Text: Oliver Willms
Photos: Janina Martig, Richard Kienberger, OWImedia, Pixabay, BPW
Trucks have a polarising effect: often scorned by car drivers and loved by long-distance truckers. But where does the magic of a truck come from?
German drivers might immediately think of the successful German TV series ‘Auf Achse’, which was filmed between 1977 and 1996. The programme showed Franz Meersdonk, Günther Willers and their 320 hp machines driving deliveries all over the world. They were drivers you could rely on! The intro to the popular TV series still gives truck fans goosebumps to this day, especially those who are drivers themselves. Many men – and a not insignificant number of women – have gained a thrill from taking the wheel of a juggernaut throughout their entire careers. They pay the price for the freedom behind the steering wheel with long working hours and plenty of stress on the overcrowded highways of Europe – and if they work for themselves, they also have to contend with a great deal of financial pressure. It is difficult to pin down a rational explanation for this – be it the promise of adventure and freedom that drives them or just a sheer fascination for an extremely powerful machine. Taking the wheel of a heavy-duty truck certainly makes an impression on a person – one that often lasts a lifetime.
The trucking couple Walter Thaler and Tamara Sailer spend their long working weeks living and working together in their 730 hp Scania flagship.
Love amongst the trucks
Walter Thaler from Leutasch in Tyrol is one of these passionate drivers. A longing to explore the big wide world is what got this trained joiner behind the wheel of a truck around 30 years ago. ‘I haven’t regretted a single day,’ he assures us. On the contrary: it was in a dairy in Tyrol where he made regular deliveries that he first met Tamara. They have now been together for eight years and the happy couple live and work together in the upgraded cab of their 730 hp Scania. The trucking duo spend the whole week driving across Europe with deliveries of fruit and other foods. Walter is as besotted with Tamara as he is with his truck. Family life in the stabile love triangle between man, woman and machine is played out on just a few square metres in the truck apartment. Even after many years of working double shifts together, neither partner wants to leave the truck-driving profession. The couple still take so much pleasure from driving that they’re soon ready to get back on the road after just a few hours in their bricks-and-mortar home.
Traffic psychologist Johannes Vetter explains that the relationship between people and trucks is extremely complex. He recognises archaic basic principles in the attraction of the huge vehicles. The psychologist sees a heavy-duty truck as a tool that can multiply its own powers and make its driver strong, too. Almost everyone reportedly succumbs to this triumphant feeling after a few kilometres of driving: ‘There may be plenty of stress, a poor image and the pressure of deadlines, but when you sit in the driving seat, you get a real sense of happiness,’ explains Vetter. ‘This is partly because truck drivers are free to make lots of decisions themselves. They certainly experience a lot of frustration, but also plenty of success. All of this is felt much more strongly at the wheel of a truck than it is in other jobs.’
Janina Martig has been successfully running her own transport business for five years, and mainly employs female drivers. Janina also works as a sought-after model on the side.
Success in a man’s world
Janina Martig from Allschwill in Switzerland is one of the women getting on board in this sector. ‘I have diesel in my blood!’ explains the young entrepreneur, who set up her own logistics company five years ago and employs almost exclusively women as drivers. ‘Even when I was a child I preferred playing with toy trucks rather than dolls,’ she remembers. She can now drive her own full-size trucks for her very own company. Alongside international modelling jobs and the task of managing her transport business, the self-made woman still gets behind the steering wheel now and then. In the day-to-day business, this is the job of her female drivers – who are still a rarity in the male-dominated world of trucking.
‘Modern truck technology means that hardly any physical effort is needed these days and this is making it increasingly easy for women to enter the profession,’ explains Vetter. The psychology expert is, however, unable to confirm the theory that women are essentially better road users. There are no longer any fundamental differences between women and men in road transport. ‘They swear and beep just as much as their male colleagues, but ultimately have better control of themselves,’ says Vetter. ‘That is why they rarely run up lots of points on their licences.’
Turning heads on the tarmac: Germany’s most beautiful trucks are on show at the Truck-Grand-Prix at the Nürburgring.
The truck as a purpose in life
It may play into popular cliché, but it does seem that the women almost always keep their vehicles clean and cosy. Male drivers have a tendency to add on ‘trophies’ such as chrome strips, extra headlights and stainless steel horns. Designer graffiti on the truck and trailer, deep pile carpets or real wooden parquet in the interior and very bold colourful decoration make a truck distinctive – and something to show off to colleagues with pride. The love that drivers have for their trucks perhaps also compensates for the fact that truckers often have very little social contact. The truck thus becomes a purpose in life for some, who not only invest a great deal of money but also countless hours of leisure time in their vehicles. Once a year, the industry can wholeheartedly show itself off in all its glory. The Truck-Grand-Prix at the Nürburgring was set up 33 years ago to provide a stage for the annual displays of show trucks by their proud owners. ‘There, the old rule applies: the bigger, the better,’ says the traffic expert Vetter, summing it up in a nutshell.
Unfortunately, the profession also entails health risks. Working on and near the motorways leaves its mark, with conditions accumulating in many drivers as they age. ‘Older drivers in particular often have a poor relationship with their bodies,’ says Johannes Vetter. Modern technology is not entirely blameless in this regard either: the traffic psychologist has mixed feelings about the use of the many assistance and safety systems in trucks. ‘Without a doubt, they greatly improve safety, but this gives the drivers a sense of being safer which can cloud the way in which they view risks. Because there is less to do at the wheel, their level of attention drops automatically.’
Engineer Alexander Lübbe-Sloan develops innovative technology for renowned truck manufacturers. In his free time, he has been a keen truck driver since his youth.
Theory and practice
This is highly unlikely to happen to Alexander Lübbe-Sloan. The qualified engineer is living his trucking dream as a development engineer for renowned truck manufacturers – and always has a clear vision. When the vehicle distance assistant kicks in, for example, the 40-year-old has an intuitive picture of all the control processes and mechanisms of the technology. Despite all the professionalism of his work with state-of-the-art truck technology, his long-standing enthusiasm for truck driving often sees the experienced developer taking a seat at the wheel of his ‘private’ truck. Alongside his varied role in design engineering, he regularly takes his long-serving three-axle MAN vehicle on international routes for customers. ‘You forget things otherwise! And the passion for driving grows as you get older,’ he says. That is how the engineer from Bielefeld explains the obsession for being behind the wheel that he had even as a child. In his spare time, he is currently rebuilding his own personal dream truck from an old vehicle.
The love for trucks spans all parts of the population – drivers who are on the roads every day, engineers and entrepreneurs alike. Psychologist Johannes Vetter can’t help but agree. ‘Truck driving is a non-material addiction,’ he says. ‘And it unites a wide range of characters.’ The expert should know: he drove trucks internationally himself for eight years before he swapped the driver’s seat for the psychologist’s chair. Even now, the 66-year-old would gladly get back in the cab in an instant – his passion and fascination for trucks is not something that will ever burn out.
ACCESSORIES FOR ALL AGES
Drivers show off their passion for haulage by customising their trucks. BPW has an online shop specially for fans of the company, who can kit themselves out with BPW-branded products at www.bpw-fanshop.com. The range includes hats for babies with matching bodysuits and dummy chains for little ones, outdoor clothing, truck models and handy technology such as powerbanks and USB sticks.