Interview with a Driver: Jason Shelton

Trucker drivers in America ensure that all the goods consumers enjoy arrive at the right place at the right time. Few people understand this symbiotic relationship better than Jason Shelton, a professional driver who drives over-the-road, and who is also tasked with making sure that the men of the University of Tennessee have all their equipment for every home game. We caught up with Jason on his way to deliver a load in South Point, OH, to talk to him about his career as a professional driver and what he likes best about driving at Roane Transportation.

How long have you been a professional truck driver and what made you want to drive professionally?

I obtained my truck driving license when I turned 21 and have driven trucks for a living for a better part of 20 years. My father and my uncle were both professional drivers, and so I grew up around big trucks and crawling around them when I was young. I have always been fascinated by trucks and can remember taking pictures of them from the back seat when my family went on road trips.

How did you get started at Roane Transportation?

I first heard about Roane Transportation when I would see their trucks hauling rock out of Old Castle which was close to where I used to work. Later, during a period where I was doing construction work in Knoxville, I happened to see another Roane Transportation truck and decided to apply with them. Even though I worked on construction and welding jobs, I just couldn’t shake the passion I have for driving. I enjoy the fact that I get to wake up every morning and do what I love. Truck driving is like that, once it gets in your veins, it’s impossible to get out of your system. In August of this year, I will have been driving for Roane Transportation for three years, and I don’t believe that I’d still be here if the company wasn’t doing something right.

What are your favorite things about being a professional driver for Roane Transportation?

For starters, Roane Transportation is honest, respectful, and courteous to their drivers. There hasn’t been one day I have worked here where I felt like a truck number instead of a human being. When you walk into the main office, everyone knows each other, so the staff is friendly, and you can talk to anyone about anything. I have always told my wife regarding employment that, “if they treat me right and don’t lie to me, I’ll stick around,” and Roane has exceeded my expectations.

Another thing I really enjoy about being a driver for Roane Transportation is that I can talk to the company leaders at any time about any concerns. They take the time to speak with you and see what you have to say. Everyone says that they have an open-door policy, but Roane actually has a real open-door policy.

Lastly, honesty is one of the non-tangible benefits I enjoy working for Roane. When I make a request, I always get a straight answer up front.

What type of equipment do you use at Roane?

I have always either pulled a bull rack or a flatbed and so I only haul flatbed loads for Roane. I currently drive a very distinct 2018 Peterbilt. You can’t really miss it on the road, as it’s white and has been wrapped with the University of Tennessee’s Power “T” and their checkerboard pattern. This truck is actually the first new truck I have ever driven and has every luxury, bell, and whistle that you could ever need.

What type of routes do you drive and how is that different from other drivers?

I’m over-the-road (OTR), but my routes are typically out west and in the south. I prefer these routes over going up north since I’m not crazy about cold weather. When you get hired by Roane Transportation, they will typically send you where the customer demand is highest but will try and keep you in the areas or routes that you like to run.

Is driving a truck a high-stress position? If so, how do drivers handle that stress?

Truck driving is an extremely stressful position, because you don’t have to worry about yourself solely, but you have to be on high alert any time you are behind the wheel. When you drive a big-rig, you must watch every driver in your vicinity in case they aren’t paying attention.

I firmly believe that the world needs more education about 18 wheelers and how to drive around them safely. It takes a couple of football fields to get stopped at certain speeds, and especially in big cities, people tend to forget this.

How was the change to Electronics Log Devices (ELDs) for You?

When I first started working at Roane, and they told me that I would have to do e-logs, I was in orientation and had only ever used paper logs. I was used to driving until I got tired and then when I was tired, I’d pull over and go to bed. Now, with all the laws proposed on truck drivers and the new ELD mandate, it’s a challenge. At the end of the day though, I’m glad that we have them, as it gives you some reassurance that you don’t have to “kill” yourself driving for a demanding employer. The only negative thing I think I can say about ELDs is that I’m not crazy about running out of time when I feel fine and could easily drive for another few hours.

Is it difficult to time out your stops and finding parking?

Yeah, it’s hard to find safe parking since everyone was required to change to ELDs. I feel like truck stops take advantage of drivers as the majority of truck stops now charge to park.  Go to a TA truck stop or a Pilot or Petros, and you’ll see nothing but paid parking, and it costs you between $14 to $18 to park for the night. It seems like the truck stops are biting the hand that feeds them as you’ve got to find a place to get fuel, shower, and eat a hot meal; and charging for parking just seems wrong to me.

So, you are the official driver for the Tennessee Vol’s football team, right? Tell me about driving for the Vols?

When I first started with Roane, I knew they had every different colored truck you could think of, and I’ve always been a University of Tennessee fan, especially UT football, so when I started driving, I picked out an orange truck that looked similar to the UT orange. I ended up getting the okay to put Power “Ts” on both sides and drove that for about a year.

If Roane gets a larger order of new trucks, drivers will get to pick what color they want usually, but for some reason, they just assigned me a white truck and called me to the office. I was nervous about this as they didn’t tell me why and when I showed up to the headquarters, everyone was really quiet and looking at me. They broke the news to me that Roane Transportation was going to be the official trucking company of the UT men’s football team, and that I had the honor of being the driver.  It almost brought me to tears, since driving for the Vols combines two of my favorite things: UT football and driving a truck.

I leave out on Thursday afternoon with the trailer to head to wherever the team happens to be playing that week. I typically get in on Wednesday and get unloaded (tarps and chains), then on Thursday I get the truck washed and then drive to UT, hook up and go in and talk to the equipment managers who will give me an itinerary (where we’re going, where the players and managers are staying). I usually end up following the buses with the four people that are over all the equipment. I get up on Friday morning and head to the stadium, and pull into the unloading dock, and help the equipment managers get the trailer unloaded.

On game day, I typically get a seat at the game next to the Vols parents and the Pride of the Southland Band, but during the 2018 Auburn game, I got sideline access which was one of the most exceptional experiences of my life. I do not believe I would have ever got to experience that if it weren’t for Roane Transportation.

Do you mostly listen to audiobooks, news, or music when you drive? Who are some musical artists are authors you have heard lately?

I usually listen to XM radio that Roane includes with all its Peterbilt trucks, but I also enjoy listening to Western Audio Books on CD. I’ll use the terrestrial radio to tune into local Football games when I’m in the area, too.

Driving for a living can be nerve-wracking. What is the scariest thing that has happened to you while driving?

About 18 years ago, I was driving for 21st American (Vonore, TN) and was flatbed hauling. I was driving with 2 or 3 other trucks going to Long Island, NY for the first time in my driving career. The guys I was traveling with were explaining to me that you never park on the actual island as it’s not the most accessible place to find parking. They also told me the story of a rookie truck driver actually parked overnight on the island and was found murdered in his truck the next morning.

I didn’t know if that was an urban myth or not but was scared senseless the entire trip that I was going to get stuck overnight in Long Island. We didn’t even end up staying in Long Island overnight but found parking on the New York and New Jersey state line.

Who has inspired you in your life and why?

I’m going to say, my Dad, granted that my parents separated at an early age, all I ever knew was my dad driving. He used to drive for a company in Greenville, and that’s where my love for driving really began. I used to play sports when I grew up, and my Dad couldn’t be there, but I understood why.

He was a dispatcher for an owner/operator company in Louisville, and he would bring me pictures of all the trucks, including one I remember that he had turned over.

What do you like to do in your free time?

I spend as much time with the family as possible. We like to go out to dinner and visit with my brother and sister-in-law.  I’ll go watch my daughter play volleyball, softball, and basketball if I’m home on Saturday. Every now and then, I do a little fishing.

What makes for a good day on the job?

Three things: The first is knowing that I got a load where it needs to be safe and the way the customer wanted.

Secondly, that I stayed on “all 18”. The company entrusts me with driving their truck and has the confidence in me getting it to the client and back without damaging the truck, and I take that seriously.

Lastly, and most important, that I get home to see my family another night.

If you could drive from California to New York with one famous person, who would it be and why?

Well, if I can talk myself out of it, I’m not driving to California or New York (laughs heartily), but if I had to take a long drive with anyone, it would be my father. He stopped driving due to health reasons before I got my CDL, and I never got the chance to take a trip with him when he drove.

Is there anything else you’d like to say on this topic that I haven’t asked about?

I used to tell people that I wouldn’t take a driving job with any company if I couldn’t drive a specific brand of truck. When I went to Roane Transportation, I took a chance by not getting that type of truck, and I didn’t know anyone at the company. After proving myself as dependable and reliable, I now drive the first new truck I have ever, have a group of people I’m proud to associate with and enjoy what I do now more than ever. If you’re looking to drive for a living, Roane Transportation will pay you for your experience and your ability to get the job done.

Roane Transportation: An East Tennessee Transportation Company

At Roane Transportation in Rockwood, TN, we know our drivers are what keep our trucks on the road.  Apply to drive for or work with us today, and be more than just a number!