Trucking paid well, but being on the road all week, like a vagabond, was not ideal—especially not for someone who wants to marry and have a family someday.
So, after seven years (going on eight) I had resolved to find another job by the end of the year. After being off for an extended period of time to rehab a torn ACL I figured that I owed my employer one more year, but after that my plan was to find something else.
However, the whole year had almost passed and nothing opened up. Finally, after hearing of another driving opportunity and decided that a job change would be sufficient enough, I decided to change companies for what seemed like a better gig and keep on truckin’…
Well, God must be a comedian, almost immediately after signing the papers for the new driving job the right opportunity came along. My friend, Titus Kuhns, was vacating his position as truss designer and that presented a unique opportunity for me.
But, I had a bit of a quandary…
Was it right to quit a job I had just taken?
The first day on my new trucking job, when things weren’t quite as anticipated, was enough to convince me to make the jump right then. I sent a text to Titus expressing my interest in the design job and stopped in for a visit at Triple D Truss later that week—I pretty much committed on the spot.
My training would start a few months later in the beginning of April. My old boss agreed to take me back until then (no point in me learning a new trucking job when I was already an expert at hauling commodities) and so I had my encore in the old blue Pete.
I’ve never worked in an office before, let alone for an Amish business, and didn’t really know what to expect.
Office hours started at 6:30am and, after a thirty-eight mile commute, I was a few minutes early. So, figuring there was safety in numbers, I waited for Titus to arrive and then followed him in.
The office has a friendly and relaxed atmosphere. That morning (and every morning since) my coworkers in the office all greet me with a pleasant “good morning, Joel!” That day, not really knowing the program, I mumbled my reply and followed Titus to his desk upstairs.
John, one of the co-owners, seems to set the tone for the office. He is upbeat, energetic, generous, and most importantly (for a fledging designer) a reassuring voice. He sort of bounces up the stairs, often has a broad smile on his face, and hardly has anything bad to say about anyone.
The other part of the partnership, Dan, is a bit more awkward on the surface, but is also every bit as friendly and understanding as John.
Next in line is ever cool and collected Nathaniel, his charisma makes him a great dispatcher and excellent salesman—he possess youthful enthusiasm that is contagious and a curiosity that will likely take him far.
And the newbie of the group (besides yours truly) is Norman, who does some of the random office tasks (with Mary and Linda who work part time) and is only sixteen.
Oh, and did mention that everyone in the office, including the bosses) is ten years younger than me?
Yup, somehow I’m the old guy now, not sure how that happened…
Anyhow, let the training begin!
Titus seemed to be playing game of Tetris, except one that involved designing an endless variety of trusses, while juggling the phone, and doing a multitude of other small tasks—like creating their office forms. The pile of stuff was overwhelming to my novice eyes and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to keep up.
What would happen when Titus left in a month?
I designed trusses on my first day. The design software, I learned, is occasionally cantankerous and will crash if you do things out of sequence or in what appeared to be random intervals to a complete rookie. But my natural aptitudes combine with a good teacher meant that I learned quickly.
The highlight that month—besides wonderful home cooked meals with Titus, his wife Daisy and adorable baby Rowan—was the week of training in Dallas Texas. Everything was paid, I ran around in my blaze orange Dodge Challenger rental (a free upgrade) and was taught to use the 3D layout software. I even had time to connect with an old friend, Richard Miller, and ate some of the best BBQ I’ve ever had.
Then it was back to Mill Hall. Titus was moving to Ohio at the end of the week and would leave me as the solo truss designer. I had many questions about how the next few weeks would transpire and didn’t entirely share the confidence of my trainer and co-workers.
Time to sink or swim…
My hope was to start Monday with a clear desk. I was slightly terrified by the layouts leftover from Friday and were now entirely my responsibility.
It my job to ensure that the quotes arrived to the customers and truss prints made it to the shop in a timely manner. The designers desk is at an important crossroads in the office. If I don’t get my work done production would grind to halt.
The first couple weeks were stressful, I was swamped, and my neck was sore because I was so tense. My brother Kyle described my job as “speaking order into chaos” and chaos seemed inevitable in the absence of my concentrated efforts.
Fortunately Titus was only a phone call away and, if things got too out of control, the metal plate vendor (whose software I was using) has designers and engineers on staff to take the overflow. Still, it was my job to coordinate the effort and keep chaos at bay.
After a few more weeks (and some overtime hours) I was fully in control of my work environment. It was nice to end the day with a desk clear of work. I had encountered the full range of what would be required of me and came out with my head still above water.
With each passing week keeping up has gotten easier and easier and more recently I have another problem.
The new problem?
Not being challenged.
Lately I’ve found myself facing a clean desk and blank screen. This partly the result of things slowing down from the spring rush, but also because I am getting better at knowing where to start and also when a truss is basically as good as it will get and, more importantly, how to avoid the time consuming pitfalls of the software.
“An expert is someone who knows some of the worst mistakes that can be made in his subject, and how to avoid them.” (Werner Heisenberg)
I might not be a truss design expert yet, but I’ve made good progress and have gained plenty of confidence in my abilities.
It is great finally getting paid to do something that I’m especially gifted to do. I love when I’m described as “the engineer” (my work is backed up by someone certified) and especially enjoy walking through the yard seeing completed projects knowing my part in the process.
It is even more rewarding when your trusses end up installed in your uncle’s new truck shop.
Being on top of things has afforded me the opportunity to work beside the guys on the truss shop floor, which is fun. It is also fun being the only non-Amish employee (other than the truck drivers) and especially that I share a last name with three in the office including one of the owners.
Overall the transition from gear jamming to desk jockey has been a smooth one.
9 thoughts on “From Truck Driver To Truss Designer”
Hey, just stumbled on this and thought I’d say hi to a fellow truss designer! Looks like you’re using Eagle? Or maybe Simpson legacy software? We just switched to Simpson from eagle this spring. Anyway, best of luck!
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Not sure how I missed this comment. Yes, I’m using Eagle Metal’s software. How does it compare to the Simpson software?
We switched to Simpson from Eagle this Spring. It’s quite a bit different. I think I’d do the switch again, knowing what I know now, but it would be a lot harder decision. Simpson’s software is server based, and so it’s a lot more complicated in some ways, and can result in a lot of lag time waiting to get jobs checked in and out.
Their layout software has pretty nearly identical capability, but they are still working on getting it to look as slick as Truebuild’s Layout. In the Truss Design end of the software I’d say Simpson has some advantages on functionality. Since the way they do things is completely different, it’s hard to compare.
Not sure if Eagle has hanger sizing capability yet, but that’s one thing that Simpson does (mostly) well.
When I’m doing final layouts I still miss all the functionality I got from Eagle with hatching, noting, etc.
Simpson got into the Truss business more recently, and their software kind of shows that. But they are improving by leaps and bounds, as they have a lot of resources to throw at it.
Like anything, there are pros and cons on both sides. If you ever get to the point you are thinking of switching, I’d be glad to talk to you and give you my perspective.
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Any particular reason why you switched?
I’m not the decision maker here as far as that is concerned. But I am curious and do weigh in on those kinds of things.
Mostly because of better pricing. Not really comfortable getting into more detail on that publicly….
At the time we’d have said we were getting better software with Simpson, but after several months experience I’d say it’s just a different set of frustrations, but about the same overall experience. I still feel Simpson has quicker upside potential on the software.
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Pricing, if not the most significant factor, is definitely important. That said, we have a good relationship with Eagle and I’m not quite ready to learn someone else’s system after having become proficient in Eagle’s software.
It is interesting, I would have never guessed—before getting into the industry—that truss plate manufacturers all have their own proprietary software. But it does make sense.
Oh, and Eagle does have hanger sizing now. Getting it to work flawlessly? Not always easy…
Eagle Metal is full of great people who are easy to work with. I’ve been very impressed with the quality and helpfulness of the folks at Simpson as well. Prior to our switch, I talked with others who had switched to Simpson, and a common refrain was, “They have the best customer support you’ve ever seen!”. I was skeptical at the time, but now that I have worked closely with them I kind of agree. They are very good at taking care of their customers.
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