COVID-19 aside, professional truck-driver turnover and the professional truck-driver shortage are common topics when motor-carrier executives gather in person — or on Zoom, in accordance with today’s social-distancing guidelines.
If there were more Will Sneads sitting behind the wheel of a big rig and driving the nation’s highways, those executives would need to find something else to occupy their meeting time.
Snead, you see, has been a professional truck driver for 25 years — 23 of those with the same company, namely C.R. England in Salt Lake City.
This quarter-of-a-century tenure has allowed Snead, age 48, to rack up 3 million safe miles, a coveted milestone among drivers.
Snead, who said he is honored to have driven 3 million safe miles, points directly to a strategy he’s employed since he began driving cars and trucks as a teenager.
“I pay attention to my surroundings, looking for potential hazards, and in general just take it a little slower than I need to,” he said. “I make time when I can, but at the same time I’m always alert to what is going on around me, constantly checking my mirrors. Over the years, these driving practices have just become habits.”
C.R. England executives are quick to praise Snead for more than just his safe driving record.
“Will Snead is one of our very best,” said Daren Wingard, vice president of associate
relations. “Most of (his career) was as an independent contractor. In that role he was a very smart and successful businessman, running his truck as efficiently and profitably as possible.”
Snead has also served as a driver-trainer for C.R. England.
“He’s excelled in that role as well,” Wingard said.
“Many of his former students keep in touch with him, and still reach out to Will for guidance,” Wingard continued. “Laura McDermott, in our payroll department, has known and worked with Will since she started with us in 1999, and (she) describes Will as a ‘very smart, super-hardworking guy.’”
Snead will be honored for his accomplishment of logging 3 million safe miles at the next Gene England Million Miler Club this September. The event is named in honor of Gene England, son of the company founder Chester R. England. Gene England celebrated his 100th birthday October 24, 2019.
Snead grew up in Columbia, South Carolina. After high school graduation, he worked at several different jobs before deciding to give trucking a try.
At that time, Snead said, C.R. England had a driver-training program at its Spartanburg, South Carolina, terminal. In 1997, at age 25, Snead went to work for the carrier as an independent contractor (IC).
His love for travel is what enticed him to join England, Snead said during an interview with The Trucker from Elkhorn, Wisconsin.
“I just wanted to travel, and I always liked trucks,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was getting into, but I enjoyed it then and still enjoy it today.”
Snead said he decided to become an independent contractor because doing so afforded him more freedom.
“There were more privileges being an IC,” he said.
Two years ago, after leasing trucks from C.R. England seven times, Snead decided to become a company driver.
“Being an IC had become more and more expensive in recent years and being older, I decided I’d rather be a company driver,” he said. “Being a company driver is cheaper. You get paid to see the country, and you have a free place to stay.”
Right now, Snead’s primary route is between Wisconsin and Texas, hauling broccoli to Wisconsin and then returning to either San Antonio or Laredo, Texas, with a load of cheese.
The 1,400-mile trip takes about two and a half days and often includes a 34-hour reset.
Although Snead lists Salt Lake City, the site of C.R. England’s headquarters, as his home, he lives virtually 24/7 in his truck.
He’d been running a busy Salt Lake City to Illinois route but said that route “dried up” as the COVID-19 pandemic dragged on. In fact, a lot of routes have dried up in recent weeks after Americans’ purchasing habits slowed after a period of hoarding food and other goods, Snead believes.
“They were stocking up, but things have kind of slowed down and settled in, and people are just not buying as much,” Snead said.
Until people get more comfortable with former buying habits as the country goes back to work, things may be a bit slower in trucking, he said.
“Right now, in my opinion people are being more careful about how they spend their money,” he said. “July is going to be a pretty tough month, when they have three or four months of house payments and car payments and everything else people have stopped paying on. Today, they have had time to calculate their debts and right now they are being pretty frugal. Trucking is an indicator of the true economy.”
Snead is not ready to discuss a retirement plan, if he has one, so his tenure at C.R. England will likely continue to lengthen.
“Turnover in the industry is always high, so Will is an exception to that rule, even though we have a good number of 10-plus year and 20-plus year drivers,” said David Allred, C.R. England’s director of management services.
“I have found in the 11 years I’ve been with the company that those that get into this business with a realistic expectation of what being a driver is — away from home, long hours, hard but rewarding work — tend to stay with it. They can make a good living and like any job, it has its pros and cons,” Allred continued. “Will is a good example of a guy who loves to drive and loves the company, so it’s a great fit.”