by Thea Engst
American truck drivers are the backbone of our nation’s commerce. These are the people ensuring that everything from produce to tradeshow setups get to where they need to be—and back again—on time, every time. I spoke to one of the best in the business, Kevin Bates, who’s been driving trucks for more than 30 years, currently for Sunset. I wanted insight into what brought him to the industry and what keeps him there.
Kevin’s father was a trucker and so is his older brother, so the career was a natural choice for him. “We started out in the potato industry in Rhode Island. We had a contract with Frito Lay, so we pulled seed potatoes up and down 95 from Maine to Florida. We’d do the run and then bring watermelons or whatever produce back. And that went on for years.”
And over decades that Kevin has been spending from two weeks to two and a half months at a time on the road, he’s seen the ebbs and flows of the industry more than most. “We were short-staffed before the pandemic, and we are now.” But like many other industries, the demands don’t slow with fewer hands to help. “We’ll get two weeks to bring a show in and build it, but on the outbound you get only three days to get outta there.” He snickered at this and sang praises of his coworkers, who make these seemingly impossible tasks run smoothly. “The teamwork, the people I work with make it easier. I’m at home with the people I work with because we are a family.”
Through all the changes, Kevin misses the mom and pop-style rest stops most. “It used to be—if you saw a truck parked out front a restaurant, you knew that was a good spot to eat. Now you see me in a rest area, I’m in the back eating the meal I made in my truck. It was a godsend for me to have this truck. My bunk is 170 inches long, so I’m not in a regular trucking company’s truck. I’ve got a shower, toilet, fridge, oven, burners, microwave, double sink…”
“My fiancée is a health coach, and she makes all the food for my truck. When she knows I’m leaving, she starts cooking and freezes it. Everything I eat is all good food, and it’s all made at home.” Kevin calls his fiancé“the backbone” of his family, their daughters and his new grandchild.
Kevin’s experiences, advice and ability to laugh was inspiring. Even when discussing the challenges of his job or the negatives of the industry, Kevin maintained his perspective that hard work, teamwork and family will get you through.
“I’ve been around trucks my whole life and I honestly think if I have to put everything in a nutshell in all the years—because there’s nothing I haven’t done in this industry—it’s the people I work with and my family—my fiancée her daughters, our dogs, my granddaughter—that’s why I do it.”