Pedal To The Metal

Pedal To The Metal: The Work Life of Truckers

Lawrence J. Ouellet
Copyright Date: 1994
Published by: Temple University Press
Pages: 272
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  • Book Info
    Pedal To The Metal
    Book Description:

    From this experience, Lawrence J. Ouellet has the advantage of a rare perspective and a profound understanding of the two fundamental questions he asks in this book: Why do truck drivers work so hard even when it doesn't result in more money or other material gains? and How do truckers make sense of their behavior to themselves and to the outside world? A vivid ethnography of trucking culture, Pedal to the Metal documents and analyzes truckers' lives and work ethic, exploring the range of identities truckers create for themselves-the renegade cowboy, the company man, the voyeur, the lone king of the road. To explain truckers' motivations, Ouellet examines the meaning of work and the motivation for excelling despite long, unsupervised hours on the road. He finds that their occupational pride results in extraordinary efforts on the job and, subsequently, a positive sense of self. Driving skill allows truckers to improve their hauling times, which they proudly track to the minute, and to increase their productivity and income. Truckers' knowledge of the industry's structure and the idiosyncrasies of their own company allows them to improve their ability to get and carry out assignments, to maneuver around a traditional concept of rank and seniority, and to recreate to their advantage the pervasive cultural myths that the public expects should dictate a trucker's behavior. Whether capturing the pleasure and enchantment of trucking-driving under moon-lit skies across a snow-covered mountain range-or the miseries of boredom, bad weather, and exhausting schedules, Ouellet exhibits deep appreciation and passion for his subject.

    eISBN: 978-1-4399-0606-4
    Subjects: Business

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. CHAPTER 1 Driving Trucks, Driving Ourselves
    (pp. 1-20)

    Before and while becoming a sociologist, I drove trucks for a living. Choice, not chance, led me to truck driving. When I was a youngster, trucking captured my imagination. I still vividly remember summer nights when my family set out on vacation, journeying into an unfamiliar but alluring world with trucks at its center. We departed near midnight, when temperatures were relatively cool, in hopes of keeping our car from overheating in the mountains north of Los Angeles. As we headed out of the city, I was fascinated by the number of trucks on the road at that time of...

  5. CHAPTER 2 The Organization of Work
    (pp. 21-38)

    How a company is categorized within the trucking industry greatly influences how it conducts its business. The industry is legally divided into interstate and intrastate hauling. I Interstate carriers haul between states and are governed primarily by the Interstate Commerce Commission (ICC). State agencies oversee intrastate carriers; in California the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) has this responsibility. The three companies in this book are intrastate carriers, although AgriHaul occasionally secured temporary permits enabling it to transport interstate loads. Three of my other five employers performed interstate hauling.

    The trucking industry also is divided into two major groups: private and for-hire...

  6. CHAPTER 3 Drivers at Work
    (pp. 39-72)

    Why did the truck drivers in this book work so hard? Coercion? Financial incentives? Some would say so (Goldthorpe et al. 1968; Braverman 1974; Dubin 1976). To make better sense of drivers’ behavior, I believe one needs to look at the logic inherent in the method of paying drivers, given a company’s organization of work; and at how work is distributed, for the assignment of hauls and the order in which drivers are dispatched can affect a driver’s income, rate of pay, length of shift, enjoyment of work, opportunities to see family and friends, and self-esteem.

    SandHaul drivers were paid...

  7. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)
  8. CHAPTER 4 Conflict between Drivers and Owners
    (pp. 73-99)

    At all three companies, conditions seemed ripe for conflict between drivers and owners. Much was asked of drivers. They often worked sixty to seventy-five hours a week, more at AgriHaul, often many consecutive hours with only short or no breaks. Starting and quitting times constantly changed, and work shifts were at odds with both family routines and biological cycles based on day and night. Drivers ran afoul of various laws in the performance of their duties and consequently were subject to legal penalties. The work involved danger, and gasoline hauling at PetroHaul was particularly hazardous. Each company required unpaid work,...

  9. CHAPTER 5 Work Skills and Self-Esteem
    (pp. 100-128)

    In answer to the question Who am I? men in modern societies are most likely to refer to their jobs. Employed men design an occupational self by combining social values regarding manhood and work. their expectations about their particular occupations, actual work experiences. esteem based on their work, and the prestige associated with individual occupations.

    Truck drivers assess themselves through their jobs in two general ways: based on personal qualities suggested by the job (e.g., bravery as one who performs dangerous tasks), they decide what sort of man they are; based on notions of their skills, they decide what sort...

  10. CHAPTER 6 What Owners Want from Drivers, What Drivers Want from Owners
    (pp. 129-153)

    Owners and their managers constitute a powerful audience before which drivers shape their perfonnances. As with drivers’ other audiences, this one has particular interests and expectations. In Chapter 5, I point out that owners and managers rarely encourage the development of driving skills: the mastery of the equipment in driving, operational, and mechanical tenns. Instead, they set forth values that they treat as skills, and these are, for the most part, what I have tenned “job skills”: the aspects of driving that most directly enhance profit and contribute to the smooth running of business operations. For example, while sitting in...

  11. CHAPTER 7 Work Audiences
    (pp. 154-168)

    A driver does most of his work in front of audiences other than owners, managers, and driver co-workers, and by interacting with these audiences he further develops a sense of himself as a trucker and as a man. Three of these groups are directly involved in drivers’ work: police and other government officials, company support personnel, and workers who load and unload trucks. The first two audiences also affect a driver’s self-perceptions by influencing his standing with employers and driver coworkers, a measure drivers take into account.

    The state, like management, can forcefully present standards that drivers embrace in their...

  12. CHAPTER 8 Highway Audiences
    (pp. 169-197)

    One need not stretch a simile to say a driver taking to the road is like an actor mounting the stage. Clothed in their trucks, drivers enter a public arena where they command attention. And in this arena drivers can evince support for the notions that what they are doing is skilled work and that they are masters of such work. Moreover, in this arena and in costume, the male truck driver can personify certain cultural icons as well as satisfactorily act out many of the requisites for traditional manhood.

    Drivers are conscious of the performance quality of driving, as...

  13. CHAPTER 9 Careers, Magic, and Masculinity
    (pp. 198-224)

    Sooner or later, and perhaps several times in his career, the male truck driver confronts a two-sided question: What kind of trucker do I want to be? What kind of man do I want to be? The choices drivers make about their careers are similar to the choices faced by the dance musicians Becker (l963) studied.

    The musicians placed great value on playing authentic jazz. This was the essence of their occupation, it was what challenged them, and the ability to excel at it appeared to be the most positive basis for constructing their occupational self. But musicians who played...

  14. NOTES
    (pp. 225-236)
    (pp. 237-242)
  16. INDEX
    (pp. 243-247)