Flatbed trucks haul cargo that is unusually shaped and can’t fit in a regular box trailer. Lumber, large spools of cable, glass and all kinds of construction materials are shipped on flatbeds. These trailers come in different setups, including standard flatbed, step-deck or double drop-deck. The second two types are used to carry tall or heavy loads; the front part of the trailer rises up so that it can hitch to the truck at the standard height, but the rear of the trailer drops down to allow the cargo to sit lower.
Driving a flatbed may pay a few cents more per mile than dry van or refrigerated truck driving, but there’s a reason for this. Drivers have to spend extra time after loading to properly secure their loads. Depending on what you’re carrying, you might have to chain and tarp the materials. In ideal weather conditions, this operation is time consuming, dirty and physical work. It could take one to two hours to properly secure and tarp the load. However, when the weather turns rainy, blustery or snowy, then the tarping becomes a real challenge. The positive side of tarping is that it provides a great workout, but not everyone wants that.
Flatbed drivers often deliver their loads straight to job sites, so they are less likely to spend time at a loading dock or to have to navigate through narrow city streets. The exceptions include delivery to home improvement stores. Many flatbed loads are so large it would be impossible for the driver himself to unload, so he can usually expect to get help from a forklift operator.
As with all sectors of trucking, safety is critical. Carrying an improperly secured load on a flatbed can be fatal for the driver and for other people on the road. When you first begin training to drive a flatbed, spend as much time as you can with the company trainer learning how to chain and tarp your loads. The act of tarping can also be risky, especially in wet and windy weather. This is a job where it never pays to rush.
The choice of equipment you haul depends entirely on your personal preference. The few cents of price difference between van and flatbed doesn’t account for the strong affinity people feel for one or the other. Since flatbed work is physically demanding, exhausting and dangerous, many flatbed drivers tend to feel a sense of pride about their work, which may lead them to treat other flatbed drivers with more respect and concern than they would treat a refrigerated truck or dry van driver.