Thomas Heilemann got his CDL as a backup plan. Before he enrolled in driving school, he had never driven anything bigger than a tractor on a farm. But after he got behind the wheel of a big rig, he was hooked. He started truck driving in 2004, and since he was only 21 years old, the other drivers were quick to stick him with a nickname.
"I immediately got the handle 'Campus Boy' because I was told that I looked more like a college kid than a truck driver," he explains.
Based in Phoenix, he became an owner-operator three years ago and is leased on with a small trucking company in Minnesota, pulling flatbed and removable gooseneck.
How did you get started?
Heilemann: I was medically discharged from the Marine Corps, and I wasn’t sure what to do. I was kind of banking on being a marine for a while, so that threw a monkey wrench into that plan. The last thing I thought I’d ever do was be a truck driver. I just imagined trying to negotiate around tight street corners, backing up, and it just scared the living daylights out of me. I thought, "That’s the last thing I want to do."
H: In 2003, I kinda got the bug. Later I went to the community college, and they were offering a truck driver program. I actually did it to maybe get the bug out of me – maybe it was just a harebrained idea. But after that, I was all set. I just got more and more interested in it, and I’ve been doing it ever since.
You said getting your CDL was a backup plan, right?
H: I figured there was always going to be trucking jobs, but as soon as I got my CDL and I started doing it, I just realized that I liked it a lot and I continued doing it.
What was your first gig?
H: My first job was a local pickup and delivery driver for a small company in Minnesota. I did that for a year. I’m originally from Arizona, so I wanted to get back here. After a couple jobs, I actually ended up working for a company based out of Minnesota.
How does Getloaded factor into all this?
H: I call the company a lot about loads. They have something like 60 other drivers and they have two other dispatchers, so I use it a lot to kinda dispatch myself and keep a little bit of the headache off them. I call and say, “Hey I found this one. This is what I want to do.”
What made you want to do flatbed?
H: When I first started driving, even before I got my CDL, I was intrigued by flatbed. It was something different. I knew it was more challenging, a little bit harder. Every load is different, so I thought, “Hey this is something I could like a little bit more maybe.” I ended up doing RGN because that was kind of another step up from that.
What kind of freight are you hauling?
H: Coming out of Arizona, there’s a lot of it is copper, some agriculture and stuff like that. I’ll use Getloaded a lot to get stuff out of Long Beach, out of the ports there.
What led you to join the Marines?
H: It was the kind of challenge that I like. I thought they were the toughest. Growing up, I was always a scrawny kid, so people told me I’d never be able to do it. It was like a proving ground.
What sort of training did you get that helps you as a trucker?
H: I was team leader in the Marine Corps, in infantry. I was working almost alone. They’ll tell you what they want to do, and you have to formulate a plan, which is great for trucking. You’re out there by yourself a lot of time. You just have to be independent.
Service to your country was also one of the things you mentioned being most proud of when it comes to trucking.
H: I take great pride knowing that I’m helping the economy and helping ordinary Americans. It’s a cool thing. It makes you feel good about what you’re doing.
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