Farm Industry News Blog

To market, to market

Let's say you're a producer of some kind of item. You raise quite a bit of it. Now let's say you need a way to market that product. Finding a better price for it is always a good idea. Sometimes the better price isn't right nearby. The problem is when you are unable to move your product long distances in a timely and efficient manner. 

That's where we have found ourselves with grain the last few years. Even though it seems like Iowa has an ethanol plant on almost every street corner, they're not that thick up here in this part of the state. In fact, if you look at the average producer price paid for corn in the state of Iowa compared to futures prices in Chicago, you can draw a fairly big circle more or less right around where I live and you'll hit some of the lowest prices in the state ( So why not put it on a truck and send it down the road? 

We took the step that a lot of our contemporaries have done the last few years. We bought a semi and a grain trailer last fall. It was about this time of year, in fact. And why was this never mentioned until now, you ask? Well, that's because individuals with a given Endocrinology status like myself (a Type I diabetic since 1971) had not previously been able to get the Commercial Drivers License (CDL) that is required to drive a semi. As soon as you go in to get your physical for the DOT test and check the box that says "Do you take insulin of any kind?" the examining physician is supposed to flunk you on the spot. Game over. Turn your papers over and put your pencils down. Your test is finished. No DOT diploma for you!

So I did some Google work and discovered that there was an item created in federal legislation a few years ago that would grant a waiver to those diabetics wishing to get their CDL. It was neither a quick nor an easy process. Beginning to end, six months was what I was told it would take to get it put together. But Guy No. 1 went ahead and bought the truck last year and hired a guy on a part-time basis to drive it for us. He was already driving a school bus route, so he was properly licensed. We quickly discovered that his availability didn't always match up with GN1’s desire to put wheels under some corn. It would be so much easier if I got my CDL and did the trucking myself. You know, in my spare time. 

And why not have GN1 get a CDL and have him drive the truck, you might ask? GN1 does tax returns from about December 1 to April 15th. That's when a fair amount of grain moves. It also works out best for everyone if he’s not behind the wheel of a motor vehicle when a deadline is involved.

The Chairman Emeritus, of course, wants nothing to do with driving a semi. He's 82. That's not the typical age to begin a second career as a trucker. 

So I completed the federal paperwork and then there was different paperwork to do. That was local paperwork. I had to take my written tests for my CDL Learner's Permit. There are three of them. To drive a semi with a grain trailer, I needed to take the General Knowledge, Air Brakes, and the Combination Vehicle tests.  It takes an 80% score on each of them to pass. 

Once that's done, you do your actual driving test. There are a couple different ways of doing that. You can go to your local courthouse and schedule a time with either an employee there, or with a state DOT employee. Another option is one that pops up in a lot of farm publication classified ads about mid-summer or so each year. It's for a one-day class where you learn how to pass the CDL driving test. 

The one-day deals will tell you that they have a 90+% rate of graduate success. Their goal is to teach you how to do your pre-trip safety inspection for your CDL test, and give you a few of the basics for the actual driving part of the test. They didn't give me any numbers, but my guess is that 80% or more of their class members are farmers or farm employees who are looking to get through their CDL test and be able to drive their semi to the local co-op or the local ethanol plant. They're not looking to do long-haul work in heavy traffic. If you want to make driving a truck a career, the one-and-done route probably isn't the way to go.  

Once my name was published in the Federal Register and my paperwork was approved, I was then free to continue the process to get my CDL. First on the list were the written tests. 

The Friday before Labor Day, I read all kinds of CDL manual stuff all day long. Then I went to my neighboring county courthouse in Cresco at 3:15 and told the county treasurer that I wanted to take the three written tests for my CDL. He was more than a little surprised I wanted to do all three at once, but I told him that was what I was going to do. "Well, you're a very brave man," he said. 

No, I'm sick of studying and I want this done, I thought, but didn't mention out loud. The General Knowledge section had 50 questions, so I needed 40 correct to pass. I answered a couple and then skipped one. Then I proceeded to answer 38 in a row correctly. I got my trophy, so no more questions were required. Next up was the Combination Vehicle Test. I believe there were 20 questions on that exam. I answered one and skipped one. Then I ran the table and did fifteen in a row correctly. Trophy #2 was mine. Next up was Air Brakes. There seemed to be more technical details and stuff in this section than any other. I'd done a practice test at home that morning and got 20 out of 20, so I was mildly confident. Sadly, I did not follow my source's suggestion and didn't hit "Skip" often enough. Math was not on my side this time. Neither was guessing, apparently. 

I went back out to the lobby and told the treasurer that I got two out of three completed. "You can come back first thing Tuesday morning and do the other one," he said, somewhat routinely. I suppose these professional test administrators see a fair amount of failure in their daily lives. They didn't seem to relish handing out an F, but they were at least willing to do it. That's a good thing, in my opinion. 

The Tuesday morning after Labor Day, I returned. I ran the table on the test and answered everything correctly to get to my 80% level. No bells, buzzers or whistles went off when it happened. No handshakes were bestowed and no giant Lottery check-quality diploma was bestowed. I was simply handed yet another sheet of paper. This one was my CDL learner's permit. I could now drive a semi with anyone else who was 25 years old, had their own CDL, and was willing to risk their personal safety with me behind the wheel. Correction. With me behind one of 18 wheels. 

What a country! Now all I had to do was the simple little driving test where you jump in the semi and go out in traffic to prove that you're fit to not slaughter and/or maim your fellow motorists. 

Safety, first, of course, followed in tandem by proper health care. I needed some pie. Can't have the ol' blood sugar drop behind the wheel now, can I? Oh, if only there were a way I could find some source of portable glucose in a handy self-serve container to keep with me when traveling. 

We need to revise our label. "Buzz In A Bottle Honey: Now approved by the DOT for all of your motoring needs!" 

Guy No. 2

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The Farm Industry News Blog features commentary from Willie Vogt, Jodie Wehrspann, Kathy Huting, Lynn Grooms, Daryl Bridenbaugh and Jeff Ryan.

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