Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 21 August 2007 10:22
Joan and Jerry Jost, who live on West B Street in Hillsboro, were preparing Friday evening to drive these two new nine-passenger buses to Dallas over the weekend. The buses will be repainted and customized for use by the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART).Don Ratzlaff / Free Press . Click image to enlarge.
A little more than a year ago, Joan and Jerry Jost looked to their retirement years with a desire to travel around the United States, but didn’t feel they had the financial means to do it.
Since then, the Hillsboro couple, whether together or on their own, have taken more than 30 trips and logged more than 60,000 miles along U.S. highways.
Joan said she has driven through every state west of Kansas. She’s been all the way to to the West Coast eight times and to the East Coast five times. She’s even ventured into Canada.
Jerry, meanwhile, has been buying key chains for every state he’s seen and has collected about 30 to this point.
How did they do it?
Far from dwindling their retirement nest egg, the couple actually has managed to make some money through their adventures on the road—as contract drivers for Bennett DriveAway, a Georgia-based trucking company with a terminal in Salina.
As drivers for Bennett, the Josts drive new and used vehicles—ranging from school buses, to ambulances, to passenger vans—from their point of origin to the intended destinations.
Joan, who was a school bus driver for USD 410 for 33 years before retiring in 2006, had heard of the opportunity through her conversations with bus drivers from other schools.
Jerry, after retiring from Jost Service Station in Hillsboro, drove an 18-wheeler for his son’s business in Hesston.
They said the opportunity to see the country by capitalizing on their driving experience was worth a try.
Both Joan and Jerry had to upgrade their commercial driver’s licenses to meet company requirements, and they have actually signed on as drivers with more than one company, but Bennett is their primary source for jobs.
“It’s our way of seeing the United States,” Joan said. “I’ve never seen it before.”
Drivers like the Josts are required by the company to take at least one trip a month as long as it has an inventory of vehicles to move. Drivers can pick their destinations on a first-come, first-served basis.
Drivers are responsible to get to the terminal on their own and must attend monthly meetings that cover issues such as procedures and safety.
Drivers are paid by the mile, based on the length of the trip, plus a surcharge that pays for fuel, lodging and meals. A driver gets 70 percent of the funds when he or she begins a trip and the rest after the mission is successfully completed.
“The more you can work with the 70 percent you get for going, the more (income) you can make,” Jerry said.
But the Josts have found there’s a limit to how much they are willing to economize.
“We have slept in the buses a few times, but that ain’t no fun,” Jerry said with a chuckle. “It’s not worth it.”
Once they reach their intended destination, drivers return home by whatever means they wish—sometimes via the airlines on long trips, occasionally by train, but mostly by rented car.
Some drivers work in some vacation sightseeing before heading home.
“We haven’t done a lot of that because we often drive with other drivers and they often are wanting to get back out again because this is their full-time job,” Joan said.
As professional drivers, the Josts must abide by company and state regulations, including keeping an accurate logbook.
“You’re regulated how many hours you can drive in a day,” Joan said. The limit is 10 hours of driving time per day, plus four additional “on-duty hours” that include breaks, refueling and other stops.
“We only drive now for 10 hours a day,” Joan said. “We do 10 hours on, 10 hours off.”
The companies usually have a deadline for when a vehicle needs to be delivered. Once in a while the time frame is simply not attainable if the drivers keep to their regulated hours—and getting a speeding ticket is cause for termination by the company.
“It’s pretty strenuous sometimes,” Joan said of the demands. “I’ve enjoyed it—but (Jerry) doesn’t like the big-city driving. It doesn’t bother me as much as it does him.”
Aside from seeing the national scenery, the Josts have had several memorable incidents during their trips. On one drive to California—the very first job they accepted—the air conditioning in Jerry’s vehicle went out.
“The other three (vehicles) had air conditioning—but they wouldn’t trade with me,” he said.
On a trip to the East Coast, their caravan of three vehicles became separated in the midst of Washington, D.C., rush-hour traffic. Even with the assistance of a few locals, it took five hours for the drivers to find each other again.
So far, the Josts said they’ve managed to avoid the serious problems that often come with life on the road: mechanical breakdowns, traffic accidents and treacherous driving conditions in the winter.
“We’ve been very fortunate so far,” Joan said.
Having formed friendships with other drivers they’ve met over the years, Joan has made several trips without Jerry.
He said he doesn’t worry when his wife hits the road without him. Joan added with a smile, “He doesn’t like to bach, though. He doesn’t know how to cook.”
Jerry admitted ruefully: “If she gets four to five days on a long run, it gets pretty lonesome.”
The Josts said they’ve enjoyed the 14 months they’ve been on the road. Jerry may end his involvement in October, when he’s due to be rechecked for a required physical, but Joan may hang in a while longer.
“I’m not ready to quit just yet,” she said.
At the very least, the Josts said they will take fewer trips this fall. Seven of their nine grandchildren will be involved with school athletic teams.
“Sports has always been important to me and so have my grandkids,” Jerry said. “We’re going to be picky about our trips now.”