When Rick Sylvester, aka “Big Cat Trucker,” first entertained the idea of becoming a professional truck driver, he decided to do some groundwork. He searched online for information on just what to expect from the venture into his new career.
“I was able to find videos of veteran truckers doing their everyday jobs, but none that provided the information I had hoped for as a person looking to get into trucking,” he explains. “I wanted to see everything from what truckers ate and where they took their showers to the inside of their trucks and how they drove them.”
Big Cat’s subsequent entrance into the trucking world then became a twofold opportunity for him. He would not only learn his craft, he would also chronicle the process so that more information would be out there for the next guy in his shoes. Having experience in making videos from his former job, Big Cat brought his camera into the training class at Swift Transportation and later out on the road. He began posting his videos on YouTube and soon had quite a few followers. Swift saw the videos as a positive boost for the trucking industry, appointed him as one of its spokesmen, and helped him reach a bigger audience.
Now billed on YouTube as “The BigCat Trucker Show,” the site boasts over 100 videos, covering the challenges and adventures of being on the road. The Travel Channel also has taken Big Cat and his videos into its Web series family, where his road videos feature downtime experiences hanging out with the locals.
Big Cat’s enthusiasm for trucking videos perfectly correlates with his other passion – marketing the trucking industry to new generations. “I don’t know why we have this perception that we only need to market to truckers,” he says. “When all we truck drivers first started, we weren’t truckers. I think trucking is hurting right now because we do a very poor job of marketing and advertising this industry to younger people.”
Big Cat says he believes that today’s generations are driven by entertainment. If they don’t see the message on television, video games, cell phones or I-Pads, they’re missing it because the “cool factor” isn’t there, he says. “We need more avenues in the trucking industry that entertain. Our industry needs its own television network, for instance. We have radio, but it’s only on satellite and only truckers hear it. We need to shine a light on the trucking industry and glamourize it to the point where young people will want to be a part of it.”
Another concern of Big Cat’s is what he considers to be poor training of new drivers by the industry. He’s particularly troubled by some companies putting rookie drivers on the road with fewer than two weeks of mentoring or training.
“With the government constantly changing regulations, these guys don’t understand what they’re coming into,” he says. “They don’t know anything about log books or sometimes even how to use a map. A lot of the guys aren’t backing up anymore. They’re trying to find a parking place where they can just pull in.”
Big Cat says the best advice he can give to new drivers is to have patience. He warns rookies that the big money and schedules with lots of home time won’t come right away.
Like most truckers, Big Cat, a Houston native who now lives near Padre Island (also in Texas) with his wife and children, says the toughest part about trucking is being away from family.
“For those of us with a family, it can be hard sometimes, particularly around the holidays,” he says. “Even if you don’t have a family, you’re just out there, and I think you feel the same thing. You want to be with family.”
Big Cat says the best part about trucking for him is getting to meet new people and people who are in industries other than trucking.
Despite his success at producing trucking videos, Big Cat says driving his rig, a 2013 Peterbilt 386, is still his first love. “I’ll always be a truck driver. Some people ask me why I still drive a truck. I do it because I love it.”