The 18-wheeler is a symbol of American freedom and blue-collar pride if ever there was one. But beyond a wary pass in the left hand lane, most of us don't give much thought to the giant Peterbilts and Macks barreling down the highway 24 hours a day. Recently, however, I found myself thinking more about these ubiquitous monsters. Who are the people driving them and what does it look like inside the cab? To find out, I spent two days at truck stops in New York and Pennsylvania soliciting random truckers to let me take a look inside their rigs.
The cabins of today's trucks are basically the industrial-grade cousin of your own passenger car, with the steering wheel, stick shift, and pedals all where you'd expect them only tougher, stronger looking. All the knobs and switches have the no-nonsense simplicity of heavy machinery designed to last. Despite their sleek design, many of these dashboards are buried under a nest of wires, power adapters, and the plastic cradles of cell phones, GPS devices, and satellite radios. The extended sleeper cabs allow for months of hauling at a time, and the extra living space functions as an all-in-one bedroom, kitchen, tool bench, closet, and dining room. There's no need to leave the truck for anything more than a bathroom break.
Through the blur of early mornings and late nights, the small space becomes a messy assortment of personal and practical. Automotive supplies mix with DVDs and drink caddies, and everything eventually gets draped in dirty laundry. Containing one's whole life, these cabins are intensely personal spaces that reflect their occupant's background and personality. Photos of friends and family adorn the walls along with keepsakes, crosses, and other tokens of home. These stand-ins for family only serve as a reminder of their absence and speak to the loneliness of this profession. Perhaps this is why so many drivers were willing to have me aboard.
Carl Vera, swears by his vintage Peterbilt
The Fullers, a couple who sometime take their granddaughter with them on the road.
John Collins, 57, operates out of, Fort Meyers, Florida. John has been driving for 20 years. He operates a 2013 Peterbilt with a flatbed trailer for larger, industrial loads.
Eddie Edwards, 75, has been driving a truck for 55 years.
Frank and Linda Fuell. After Linda retired from nursing, she joined her husband on the road. They hope to earn enough money to remodel their home before Frank retires.
Jimmy and Crystal McQueen have been driving together for 20 years. They operate out of Georgia, and their main cargo is frozen chicken.
Fred Fredrickson, 65, has been driving for 35 years. He currently drives a 2013 Volvo for Ashley Furniture.