Area truckers weigh in on COVID-19 pandemic from the road

Wednesday, March 25, 2020
The streets were bare during one of Thomas Kolpin’s runs to Chicago on Roosevelt Road as people were ordered to stay inside. Kolpin, a truck driver from Schaller, noted that it has been eerie driving in the city.
/ Photo from Thomas Kolpin

Now more than ever the country needs truck drivers to ensure that store shelves remain stocked with food and essential items. Truckers are working day and night to get these needed goods to stores so the general public can continue to have some peace of mind during the COVID-19 virus pandemic.

According to a press release from the Iowa Motor Truck Association, 98000 Iowans make their living by driving the big rig and have become almost the lifeline from coast to coast, border to border to make sure that the public has the ability to eat, take their medicine and stay clean.

Pat Duque, a driver for Al’s Inc. in Storm Lake, has noticed there have been a few changes but not as sweeping as some might think. While some restaurants are closed for dining, drivers are still able to find food at places that still offer takeout and at convinience stores.

One of the biggest changes that Duque has noticed comes when he’s delivering a load at his destination.

“Some places have been asking where you’re coming from,” he said.

Duque added that he’s no longer able to take his own coffee cup into most establishments now either, having to settle to use whatever cup might be available.

Craig Schroeder, an Alta native, has been going back and forth from Iowa to Texas and said it hasn’t been as bad as he’s expected it to be.

“Most of the restaurants are open between here and Texas. The rest areas are open,” he said. “They never closed them in Nebraska and they just reopened in Pennsylvania.”

Schroeder, like Duque, has seen an increase in safety when they are loading or unloading. Schroeder stated that most people are keeping that six feet of distance between one another and have been following the rules overall.

He’s by himself most of the time, like most truck drivers, so they are used to being in quarantine.

“We’re doing all right. We’re taking the right steps,” he said. “We’re just trying to hang in there and stay clean from coast to coast.”

Tom Kolpin, who owns his own trucking business in Schaller, has seen the level of respect for truck drivers raise back up since the start of the pandemic. Kolpin noted that the lack of respect for drivers has gone down in the past few years, saying that most folks think that trucks are just in their way, but now that they are dependent on the long haul workers, that respect is coming back in the time of need.

“We’re the bloodline of the country right now,” Kolpin said. “We’re stocking shelves and putting food on the table for people.”

He’s trying to remain safe when it comes to eating on the road like other drivers, eating a packed lunch from his wife, but can still get meals to go. Kolpin said that the biggest change since the pandemic began was the lack of traffic, especially in a big city like Chicago.

Kolpin goes to Chicago a couple of times per week and has been going 55 to 60 miles per hour at 9 a.m. Last week he took a picture on Roosevelt Road with no cars in sight, stating it’s eerie to see the roads so empty.

Like Duque, Kolpin has seen changes when he delivers or picks up a load. Kolpin stated that one of the spots where he delivers used to have a sliding glass window for face to face interaction. That sliding glass window is still there, but behind it now is plexiglass and a small opening to slide his paperwork in.

Kolpin added that one spot requires him to call in on his phone to find out where he needs to go, and that the workers will come out face to face with a mask on.

“It’s fine,” he said of the new situations. “Better safe than sorry.”

He’s been trying to limit his stops and exposure to the public while keeping his truck clean at all times. Drivers themselves can still take showers at truck stops. Kolpin added that the chains are cleaning all of the showers with bleach to keep them open for the drivers.

Kolpin, like Schroeder, said that truckers are used to be self-isolated and quarantined, but thinks they aren’t heroes like some have labeled drivers as.

The truck driving industry is seeing a volume increase during the pandemic and are doing their best to give the goods to the people that need them.

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