A trucker's life
Jan 15, 2020 01:26PM
● By Darrell Kirby
Shaun Goss (Photo courtesy Shaun Goss)
By Darrell Kirby | [email protected]
On a Monday night in December, Greg Trongale sat at a C.R. England truck yard in Colton, California waiting for a cracked windshield on his truck to be repaired. In the morning, he would haul a load of food in that big rig to Utah, then return to Southern California to pick up more freight destined again for the Beehive State. That trip would be repeated again and again with an occasional run elsewhere mixed in.
Such is the life and occupation of Trongale, who resides with his current wife in Lake Forest in California's Orange County. He drives for West Valley City-based C.R. England, one of the largest refrigerated trucking firms in the United States.
Although the company started by Chester Rodney England has been around for nearly a century, it was back in the spotlight recently when his son and company heir Gene turned 100 years old. Thus, Trongale and fellow drivers Shaun Goss and John Evans were asked by the West Valley City Journal to tell their stories of life on the road and their contributions to and thoughts about C.R. England Trucking.
When Greg Trongale's first marriage ended in divorce a couple of decades ago, he decided to make another change in his life. He had been a contractor, worked on oil rigs, drilled water wells, and then drilled along the San Andreas fault in Southern California so seismic sensors could be installed in the earth to monitor land movement. "I like the outdoors, and I don't like to be trapped in an office," he said.
Trongale thought about truck driving as a next step in his life. “After my divorce, it’s like, you know what, I want to get out of here. With truck driving, who else is going to give you an apartment and pay you to cruise around the country?" he asked.
So he sat at a truck stop one day in Ontario, California, watching the semis and their drivers come and go. That, talking to people, and doing some research helped him narrow his choices of potential employers to three trucking companies, one of which was C.R. England.
“They had the (driving) school 7 miles away from my house, they pay you to go to school, take a little bit out for school, you stayed with them two years, you got all your money back, it’s like that’s a no-brainer," Trongale recalled.
He finished training, obtained his commercial driver license, and eventually hit the road to begin a new career and way of life.
Trucking has taken Trongale to 48 states hauling mostly refrigerated food during his 19 years on the road. His current runs from California to Utah often include stops at the Associated Foods distribution center in Farr West in Weber County, the Walmart Distribution Center a little further north in Box Elder County, and periodic visits to the Hershey Distribution Center in Ogden and Nestle’s facility in Springville. He'll also pick up products from the Dannon yogurt plant in West Jordan. One of the perks of some of those delivery and pickup stops are the edible treats the companies sometimes give to him.
Another benefit of the job that has taken Trongale across the USA is that it has allowed him to watch the Miami Dolphins play in 22 different stadiums around the country. If he plans to be where his favorite NFL team is playing that particular week, he'll schedule a couple of days off and buy tickets to see the game.
When back on the road Trongale says not all highways are equal. "Interstate 80 in Wyoming is the worst stretch of highway in the world," he said. "You don’t know what weather you're going to get hit with.” High winds and hailstorms can pound one stretch of the interstate while beautiful weather awaits just over the hill. One of the best routes Trongale travels: Interstate 15 because it is relatively safe and rarely affected by severe weather.
Nevertheless, Trongale prefers the highway over city streets both for driving and dealing with the other requirements that come with the job.
“Once you get off the main highway, dealing with traffic, making left and right turns, trying to find your pickup, doing your paperwork, getting to the docks, all that stuff off the highway is the stressful work part," Trongale said. “When you get on the open road and you have a good following distance, it is so relaxing.”
Truck stop food is the lore of truck driving life. Sometimes justifiably, sometimes not, it conjures up images of burgers, fried chicken, and other greasy fare that doesn't contribute much to the health of drivers who already spend long sedentary hours behind the wheel.
Trongale indulges in truck stop and fast food only occasionally these days. “You get so tired of them. Just walking in and smelling the bread at Subway about makes you sick anymore,” he said, not singling out the sandwich chain but making a point in general about food on the go.
Trongale prefers to buy his own groceries which he prepares in the sleeper compartment of his truck, thanks in part to the installation of an inverter which converts the rig's battery power to electricity to run a microwave oven. The menu includes canned stew, fruit, and other items to provide variety and get in some measure of nutritional value.
How many more miles does Trongale have left in his career? The 58 year old has been driving for C.R. England for 19 years and would like to do it for about 10 more, at which time he would be at the age where he can collect full social security benefits along with his other retirement income. Trongale doesn't dread the thought of up to another decade with England, a family and company which he says have had a positive impact on the "lives of thousands of people over the years" because of its values and family environment.
The immediate noticeable difference between Shaun Goss and her fellow truck drivers for C.R. England is not that she is a woman, although females comprised just 6.6% of drivers nationally as of 2018, according to the American Trucking Association.
What jumps out is how the petite 49 year old is dwarfed by her semi as she posed next to it in a photo. Goss's size is offset by her hefty accomplishments during her 12 years behind the wheel before she left nearly two years ago to care for her ailing parents.
Goss now lives in Florida where she is a local delivery driver, but she fondly recalls her time with C.R. England, especially the values-oriented environment cultivated by the company.
"I really enjoyed C.R. England. It's a great company," Goss said, adding that she researched trucking companies before deciding to join England. "They followed up on everything," she said of the training and other resources promised by the firm. It led to a career that resulted in being named C.R. England's Trucker of the Year in 2012 and an American Trucking Association award the following year for a million miles of accident-free driving.
Goss hauled mostly refrigerated food, but also carried "dry" loads of medical and building supplies everywhere. "I've seen all the states," she said.
She says she encountered very little sexism in the male-dominated field. "There were very few negative experiences." Goss attributes that in part to her previous jobs typically associated with men. She was a lumberjack at age 17 and then worked in factories. Thus, trucking was not a shocking career change for her. "It amazed me how many companies were looking for female drivers." Even Goss's mom took up driving because of her daughter and they drove as a team for a while.
Learning to drive a semi came easily to Goss with some modifications. For example, her 5-foot-3-inch frame required installing extensions on the pedals so her feet could reach them. Unaware of that, she says she was often asked by people, "How do you drive that big ol’ truck?"
Goss' body size remained pretty consistent during her driving career because she mostly stayed away from truck stop food, opting instead for grocery shopping at stores along the way and preparing meals in her truck. Healthier foods like fruit, vegetables, boiled eggs and salads were on the shopping list. "I didn't gain a lot of weight," she said.
Like her former C.R. England colleague Greg Trongale, Goss says truck driving is more than just a job. It's a way of life that requires a certain personality, one that Goss says she possesses. "I have a bit of a gypsy soul. You have to be able to live the lifestyle."
With a southern accent and affable demeanor that comes from his Georgia upbringing, John Evans says he's blessed to be driving a truck for C.R. England.
“I’ve got a different outlook than 99% of the drivers out here, because I have a blast. I’ve met nice people from coast to coast.”
Evans, 59, steered toward truck driving 10 years ago when his wife died of cancer and after a career in real estate and finance. He planned to drive for only a year. “When I heard you would drive a truck throughout the United States, sleep in the back of the truck, I thought that ain’t gonna be for me,” he said. “The first month I was out here, I fell in love with it.”
While traveling eastbound in Wyoming, Evans told the West Valley City Journal he got into truck driving with zero knowledge of it. “I had no clue about the industry, I’d never heard of C.R. England, I’d never looked inside a truck.”
Evans went to truck driving school, did well, and eventually hit the road on his own despite “hearing a lot of negative stuff in this industry.” He didn’t let that deter him. “A lot of it has to do with attitude, and that’s with any job,” he explained. “I really enjoy what I do.”
Evans says he couldn’t work for a better company. “I’m very, very fortunate to be part of England, because they are all about safety,” he said, contrasting the West Valley City firm with other trucking companies that care only about getting a load delivered on time regardless of weather or other obstacles. “We’re told, ‘If you don’t feel safe on the road, get off,’” Evans said. “That is not the case with a lot of these companies.”
Evans lives by three goals as a trucker. “Be safe, have integrity and have fun.”
As for the nitty gritty of life on the road, he says the ubiquitous Love’s Travel Stops are among the best. “They have nice showers, they’re always spotless.” He fell victim to eating too much unhealthy food on the road going from 190 pounds when he started to 290 but has since dropped 20 pounds with plans to lose more. "You've got to watch it out here."
Evans says other temptations on the road for some drivers are casinos and strip clubs, or "hoochie coochie" clubs as he calls them, where drivers can blow a lot of money when they have time to kill. "You see a lot of trucks parked in those places."
Evans says he hauls everything from orange juice from Florida to pork from North Carolina to a port in California where it is shipped to Japan. On this day in Wyoming, his trailer contained 42,000 pounds of Stouffer’s frozen lasagna from the Nestle plant in Springville destined for Arkansas.
The whole supply chain that his truck is a part of fascinates Evans, adding icing to the cake that is working for C.R. England.
“They run a good company, they run a very clean company. I love that. Not only does it expect, but it demands integrity.”
“This job was made for me.”
A rare breed
Greg Trongale, Shaun Goss, and John Evans are among what the American Trucking Association estimates are 3.5 million truck drivers. Yet, that number is not enough for the needs of the current economy.
Rick Clasby, executive director of the Utah Trucking Association, whose offices in West Valley City are just down the road from C.R. England, says the industry needs another some 60,000 drivers nationwide to meet demands.
Part of the shortfall comes from the fact that while people can earn their commercial driver license at age 18, they cannot drive commercially across state lines until they turn 21. Medical and physical testing also limits the number of potential drivers. “Some of the medical conditions become disqualifying which makes it difficult,” Clasby said.
Drivers are also being sought by other industries, such as construction. Clasby says the trucking industry is trying to compete by boosting pay, retirement and other benefits, including signing bonuses to lure drivers.
The Utah Trucking Association lobbies and advocates on behalf of the trucking industry in the state and provides safety and operational training. It has a membership of 650 companies ranging in size from one or two rigs to firms like England that employ thousands of people in management, operations and driving to get products where they need to go.
Clasby says C.R. England is highly regarded in the industry, in part because of its family culture. “I would broaden that to say that most of our trucking companies (in Utah) are family-owned similar to England. They are folks that have built from the ground up so they understand hard work and integrity.”