Married for nearly 30 years, Penny and Todd Sheneman have been a team for more than half their lives.
Three-and-a-half years ago, they upped the ante and began driving together as a Hazmat team in PAM’s expedited division.
This new phase in their lives and careers all started when Todd, then a local delivery driver, started having trouble finding regular work in their home town of South Bend, Indiana.
He took a step back, evaluated his options, and decided he was going to look into going over the road. He’d driven bigger trucks while in the Army and knew that he could earn a decent living driving OTR.
When Todd shared his thoughts with Penny, a certified nursing assistant at the time, her immediate reaction was, “Hey, maybe I should just go to truck driving school and go with you!”
Convinced that Todd would eventually talk her out of it, Penny went to truck driving school and found she really enjoyed it. Good money, a satisfying career, an opportunity to travel, and a chance to spend more time together — what could be better? The rest is history.
Starting Out at PAM
Although Penny and Todd were optimistic about their team driving adventure, they naturally had a lot of questions.
Todd was mainly concerned about fitting in at PAM and his ability to adapt to the OTR driving lifestyle. “There’s always something to worry about when you have a big change in going from one company to another or starting a new career,” he says. “‘Would I fit in with PAM? Would I make a good truck driver? Would I know how to survive on the road?’ Only time would tell.”
Penny worried more about putting all of their eggs in one basket. “My big concern, because we are a married team, was that we wouldn’t make enough money. Because if we’re sitting, that’s our whole income,” she recalls. “I really like the fact that PAM keeps us running. I like the fact they have a lot of drop yards so you can drop a load, which cuts down a lot on the wait times. So I was mostly concerned about getting enough miles. Which we seem to get . . . sometimes even more miles then what we really want!”
Why They Became a Hazmat Team
When Penny and Todd started at PAM, Todd already had his Hazmat endorsement. “I got my hazmat certification when I was in the Army hauling ammunition around for artillery,” he says. “Then, I went to work for DHL and I needed my Hazmat because I did a lot of medical supplies and that kind of stuff.”
Since they were already half way to being a Hazmat team, Penny decided to get her Hazmat certification as well, which opened up a lot of opportunities for the Shenemans at PAM.
“The main benefit is that we get a lot more loads than a lot of people do,” says Penny. “Because there are a lot of loads that they need a Hazmat team to pick them up.”
“Even if they don’t have Hazmat,” adds Todd, “they want a Hazmat team in there just in case you’re hauling Hazmat. The thing is, we can do those loads and we can do non-Hazmat loads, too. I mean, you get paid the same either way. [Having a Hazmat certification] widens our options . . . so we’re getting more loads and getting paid more.”
And while “expedited Hazmat” may sound stressful, it’s actually a lot easier according to Penny. “We are on the expedited Hazmat team,” she says, “which we like because one person can just run ten or eleven hours and then the other person can take off and start running, rather than trying to balance sleep in between. Todd generally drives in the daytime and I drive at nighttime and that works out real well. Whereas if you’re sitting in between, it can really goof up your hours.”
Advice for Hazmat Teams
Because Todd already had a background transporting Hazmat material, he and Penny didn’t have quite as many questions as most drivers who consider hauling Hazmat freight.
“I think when people hear the word ‘Hazmat,’ they automatically think you’re going to be hauling Zyklon gas or Nitroglycerin,” says Todd. “Most of the time, it’s paint or cleaning supplies.”
Concern about the materials aside, Penny “had some concerns at first about hauling Hazmat, thinking that it would be a lot tougher than it is.”
“But other than getting your placards to stick and keeping the paperwork straight,” she continues, “it’s really not that much different from driving a regular load. You just have to be aware that you’re Hazmat.”
“That’s the biggest thing,” Todd affirms. “Make sure you’re stuff’s in order and you’ll be fine.”
Old pros at the Hazmat drill at this point, the Shenemans offer the following tips for new Hazmat drivers:
- Keep your paperwork straight.
- Check your placards every time you stop.
- If you see a leak of any type, assume it’s Hazmat and call a Hazmat team.
Why the last tip?
“Because you never know,” says Penny. “You’re trusting the people you’re picking up from. But if they don’t know or if they screw up, you’re the one who will get in trouble for it. So if you see a leak of any type, stop and call a Hazmat team.”
“Above all, enjoy yourself,” concludes Todd. “It’s a good life out there. It really is. It’s different than when you’re at home. Embrace that difference because if you’re out in the world, you get to see everything. It’s all right there in front of you. A lot of you’ll see as you buzz by it really fast, but you can always get back to it someday. You can always put it on your bucket list. Get out there and see the world and enjoy it!”