Wednesday, December 30, 2009
Born to Drive
Even though I grew up on a farm, I’ve never been comfortable driving an oversized vehicle. I’ve steered clear of jobs that would require me to do so, often missing out on good opportunities. So this week, I decided to face my fears and find out what it takes to be a professional truck driver.
I didn’t have to look far to find one, because my brother Ray has been driving for over eight years for Acadiana Shell and Limestone. The company, located at 930 South Henry Road, is owned by brothers Kim and Eddie Young.
When I reached their office for my interview with Ray, I imagined the two of us racing across the open road like in the movie Smokey and The Bandit. I’d even come up with a C.B. handle (Green Goose) and saved my money for souvenirs and bumper stickers at truck stops. But due to unforeseeable circumstances, we were only able to ride around the gravel parking lot of Acadiana Shell and Limestone.
“How old were you when you started driving?” I asked Ray as we bounced around in the cab of his tri-axel dump truck.
“Daddy let me drive the tractor to plow the fields when I was about twelve,” he said. “I drove rice trucks at sixteen, and combines at seventeen.”
All of my brothers and I were educated at the Andrew Couvillon Farm Equipment Driving Institution. In my dad’s school, a mowing machine was kindergarten and a combine was graduating with honors. I was expelled during my tractor year when I might or might not have caused a collision with my brother, Mike and his International Harvester.
“I farmed for several years until the economy got tough,” Ray said. “I always enjoyed the driving aspect of it, and decided to pursue it as a career.”
In addition to years of experience, Ray also posses a CDL license, which he attained after training, and passing an exam. He drives mostly around South Louisiana carrying everything from shell to gravel to sand.
“I like driving because I get to travel to different towns,” Ray said. “I also enjoy being alone and listening to music. If I wasn’t a driver, I’d want to be a song writer.”
Ray drove past mountains of shell, limestone, and gravel, which lined the edge of the Vermilion River. I wasn’t used to riding so high in a vehicle, and in a weird way it reminded me of riding on the neck of an elephant.
“The one thing I don’t like about driving a truck is the danger,” Ray said. “When traffic cuts me off, it’s hard to stop on a dime in something so big. Especially if there’s a load.”
We approached a small wooden bridge, which didn’t seem much wider than the dump truck. It made my stomach queasy, but Ray confidently controlled the large steering wheel of the truck as if it was an extension of his hand.
“I feel very lucky that daddy taught me how to drive almost anything,” Ray said. “It allows me to support my family, and do what I love.”
It was then that I knew I didn’t have what it takes to be a truck driver; a steady hand, an ability to react at any given moment, and a true passion. Yet I was inspired by my brother to maybe one day go back to farm equipment driving school and get my combine degree. And when I do, I hope I’m lucky enough to have Ray continue my education where my dad left off.
For more information on the products and service offered by Acadiana Shell and Limestone call 337-893-1111. For information on a CDL license, check out www.test-cdl.com.