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A revealing inside account of truckers' work ethic

Pedal to the Metal

The Work Life of Truckers

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Lawrence J. Ouellet

"Before—and while—becoming a sociologist, I drove trucks for a living.... I drove heavy-duty diesel trucks approximately 800,000 miles, working full-time and part-time for eight transport companies over a period of thirteen years.... I transported fresh produce, rock and sand, freight, gasoline and oil, jet fuel, asphalt, lumber, pipe.... To pull these loads, I drove tractors ranging from first-class Peterbilts and Kenworths to utilitarian Macks and beat-en-up 'Jimmies.... In all, driving produced a great variety of feelings and emotions."

From this experience, Lawrence J. Ouellet has the advantage of a rare perspective and a profound understanding of the two fundamental questions he asks in this book: Why do truck drivers work so hard even when it doesn't result in more money or other material gains? and How do truckers make sense of their behavior to themselves and to the outside world?

A vivid ethnography of trucking culture, Pedal to the Metal documents and analyzes truckers' lives and work ethic, exploring the range of identities truckers create for themselves—the renegade cowboy, the company man, the voyeur, the lone king of the road. To explain truckers' motivations, Ouellet examines the meaning of work and the motivation for excelling despite long, unsupervised hours on the road. He finds that their occupational pride results in extraordinary efforts on the job and, subsequently, a positive sense of self. Driving skill allows truckers to improve their hauling times, which they proudly track to the minute, and to increase their productivity and income.

Truckers' knowledge of the industry's structure and the idiosyncrasies of their own company allows them to improve their ability to get and carry out assignments, to maneuver around a traditional concept of rank and seniority, and to recreate to their advantage the pervasive cultural myths that the public expects should dictate a trucker's behavior. Whether capturing the pleasure and enchantment of trucking—driving under moon-lit skies across a snow-covered mountain range—or the miseries of boredom, bad weather, and exhausting schedules, Ouellet exhibits deep appreciation and passion for his subject.

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Reviews

"[A] fascinating study of the lives and work ethic of truckers.... [M]ore than a study of truck drivers, [this] entertaining work adds to the research on blue-collar workers and their interests, motivations, and job satisfactions."
Library Journal

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Contents

Acknowledgments
1. Driving Trucks, Driving Ourselves
2. The Organization of Work
3. Drivers at Work
4. Conflict between Drivers and Owners
5. Work Skills and Self-Esteem
6. What Owners Want from Drivers, What Drivers Want from Owners
7. Work Audiences
8. Highway Audiences
9. Careers, Magic, and Masculinity
Notes
References
Index

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About the Author(s)

Lawrence J. Ouellet is Assistant Professor in the School of Public Health at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Subject Categories

General Interest
Labor Studies and Work
Sociology


In the series

Labor and Social Change, edited by Paula Rayman and Carmen Sirianni.

Labor and Social Change, edited by Paula Rayman and Carmen Sirianni, includes books on workplace issues like worker participation, quality of work life, shorter hours, technological change, and productivity, as well as union and community organizing and ethnographies of particular occupations.

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