INTERSTATE 80, Nev. — Many couples and empty-nesters dream about traveling the world together. Some are making it a reality — in the cabs of 18-wheel freight trucks.
On a recent Monday night, Karen and Paul Lucey and their dogs, Sammie and Earl, left home in the Bay Area to pick up a load in Hayward, Calif. Then, as they do almost every week, they started out on a six-day, 6,000-mile trip to New Jersey and back.
Mr. Lucey, 56 years old, an Army veteran, drives the first of five 11-hour shifts, listening to talk radio. Mrs. Lucey, 48, who used to work for a commercial kitchen distributor, listens to disco when it's her turn. “Smooches, love you,” the couple say to each other when she goes to sleep on a bunk in the cab during the first overnight shift, and he drives.
The strong U.S. economy means freight demand is high. Low unemployment and a generation of retiring baby boomers have put truck drivers in chronic short supply. To combat the shortage, many freight companies are offering benefits like paid leave and 401(k) matching contributions, according to industry trade group American Trucking Associations.
A married couple driving can command a joint income of over $100,000 a year, or even more as owner-operators of their own trucks.
There are downsides to longhaul love: traffic, fatigue, sleeping through potholes and construction, bad weather, showering at truck stops and navigating relationship challenges posed by close confinement in a tiny space.
Five hundred miles into their recent trip, when Mrs. Lucey expressed consternation that the homemade chicken-stuffed lasagna she reheated at a truck stop didn't taste as good as usual, Mr. Lucey sheepishly admitted he added water to it.
“There's a few times we push each other's buttons,” says Mrs. Lucey, who has driven with her husband for eight years. It's usually in “that time period where we're getting ready to trade off. One person might be tired and really just wants to go to sleep, and really doesn't want to hear about the guy three hours ago that might have cut you off.”
Once they deliver their load and pick up a fresh trailerful of products in Jersey City on Thursday, the Luceys drive straight back to California, arriving home on Sunday morning. “It's not a glamorous job and it's definitely a job you have to work at to make a healthy lifestyle,” Mrs. Lucey said.
Team drivers are a plus for freight companies. They can deliver loads twice as fast as drivers going solo. One partner drives while the other rests, keeping the truck going nearly all hours. Using team drivers, freight companies can “effectuate air-freight-like speeds without ever paying for jet fuel or pilot time,” said Donald Broughton, managing partner of transportation research firm Broughton Capital.
Heather Hutchens, from Waco, Texas, was initially dubious about the idea of living out of a truck cab for months when she left her job as an optician to join her husband, Jason, driving. “Turns out that we love it,“ she said. “It's like tiny home living.” Some truck stops have petgrooming facilities, gyms and drivers' lounges.
“We're in each other's face 24/7 sometimes,” said Channon Gould, a former police officer from Sumter, S.C., who drives with her husband, John.
“I get to pluck his nerves and he gets to pluck my nerves, and at the end of the night we kiss and make up,” said Mrs. Gould, who drives not only with her spouse but also their 2-year-old daughter, Miracle, whom they recently took to Walt Disney World after dropping off a load in Lakeland, Fla.
For Jeremy Fish, a truck driver since 1997, driving with his wife revived his interest in the job. “Being able to show her all this stuff for the first time and watching the wonderment in her face,” like trying deepdish pizza in Chicago or clam chowder in New England, “that made it a lot better for me,” he said. Mr. Fish's wife, Selena, previously worked as a plumber in Las Vegas and retrained as a commercial truck driver three months after their 2016 wedding.
Initially, she found it hard to sleep in a moving truck. “All the noises and the movement, every little thing kept me awake, but now I don't even wake up when he stops to take a rest break.” Having “never really traveled,” Mrs. Fish described her new lifestyle as “like a paid vacation.”
Carl Greene, a former investment adviser, grew bored of retirement and retrained as a driver with trucking company C.R. England Inc. The 71-yearold now delivers food donations around the country, and his wife, Kimberley, a teacher, joins him during summer vacation. While Mr. Greene drives, his wife helps navigate, plays games on her iPad and enjoys the view.
Angela Griffin and her husband, Scott, began team driving as she “ran some figures and I realized that if we did it for two years, we could pay off our house.” Mrs. Griffin, a former graphic designer who gained her commercial driver's license in 2008 before they married, said the lifestyle is “definitely a much larger sacrifice that anybody could ever imagine.”
“We're never home, and when we are home I would have to do laundry, get new food to put on the truck and try to get some rest — and then it was right back on the road,” she said. They have since scaled back to part-time driving.
On I-80, Mr. Lucey said “no one plans to do this sort of thing forever.” Mr. Lucey previously trained truck drivers, including team drivers, and said “the romance wears thin for a lot of couples that were very independent before.” He trained his wife when she decided to become a truck driver after they married. “She was the best apprentice I ever had. I tell people that and they never believe me,” Mr. Lucey said.
His first shift on the haul to New Jersey ended late in the morning in Nevada, and then it was time for him to get some rest. “Smooches, love you,” he said, as he closed the curtain to the bunk. “Smooches, love you,” his wife replied as she began her drive.
BY HARRIET TORRY