I recently had the opportunity to ride in a semi truck for the first time. About a week after starting in the marketing department here at Ruan, I was invited to go on a “ride along” with a local driver. Ruan started this program to help give newbies like me a better understanding of a professional driver’s day.
I met up with my driver, Steve Millang, at the Anderson Erickson (AE) facility in Des Moines, IA. I found him sitting in the break room, eating some microwave breakfast and chatting with an AE employee. I soon learned that chatting (or “socializing,” as he called it) is one of Steve’s strong suits. After introducing myself, we got down to the business of discussing the Iowa State Fair. As I was new to the area and had been busy with moving and settling in, I hadn’t made it to the fair yet. Of course, Steve and his buddy Frank filled me in on all the details during their break.
After their break was over, we went out to the truck. As I climbed up into the passenger seat, I was met with a slightly dusty interior that smelled faintly of cattle. As an Iowa native, I felt right at home. Steve filled me in on the process—AE had just drained his tanker of milk, and now we needed to pull forward to have it cleaned. I hopped out to take a few pictures as Steve and the AE staff got to work hosing things down. In no time at all, we were ready to roll.
Steve and I hopped back in the cab and buckled up for our roughly two-hour journey. The truck—an automatic day cab fueled with natural gas—lurched forward, and we were on our way. Normally, Steve drives a different truck, but as it was currently in the shop for repairs, we used a back-up. Our first stop was a special gas station with the specific compressed natural gas (CNG) fuel required by our truck (or “tractor” as those in the biz would say). After about 10 minutes or so of fueling, we were ready to head to our destination—a large dairy operation.
Our drive to the dairy was mostly highway. Steve and I had a good long chat about the trucking industry, our families, and a dozen other topics that came up during the trip. As we neared our destination, we got off the highway and started cruising through small towns. These little burgs, which included Elk Horn and Kimballton, have a proud Dutch heritage, and we passed some interesting sights, such as a working Danish windmill and a replica of the Little Mermaid fountain (the original of which is found in Copenhagen). Eventually, we turned onto a gravel road and soon came upon the largest dairy farm I had ever seen.
At first glance, the farm looked like a collection of large, one-story outbuildings with some tanker trailers parked outside. Steve expertly maneuvered the truck and backed our empty tanker against a building where they stored the milk and would fill the tank later on. Before getting a new, filled tanker, Steve offered to give me a quick tour of the facility. Inside, two large rotating platforms transported cows from the non-milked pen to the milked pen. As the platform turned, the cows were milked while employees of the dairy checked up on them. Steve showed me the break room where he picked up some paperwork, and then we walked to the non-milked pen. We climbed up a few stairs and looked out over the sea of cows. They were all eagerly awaiting their chance to get onto the platform for some food and to be milked. After seeing some big vats for milk storage, we headed back out to the truck.
Before we left with our filled tanker, Steve took it upon himself to move another tanker that had been parked in a less than ideal location. He made the process of hooking up, driving and backing, and detaching look easy and routine—thanks in part to his over 30 years of experience, nearly 10 of which were from this dairy route. After hooking up to our tanker, we drove over to the weighing station. Because of our truck and its fuel type, we could carry up to 82,000 pounds. Which, as you can image, is a LOT of milk. Once Steve had typed some details into his automatic onboard recording device, we were on our way.
The drive back took us through the same small towns and the same highway. On that day, he had me to chat with, but normally he listened to music or—he admitted freely—talked to himself. As someone who used to have an hour-long commute, I felt his pain, at least in a small way. And I must admit that I also took up talking to myself to fill the time back in the day. Still, compared to many drivers’ routes, this one is fairly short and sweet, dotted with a few landmarks and the always beautiful Iowa countryside.
As we neared Des Moines, Steve exited the highway and told me we were taking the “scenic route” the rest of the way. The scenic route turned out to be a rural highway and a few more small towns. Once we were on the edges of the metro, we turned into Raccoon River Park. At one point, a deer and her fawn darted across the road in front of us, but Steve was keeping an eye out and they made it safely across.
Soon enough, we were at the Ruan operation on Park Avenue, and it was time to say goodbye. I thanked Steve for his time and insights, and he wished me well as I slowly climbed down from my seat. As Steve drove off to park, a couple of older drivers wandered over and asked me how the trip was. They seemed to know a thing or two about Steve’s chattiness, but after a few minutes of talking with them, it was clear that they were pretty chatty, too. But who can blame them? After a whole day, maybe longer, alone in a truck carrying goods across the state or even the county, who wouldn’t be in the mood for a friendly chat? As I got into my car—which now seemed tiny and almost subterranean after the height of the truck—I reflected a bit on the day.
Overall, I found the ride along experience to be fun and educational. As someone who has driven alongside semi trucks for years but never gave them much thought, it was interesting to climb aboard one and see how it all worked. I learned a lot about what it means to be a safe, professional driver from Steve. Over his long career, he’s hauled everything from cement to milk and participated in several award programs for his outstanding customer service and safety performance. He’s even starred in a few corporate videos and radio commercials. He’s helped haul loads at all times of day and night in all types of weather, including the occasional blizzard. Without drivers like Steve, all of the products that I—and most of us—take for granted every day wouldn’t arrive on time or even be available in general.
As we partake in goods—like milk—that rely on trucks and their drivers, we as consumers should be more aware of everything that goes into something as “simple” as a gallon of milk or container of yogurt. Thanks to Ruan’s ride along program and Steve, I have a better appreciation for drivers, trucks, and the transportation industry as a whole.