Try 3 months for $3

MERRILLVILLE | A truck driver's work starts early and is almost never done.

"You start your day about 4 a.m. to 5 a.m.," said John McClendon, a veteran trucker.

That's when he starts his pre-trip inspection of dozens of vehicle parts and systems including fluid levels, engine belts and hoses, and mud flaps.

"It's mandatory at Major League Trucking," McClendon said. "That truck is my second home. It's my office."

The work site for McClendon changes constantly. One day it may be a quarry where he collects crushed road material, or a construction site to deliver fresh asphalt or take away old. He said some work days may not end until after midnight.

McClendon, who has worked more than 18 years as a driver, recently purchased two 1997 Mack trucks and started Major League Trucking LLC.

He said the name of the company isn't a reference to his famous cousin, Lloyd McClendon, a Gary native who played major league baseball for the Cincinnati Reds, Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates and is the current manager of the Seattle Mariners. He said he just likes sports.

"The management end is very demanding," McClendon said, adding he has to market his business and talk to potential customers.

He said he has been paying himself $15 an hour, less than half what he made as an employee of a trucking firm. "I figure the less I pay myself, the more I can put into the business," he said.

"Being a new owner, you are always concerned about succeeding or failing," McClendon said.

"My experience has helped me. The business is going all right. I've been doing it three months. It's good. It works. I don't owe anybody."

McClendon had made plans after graduating from Gary's Lew Wallace High School to attend college, but his father died and he had to help support his mother and 12 siblings.

By the late 1990s, he was raising his own family and was working as a longshoreman at the Port of Indiana. He said the pay was fine, but he needed a job that offered health insurance for his children.

He said drivers he knew who owned their own trucks complained about their salary, but he noticed they could afford new rigs. He said a job with no boss constantly looking over his shoulder also appealed to him.

He took a course at a private driving school, obtained a commercial drivers license, found work with the city of Gary's Sanitation Department and got his Teamster's union card. He eventually shifted to construction.

McClendon said he is now apprenticing one of his sons to help run the business. "It's been my recommendation as a great career," he said.

How I got the job: McClendon needed better pay and benefits than those offered longshoremen at the Port of Indiana, so he attended a private truck driving school, obtained a commercial drivers license, joined Teamsters Local 142 and became a driver for the Gary Sanitation Department in the early 1990s.

What the job pays: McClendon said the local union hourly rate has been $32.29 but may soon rise to $34. The median pay for heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers in 2014 was $39,520 per year, or $19 an hour, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job growth in the future:  The U.S. Department of Labor has predicted employment of heavy and tractor-trailer truck drivers will grow 11 percent between 2012 and 2022, about as fast as the average of all occupations. As the economy grows, the demand for goods will increase, and more truck drivers will be needed to keep supply chains moving.

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Lake County Reporter

Bill has reported in Lake County since 1972 after graduating from Indiana University. He has worked for The Times since 1997, covering the courts and local government during much of his tenure. Born and raised in New Albany, Ind., he is a native Hoosier.