LONDON, Ohio—One industry that’s rolling on throughout the closures and social-distancing measures is trucking.
For years, the unsung road warriors have delivered essential goods, but scarcity has recast them as heroes in providing the necessities and comforts that Americans rely on.
“America’s truckers are on the front lines of our nation’s response to the #COVID19 pandemic,” the American Trucking Association wrote on Twitter on March 18.
The association went on to thank President Donald Trump for “highlighting their heroic and vital efforts, delivering food, water, fuel, medicine, medical supplies and other essentials.”
As states close their rest stops and restaurants shut down, some truckers are finding it more challenging to make quick pit stops.
Randy Griffith hauls a daily load of propane in his Freightliner from Walton, Indiana, to cities in Ohio, mostly. On March 19, he had dropped off a load of Blue Rhino propane tanks for grilling in Columbus, Ohio.
“I’ll go back to Walton tonight, pick up a loaded trailer, and go to Hamilton for tomorrow,” he said.
He had stopped at the TA Truck Service stop in London, Ohio, to use the restroom and “get something besides my own cooking,” he said, holding a bag of Popeyes Chicken. “Because I can cook in my truck. I got an electric skillet. I got a Crock-Pot. I got a fridge. So, I basically only have to get out of this thing to go to the bathroom and get fuel.”
Griffith lives in Elkhart, Indiana, and usually goes home on the weekends.
“But I don’t think I’ll be going home this weekend. I’ll self-quarantine in my own truck,” he said. He has a wife at home, as well as four children and a grandbaby close by.
“The only reason I don’t want to right now is because I’ve been basically out in the public. I don’t need to take it home to them, if I do catch something,” he said. “I’m more worried about if I have something and bringing it home to them.”
Griffith has been driving for 15 years altogether, with a break for college in between. Usually, traffic is the bane of a truck driver’s life, but right now, the roads are emptier than ever.
“The fun part is actually, you see a whole bunch of different stuff,” Griffith said of his job. “Even though I’m basically doing the same thing every week, every day, it’s still not the same thing, you know? Sure, I see the same fixed sites, but you always see different stuff every day.
“I mean, you’d be surprised at what you see when you look down into cars. I’m not kidding. And I can tell you, 9 out of 10 cars, somebody’s on the phone, every time. Every time.”
On March 18, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration widened its suspension of driving hours regulations for drivers hauling essential goods, in response to the CCP virus.
Propane falls under the new regulations, Griffith said, but his company, Landstar, is keeping its drivers on a normal schedule.
“It only takes one day to do my route. It ain’t like I gotta be out extended,” he said.
“The only thing, well—other than traffic really disappearing—if I was delivering to warehouses, I’d be afraid if I show up, am I gonna get unloaded? Is there gonna be an employee there to unload the truck?”
He said he’s heard stories of that happening.
‘We Can Only Do One Load at a Time’
James Huff, an owner-operator for 19 years, started his March 19 route in Indianapolis, heading to Kraft Foods in Delaware with large sacks of flour. It’ll take him about 10 hours from the truck stop in London, Ohio, and he’s already been on the road for about four hours.
After dropping the flour, he’s got an 80-mile ride to Pocomoke City in southern Maryland to pick up wood shavings that are going to tractor suppliers. He’ll drop that off at three sites in Pennsylvania, then he’ll load hay that’s bound for Lowe’s stores. And on it goes.
“Water and beverages, and everything that any manufacturer uses—whatever you can fit on one of these—is what we haul,” Huff said.
Asked if he has been busier over the last few weeks, Huff said, “For us, it’s business as usual. … We can only do one load at a time.”
He lives in southeastern Pennsylvania and makes sure he’s home on weekends.
“Saturday and Sunday are sacred,” he said. “I leave Monday morning and I get home Friday afternoon. I stay in the rolling office for four nights.”
His Western Star truck has everything he needs, “except running water,” he said, and the restaurant closures haven’t affected him.
Huff says he’s not too concerned about the CCP virus. His eldest child is 18 and his wife is home from her child care job for two weeks.
“It’s bringing the country together, I think,” he said of the pandemic.
And what does he think about for 10 hours as he’s driving?
“Everything. We used to talk on CBs but now, with cell phones, we usually have our circle of drivers that we talk to all the time. Almost all the time, we’re on the phone or listening to talk radio,” he said. “We stay informed.”
Huff said he’s been thinking about how to help his local small-business community if he doesn’t need the handout he may receive from the government. He likes the idea of buying gift cards to keep them going.
‘It’s a Big Deal’
Clint Woodard is waiting at the truck stop for his truck to be repaired for a minor issue. He started in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, and has already dropped off his load for the day in Columbus, but it’s a setback that’ll mean he’ll get a later start on his journey back to Memphis. He thinks that will take more than nine hours.
One of the primary places he picks up goods from has closed down for now. “They won’t start back up again until this has blown over,” he said, adding that his company is proficient at finding goods to deliver.
Woodard lives in Memphis and has a wife and two children waiting for him to return. They’re all worried about each other, he said.
“That’s why I’m trying to get back there so I can check on everybody.”
He’s been driving for two years so far.
“I like it. I get to see the country. And that’s something I kinda always wanted to do,” he said.
“Right now, though, things are different, kind of with society, if you ask me. Because people are scared to touch people and be around people, things like that. I mean, it’s a big deal. It’s something serious.”
‘Any Work I Can Get, I’ll Take’
As he’s driving off from the truck stop, Huff calls out his window, “His truck is nicer than mine!”, while pointing to the bright yellow and purple Peterbilt that Gus Valudes drives.
Valudes had delivered a load in Cincinnati that morning after a 6 a.m. start, and then he was off to Baltimore with a new load of goods, including paper plates and napkins. He was to drop that at a food distribution center early the next day and then, his goal was to get home to Lancaster, Pennsylvania.
But “you never know,” he said. “I mean, I’ll call in before I head home. I own my own truck, so any work I can get, I’ll take.”
Aside from the lack of traffic on the roads, Valudes said the only thing that has affected him is that he has to be careful where he stops, because many rest areas are closed.
“Because usually, you could stop at a rest area at the state line or something. But lately, Pennsylvania, where I live, they’ve closed all their rest areas. And then I’m not sure about the other states because I just didn’t bother stopping because I didn’t want to waste my time,” he said.
He said that, typically, he tries not to stop too often anyway. “I try to get to where I’m delivering to so that I can be the first one there,” he said. Then, he can get unloaded quickly, before more trucks turn up and there’s a wait.
Valudes has been driving for 30 years and has had his own truck since 2015.
“I listen to podcasts, and I talk to my friends and I drink 5-Hour Energy Drinks,” he said.
He said he’s not concerned yet about the pandemic, but his wife is—although she hasn’t said anything.
He’s concerned some of his scheduled loads will be canceled as businesses contract, but doesn’t think it’ll be difficult to pick up other work.
Chris Spear, president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, sent a letter to Trump and Vice President Mike Pence on March 17. In it, Spear asked for support for truckers.
“As communities across the United States adapt to the unfolding pandemic, Americans are witnessing what truckers do each and every day, through good times and hard: Deliver those basic and vital necessities—food, water, fuel, medicine, and health supplies—essential to daily living,” Spear wrote.
The Epoch Times refers to the novel coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19, as the CCP virus because the Chinese Communist Party’s coverup and mishandling allowed the virus to spread throughout China and create a global pandemic.