When it comes to love of the open road, Larry and Angie Baum are in rare company. The Illinois-based couple, who drive for Landstar and have about 3 million miles under their belts, are so in love with driving that they’ve taken the life-altering step of living in their rig with their pups — Gizmo, Bandit and Nova.
“Used to be, we’d be out for two or three months, go home for a week; out two or three months, go home for a week,” Larry said. “But now, we have the Volvo 180 super sleeper that has all the amenities — toilet, shower, stove, sink, a big refrigerator. So, we are selling our house and living on the road.”
For Angie, it’s all part of the adventure.
“I’ve done so many firsts with him since we’ve been driving,” she said. “To see all the landscapes and wake up every day to a new city is so cool. We just love it!”
These niceties aside, there’s an awful lot in Larry and Angie’s backstory that suggests the two never would have wound up together, much less live the life of a driving team.
Larry spent his youth catching waves in Southern California. The loss of his first wife so upended his world that he went into a downward spiral that eventually cost him his job, home and a relationship with his daughter. In time, he finally started to come around, but he had no idea what the future held.
“I was on unemployment,” he recalled. “Went to one of those classes that they had on unemployment and they’re like, ‘What do you like to do?’ I said, ‘I like to do masonry, plumbing, carpentry, construction and I like to drive.’ They go, ‘You like to drive? Here, call this number.’”
He called the number, reported to the address he was given — a Rite Aid distribution center contracted to Swift Transportation — and asked if they were, in fact, hiring. In the retelling of the story, he stops and chuckles at how green he was.
“They go, ‘How long have you had your license?’ I said, ‘Since I was 16, like everybody else,’” he said with a laugh.
“They go, ‘I mean, how long have you had your trucker’s license?’ I’m like, ‘You need a special license to be a trucker?’” he continued. “The guy just shook his head and said, ‘Here, call this number — and if you get your CDL, give me a call.’”
In short, Larry did go on to earn his CDL and began a career as a professional driver.
Angie, on the other hand, grew up in Springfield, Illinois. She was well into a career in office work and was busy raising two girls of her own when she and Larry crossed paths.
“I met Larry about eight and a half years ago,” she said. “I’d always told my friends, ‘There’s no way I’m ever going to date a trucker,’ given their lifestyle. And, of course, the one guy I fall for is a trucker. About a year later we were married.”
The wedding meant more than just a change of marital status for Angie.
“We were sick of being apart because he would be gone for weeks at a time, and I’m like, ‘This is no fun!’” she said. “One day his boss was like, ‘You guys, your kids are all grown. Why doesn’t Angie get her CDL?’ Larry was my driving trainer and that’s how I got my license.”
The road hasn’t always been smooth, but the couple has learned how to pick their battles and navigate life as a both a couple and a driving team. That’s partially what led them to add a pet to the mix.
Like a lot of drivers who travel with pets, the road to the couple’s family expanding to include three dogs started with one. Gizmo, a Shih Tzu-Pomeranian mix who joined the family three and a half years ago. It was Angie’s idea.
“I just missed having a pet, because I always had a pet at home. I’m like, ‘Let’s get a puppy,’” she said. “Then we both fell in love with Gizmo. Gizmo’s the one we always say is our comedian. He’s so funny, and he just blended in so well with the truck.”
They loved the first pup so much that the decision was made to get Bandit, a second “Shih Pom” from the same mother. In the time since, the two pups have staked their respective claims to their owners.
“Gizmo has pretty much been Larry’s dog,” Angie said. “Bandit’s been mine since Day 1.”
A little more than a month ago, the couple decided to really shake up the pack by indulging Larry’s lifelong dream of owning a Siberian Husky. Any doubts the pair had about adding a large dog to the confines of a semi — even one with an expanded sleeper — were quieted upon meeting Nova.
“When we knew we were getting this truck, just out of the blue I told Angie, ‘You know what? Since we’re getting a bigger truck, maybe I could get my dog,’” he said. “She started researching, and she started showing me pictures of Huskies. When Nova came across the screen, I’m like, ‘Oh my God! She’s perfect. I want her!’”
It was a match made in heaven.
“When we first went to get her and the breeder put her in my arms, she just melted and was so calm, so relaxed — she was like a baby,” Larry said. “She almost fell asleep in my arms. I went, ‘Yes, this is it. This is the one.’ She’s been perfect ever since.”
Contrary to what one might think about owning that many dogs, especially on the road, Larry and Angie say the stress of life behind the wheel has actually reduced with the three companions on board. From inspiring the couple to get out and exercise more regularly to helping them unwind after a hard shift, the dogs have made life better.
“It’s a stressful job being out on the road,” Larry said. “There’s a lot of stress out there. When I shut down and I climb into bed, the boys climb in with me, and we snuggle. They just totally calm me down.”
Angie says she also loves having the trio of four-legged friends on board.
“When I’m driving in daytime, I usually (drive through) construction and all the accidents throughout the day,” Angie said. “Gizmo, especially, can sense when I’m getting anxious. As soon as he starts feeling me getting tense, he comes up right next to the driver’s side, and he’ll just sit there. He doesn’t do anything, but it’s kind of like his way of saying, ‘It’s OK, Mom.’ Then I’ll sit there and pet him. They really are huge stress relievers.”
Dwain Hebda is a freelance journalist, author, editor and storyteller in Little Rock, Arkansas. In addition to The Trucker, his work appears in more than 35 publications across multiple states each year. Hebda’s writing has been awarded by the Society of Professional Journalists and a Finalist in Best Of Arkansas rankings by AY Magazine. He is president of Ya!Mule Wordsmiths, which provides editorial services to publications and companies.