and never talks to anybody.
Straukas, of Kenosha, Wis., drives for Tony Transport and hauls general commodities. He is father to four grown boys, one of which he lost in 2006 to a motorcycle accident. His oldest is a truck driver.
Before he got into trucking, Straukas was in the Army and then did construction work for a couple of years.
During his Army years he drove a truck and then after leaving the military he used some of his benefits to go to truck driving school in the ’70s.
“At the time I didn’t know what I was getting into. After you get into it you learn more about it. [In trucking] you’re always moving, always doing something. When I was a kid I liked traveling. I like being out on the road. I stay on the road now because I don’t have family [he’s divorced and his sons are grown].”
Straukas says the economy has not slowed him down because his boss “knows that I’ll do my job, that I’ll get it done.”
When queried about the various rules that have either changed in trucking or have been newly brought up, Straukas said they’ve been changing rules for the last 38 years that he’s been in trucking.
“The [Department of Transportation] is really relaxed,” he added. “They should be tougher. They are more in it for the money than the safety nowadays.”
For instance, he continued, “I have a fire extinguisher in my truck. Every time I’ve been DOT’d they’ve never said anything about it not being bolted down to the floor. I have it strapped down now, but they have never checked it.”
And what does he think about other drivers?
“These truck drivers out here need to pay attention to what they are doing — don’t talk on the phone, use iPod, look at a computer; it causes wrecks. I put my phone on loud speaker. I pay more attention to what I’m doing than to the phone.”
Straukas had a relationship with a woman that ended recently.
“We were together 10 years,” he said. “She wanted to go back to Chicago so I let her. If you want to be with me, hang with me. She rode with me for about a month when I worked for the moving company.” He said he’s not going to beg anyone to be with him so she was free to go without Straukas attempting to change her mind.
While in the Army for three years, Straukas was a mechanic and truck driver. He also served 18 months in Vietnam and drove a truck and had occasional guard duty. He lost two trucks to two land mines. He was injured but would only go so far as to say he got a bump on his head.
As for becoming a trucker, he has no regrets.
“When you like something you stick with it through the good and the bad and when the bad times come you just go with the flow,” Straukas added. “When I retire, if I retire — as long as I keep my act clean I’ll drive as long as I can.”
Straukas wants other drivers to start paying attention.
“Start by being friendly, be more sociable and learn from the old guys,” he said. “I don’t know what school they go to — I’ve been out here 38 years and I’m still learning.”
He says if he can’t find a place to park he creates his own space.
“If you can’t find one, you make one,” he said, adding that he makes sure not to block any other trucks or lanes, but he will park where he can.
And Straukas wishes that the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration would just make an Hours of Service rule and be done with it.
“They keep changing [HOS]. Ten [the amount of hours he feels is adequate in a day to drive] is fine. Quit playing with it so people can get used to it. Ten and 10. Eleven is too many hours [to drive]. Ten off is fine. Eight and two is fine [for breaking up the off-duty time].”
The problems on the road include truck drivers and four-wheelers.
“Generally what I think, truckers need to stop playing with computers,” he said. “Four-wheelers need to stay away from trucks. People don’t believe in turn signals — cars and trucks.”
Straukas drove in Alaska for one season hauling 100,000-pound heavy equipment when they were building a pipeline for oil. He said it’s ice road trucking but not what they show on TV, which he said is not really how it is — “that’s propaganda.”
Straukas wants to buy a Peterbilt and sign on to Sunco Carriers in Florida later this year, and if he can’t get on with them, he has some other places in mind.
Barb Kampbell of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org.