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Tag-team trucker couple show trucking teams can earn premium pay

Trucker couple's relationship measured in miles

Chuck and Sharon Gingerich of Iowa City have driven long haul trucking routes together for 10 years, with one sleeping while the other drives. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
Chuck and Sharon Gingerich of Iowa City have driven long haul trucking routes together for 10 years, with one sleeping while the other drives. (Adam Wesley/The Gazette)
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IOWA CITY — Mileage is probably the best way to measure how much time the Gingeriches spend together.

Last year, the husband and wife from just south of Iowa City racked up 338,000 miles of togetherness.

But where the lack of personal space might undo some couples, it's strengthened the relationship of Sharon and Chuck Gingerich, who've spent much of their 10 years of marriage within arms reach in the cab of a long haul truck or the attached four-by-eight sleeper birth.

"One (trucking) couple ended up throwing crockpots at each other, they just didn't get along," Chuck said. "But we work well together."

Sharon, a fifth-generation Iowa City native, added, "I think any time a couple can get through challenges together and make it work, they will be stronger."

Sharon had been a waitress at the Hard Luck Cafe in Kalona when she first got to know Chuck, a regular staff member called "Mr. Diet Pepsi." Their conversations were easy and flowing, and soon their relationship grew beyond the bar.

Chuck, who lived on a farm in Holbrook, had his commercial driver's license working for a cement company, but was changing careers and suggested they both look at trucking. The freedom of the road, the promise of seeing the country, backed by a solid paycheck and benefits, made it an attractive option.

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"It's a pretty decent living. The income for truckers is increasing because there's such a shortage right now. There's a level of independence around it. You get to plan your day, plan your week, and work your plan."

- Greg Stewart

Director of transportation,
Kirkwood Community College

 

"She likes to drive, and we knew we'd see a lot of the country," Chuck said. "It would be a pay bump, better benefits, and we got a long so well and had camaraderie that fit."

Sharon earned her trucking license in four weeks through a program at Kirkwood Community College. They hit the road a month before they were married in 2004 and haven't looked back.

Early on, they took loads all across the country, but more recently they have a set route driving between Iowa and Pennsylvania a few times a week for a mid-sized company in Illinois. The predictability helps avoid some of stresses of trucking, such as getting stuck for hours or days in a town when a load isn't ready or dealing with unfamiliar areas.

Plus, as a team, they can take more lucrative, time-sensitive loads, such as delivering a meat product for pet food. When one Gingerich finishes a driving shift, it's off to sleep while the other takes the keys, they said. They virtually never have to stop, which in the trucking business pays off.

"Past 5, he gets tired and cranky, and I'm a night owl," Sharon joked.

Federal regulations limit truckers to 11 hours of driving in a 14-hour period followed by a 10-hour break.

"One (trucking) couple ended up throwing crockpots at each other, they just didn't get along. But we work well together."

- Chuck Gingerich

Part of husband-and-wife
truck driving team

"When I get in the truck, I get in the back and take a nap," Sharon said. "We don't really see each other that much."

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They try to sit down together for a meal at least once a day, and layovers have created some special opportunities, such as visiting Mardi Gras in New Orleans. On the weekends back in Iowa City, they are "locked at the hip," they said.

They've been surprised by helpful strangers in Compton, Calif., delighted by the Mexican food in Laredo, Texas, and scared to death by the "soup" descending into the valley of fog and ice in Pendleton, Ore., they recalled.

"We've been coast to coast, slept on some beautiful gorgeous mountains, and woken up to two beautiful elks on the Snake River (Idaho)," Chuck said.

The career switch for the Gingeriches has helped them pay off debt, a house and build savings for retirement.

Variety of teams

Husband-and-wife trucking teams aren't especially common, but they aren't new, either.

The industry has tried to push the idea of trucking as a second career later in life, and as an option for older couples after the children leave the nest. According to a 2007 Associated Press report, the trucking industry at one point had an ad campaign targeting toward older couples.

There's approximately 3.5 million truck drivers in the United States, which is about 35,000 short of what is needed, according to the American Trucking Association.

Greg Stewart, director of transportation at Kirkwood Community College, said trucking can make a good career for a couple. A variety of trucking teams such as fathers and sons, brothers, friends and married couples periodically matriculate through his trucking program.

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Stewart said, in his experience, the couples arrangement usually works out if the marriage is solid to begin with.

"It's a pretty decent living," Stewart said. "The income for truckers is increasing because there's such a shortage right now.

“There's a level of independence around it. You get to plan your day, plan your week, and work your plan."

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