Now more than ever, Americans are learning the importance blue-collar workers play in the U.S. economy. From retail workers ringing up that cart full of groceries to truck drivers hauling all those online purchases to oil field workers pumping black gold out of the ground, these workers keep America moving and are responsible for so many of the necessities for life that countless people simply take for granted.
As Americans experience supply chain shortages, there seems to be a growing interest in the trades and these professions’ growing salaries. Recent reports show massive shortages of truck drivers and salaries that can top six figures. Many young Americans are choosing trade schools over college degrees and six-figure student loans. Blue-collar workers build roads and buildings. They catch, herd and grow the food families put on their tables. Maybe some of these guys and gals have put a roof on your house, serviced your HVAC unit or fixed your clogged drain.
In fact, these hard-working people do so much that too often goes underappreciated, and Skillset wants to provide its readers with important insights into these jobs from some of those who actually work in these industries.
For most of his life, 68-year-old David Lindsey has been behind the wheel of a big rig. He has hauled freight, logs for the timber industry, and he has transported fuel for the last 13 years out of Atlanta, Texas. That’s a lot of tread left across the freeways of America from the tires of this over-the-road warrior. However, he not only enjoys driving in the service of the American economy, but he also enjoys many of the perks that come with the job. Furthermore, he has seen many places that he probably wouldn’t have seen otherwise.
In addition to the endless hours logged on the highway by truck drivers, there is one other key aspect to the success of the over-the-road shipping industry: the drivers’ spouses. Lindsey says, “The truck driver’s wife has to be independent and resilient; the family burdens are on her while the driver is gone.”
When it comes to the daily job itself, there is much more that goes into hauling than just hopping into the cab and cranking up the engine. An average day of fuel transporting for Lindsey starts at 5 p.m. when he’s assigned loads for the next day. He and his company plan what time to start, the order to deliver, and then he is up at 10:00 p.m. to get to his truck for a state-required safety inspection. Then he heads to one of several loading racks in East Texas or Shreveport, Louisiana, before wheeling into a customer site. A normal schedule sees Lindsey working 12 to 14 hours a day, five or six days a week. As most Americans realized during 2021, truck drivers are a critical part of the supply chain.
“Everything people use in everyday life was delivered by a truck driver somewhere along the way, so it is definitely an important profession,” Lindsey says. “The main challenges in truck driving are getting the product to customers in a safe and timely manner without any collisions with four-wheelers (automobiles), animals, buildings or other trucks, often in every kind of inclement weather known to man.
“Sometimes in the fuel industry, the racks and refineries run out, and we are left trying to find the fuel for the customer, or we will sit in line with other trucks until we can make the load. On any trucking job you have to constantly be alert, watching for everyone else. One accident could mean your life or your job.”
Daniel Lowery has owned and operated D&H Wood Products in Booneville, Arkansas, since 1996. The sawmill is located between the Ozark and Ouachita mountains in the heart of Arkansas timber country. The company works with multiple species of hardwoods and exports eastern red cedar. His mill may be responsible for the raw material for those new hardwood floors you put down after seeing an interior design show on HGTV. This family-owned business employs about a dozen people, and work gets started before daylight.
No one would deny that the timber and lumber industry is vital for our nation in many ways. These products are not only used in construction, such as plywood and framing lumber but also for transportation and logistics through items as diverse as railroad ties and pallets.
“The housing market is booming and lumber plays an integral part of building structures,” Lowery says. “Framing lumber and plywood have been in high demand lately, with all of the natural disasters plaguing our country.
Wildfires, tornadoes, floods, and hurricanes have all put a strain on the supply of lumber. Improvements to infrastructure have warranted a need from railroads for more railroad ties, switch ties, and bridge timbers. As the economy booms, so does the need to transport goods. Many of these goods are loaded onto trucks and railcars using wooden crates and pallets.”
And Michael Scott on The Office wouldn’t have a job without paper. The job of lumber production, however, may use machines for some work, but heavy lifting is still required, such as manually stacking lumber and running saws. Lowery’s wife, Krista, even saws and also runs much of the business, which he says couldn’t function without her.
Nevertheless, the industry certainly faces issues at times. Loggers often have a difficult time transporting logs from wet areas, meaning D&H Wood Products might go weeks without buying any supply. Stockpiling product, therefore, is a must. Finding good employees can be a problem too. The job includes hard labor with hot days in summer and bone-chilling cold in winter, with workers lifting 40-120 pounds continuously throughout the day.
Despite these struggles, Lowery loves the industry. “Logging and sawmilling is in my blood,” he says. “I enjoy it or I definitely wouldn’t do it. It’s not for the faint of heart or a lazy individual.”
Life on a real ranch or in the saddle as a professional cowboy isn’t exactly like Yellowstone portrays it. Jacob Morrison, 27, knows the job firsthand as a cowboy for Horton Ranches. His job isn’t exactly the Wild West, but it keeps alive America’s Western heritage in a country that consumed 27.6 billion pounds of beef in 2020.
Morrison works on a yearling ranch, which receives cattle, raises them to 800 pounds and ships them to the feed yard. On a daily basis, Morrison’s duties include feeding the cattle, making sure all livestock have water and making sure water pumps work properly. His lifetime as a cowboy also comes in handy as he ropes and tends to sick calves.
It’s a tough job, and that’s not all that goes into a day on the ranch for this cowboy. Morrison repairs fences, trains young horses and helps maintain tractors and equipment. He is even a bit of a bovine obstetrician, pulling calves during calving season and ensuring the cow tends to her calf and raises it properly. If the cow doesn’t tend to her calf, Morrison does some maternal duties himself and bottle feeds the animal or allows the calf to feed off a milk cow.
“We work the cows and calves in the spring and fall, and we do it the old-school way,” says Morrison, who lives in Kaufman, Texas. “Then we rope and drag the calves to a fire to brand them with the ranch’s brand. We also wean calves twice a year, where they leave the mama cow and learn to live on their own.”
This isn’t a traditional 9-to-5 job, and calving season brings especially long days and nights. Weaning and branding is also hard due to long days and nights, and these tasks can last for weeks at a time.
What do most people not understand about cowboys? People in the “outside world” believe that ranching is just putting out hay to cows and watching them roam, Morrison says. That is certainly not the case, however. Life in the saddle can also be tough on families.
“Not everyone is cut out for ranching; it’s either in your blood or it ain’t,” Morrison relates. “Yellowstone is just a fairy-tale picture of what the working cowboys do on a daily basis. I have cowboyed since I graduated high school; it’s my passion. I wouldn’t trade what I do for anything.”
For five years, Chris Marrs, 52, lived life among the clouds in San Diego. He wasn’t a ski instructor or an airline pilot, though. Instead, Marrs worked for five years as a skyscraper window washer. Marrs owned the company and personally worked on the swing stage and swami chair, devices that can suspend window cleaners hundreds of feet in the air. Obviously, those with a fear of heights may want to skip the application process for this profession altogether.
But for those not bothered by exposure to heights, these high-rise window-washing pros keep America’s major skylines looking pristine. Marrs says the setup is simple when it comes to actually cleaning the windows: Dish soap, a bucket, towels and a squeegee are all you need.
For Marrs, there was also camaraderie among his crew. All four of his employees were climbing and surfing buddies, and they might clean a tower and then hit the waves after work. Marrs owned the company for five years and then sold to an employee who still owns the business today.
Nevertheless, sky-high window washing does involve plenty of risk. “I was knocked off a six-story building by a rolling scaffold,” Marrs says. He grabbed hold of the safety rope three stories down and was able to stop his fall. “I still have rope burn scars.”
Taken as a whole, however, Marrs believes that the benefits of this aerial profession far outweigh the risks. In fact, along with a nice paycheck, the job also had a few fringe benefits for him, including social ones. Marrs notes, “I met several girls who saw me through the windows.”
There’s no doubt that America runs on petroleum, and Jeff Horton of Midland, Texas, does his part to make sure that our country’s cars crank up. This 33-year-old drilling superintendent works daily on the front lines, maintaining oil rigs and making sure everything is working properly. This is a profession that can take you to many different places, and Horton has worked everywhere from Texas to New Mexico to Pennsylvania.
This job requires plenty of hard work, and the 12-hour shifts run from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and from 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. Workers in the oil fields lift heavy pipe constantly and may have to break down pumps and put them back together again. A strong mechanical knowledge and a thorough understanding of diesel engines certainly helps, and workers never know what issue will pop up next in the oil field. Needless to say, a ton of work goes into keeping the oil flowing.
Horton’s company uses six employees per crew, and the job comes with some personal sacrifice. Many of his workers travel to work in the oil fields, and they often spend time away from their families when on site.
“The hardest thing for people to realize is that these guys work 14 days on and 14 days off, so that’s 14 days away from their families, staying on location in housing provided by the company,” he says. “These guys are working 12 hours a day to provide a good living for their households.”
This is only a glimpse into just a few of the blue-collar occupations and the lives of their workers who keep our country on track economically and industrially. These professionals hit the ground running each day to provide the products and services that many Americans take for granted.
But trust us, if these hardworking pros were ever to stop doing what they do for our country and for the betterment of their families, life for the average American would be very different. So, join us here at Skillset in saying hats off to the blue-collar men and women who keep the wheels of our great nation turning!