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Getting good traction

Jamie Lusch / Mail Tribune Tyler Claborn, 19, of Medford, stands with his truck stored at a Talent Truck Stop on Monday. Claborn started a one man trucking business.
19-year-old valley man starts his own trucking business in time of truck driver shortage

When Tyler Claborn was a boy, he’d grip the steering wheel of his grandfather’s pick-up truck and say in a loud voice, “T-Ruck!” several times.

Once Claborn was old enough to drive, he’d get a Ford F-250 to haul hay, which he learned to do after spending a summer bailing it at a neighbor’s Central Washington ranch.

But since that time, the 19-year-old has passed his commercial driver’s license test so he can deliver lumber, pipes and even solar panels in a semi-truck with a 48-foot flatbed.

“I’m not really scared of losing money. The only thing that makes me nervous is the truck breaking down,” said Claborn, founder and owner of TBC Transport.

For Claborn, driving trucks has always been about more than just his favorite way to get from point A to point B.

“I always figured I could make more money with a truck,” he said. “It’s really all about figuring out how to make money myself without working for someone else.”

He started by hauling hay — a commodity that was hard to come by in Medford, yet cheaper in Klamath Falls. Claborn would drive his truck there, pick up hay and make the trek back to the Rogue Valley.

“It just fell into me — just where I was with hay and I already had a truck,” he said.

Claborn’s is current truck is a 2004 Volvo VNL, which he purchased in August.

“This came up for a good deal — and I just bought it,” he said.

Even though he wanted to continue in the hay business, Claborn noted how the droughts in recent years put a serious strain on the market. So he had to think of alternative products to deliver.

“Obviously, there’s ups and there’s downs sometimes, but just the way the freight market is continuing to go up,” Claborn said. “Even though fuel prices are going up, the (freight) market is going up with it.”

He said he doesn’t think people he hauls goods for really know his age.

“They just say, ‘you look young.’ I tell them, and they’re pretty impressed,” Claborn said.

Don Marsh, a Rogue Valley resident who spends winters in Arizona, is well aware of Claborn’s age and trusted the teen to haul hay even before he turned 18.

“I’d claim him as my son, let’s put it that way,” Marsh said. “Most young kids aren’t that ambitious. … He’s number one, as far as my book. I’ll do anything for him.”

Claborn enjoys being the guy who gets goods to the right place.

“It’s just something I’ve come to learn,” he said. “I’ve learned a lot about the business. I just gain more knowledge about it everyday that I work.”

Trucking comes with challenges, as Claborn has documented on his Facebook page. He recently posted pictures of his rig after a month of “extreme engine work.”

“One of the things I’ve come to learn in owning a trucking company is it’s not the cost of the repair that hurts you, it’s the time that your truck is being repaired that hurts you the most,” Claborn wrote. “I am very thankful to God for all of the opportunities and resources that he has given me.”

There are resources out there for truckers, like the Oregon Trucking Associations. Jana Jarvis, president and CEO of the group, doesn’t know Claborn, but is nonetheless appreciative of what he is doing.

“I would congratulate him on making the decision to go into trucking,” Jarvis said.

The trucking industry is “suffering” from a driver shortage. Before the pandemic, that amounted to 60,000 drivers, according to Jarvis. Now, it’s 81,000.

“The pandemic conditions created a lot of incentive for our older drivers to retire,” Jarvis said.

Filling the truck driver gap is not easy, she said.

“The fact of the matter is, people don’t come into the trucking industry as truck drivers until it’s perhaps their second or third career,” Jarvis said. “So this young man, to do it, that’s quite unusual, because of the limitations of the interstate and intrastate regulations. So, we end up hiring a workforce typically older than the national average.”

The limitations Jarvis was referring to is that fact that certain young people such as Claborn can only do “intrastate commerce” — delivery or pickup of products within state lines — because they’re under 21 years old. Only when one hits that milestone can they drive a truck and participate in “interstate commerce,” driving goods across state lines.

Trying to recruit and “excite” high-schoolers about being a trucker has not been productive, according to Jarvis.

“If you don’t want to go to college — you want to go into a trade — you’re not going to wait three years to become a truck driver,” she said. “Maybe you’ll be happy with something else you did first.”

But there is hope in recruiting and retaining young truckers, Jarvis said. An apprentice program, made possible by the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, will allow people at least 18 years old, and who have a state-issued commercial driver's license with a clean record, to take the wheel of interstate trucks under the direct supervision of an experienced driver.

“My hope is that this pilot program will point out that we can send our young people to war and have them handle very large, expensive pieces of equipment, but we won’t let them on the nation’s highway system until they’re 21,” Jarvis said. “I hope this program will prove young people can be very safe commercial drivers.”

Claborn said he’s not interested in the apprenticeship, however, because “there’s just about the same amount of money in short haul as long haul.”

He also said he wants to be able to hire employees to drive for him so he can focus on learning how to run a business.

Claborn’s father, Aaron, manages SOS Alarm, which makes home security systems. Aaron gives his son a lot of credit for being ambitious and starting his own business, since he himself was “born into” the one founded by his father in 1968.

“(Tyler) always seemed to have a fascination with pretty much anything mechanical,” Aaron said. “He was always interested in people working on things, building things, taking things apart. His uncle — my brother, Kevin — he was always very close with him and loved working on projects.”

All the while, the elder Claborn learned about the importance of getting a return on an investment — something he hopes his son picks up on.

“As time goes on, he will be able to start this business, where he’s going to … be able to provide jobs for his people who need jobs, pay them fair wages and help them move through their lives too,” Aaron said.

The elder Claborn said he doesn’t need to give his son a lot of pointers on running a business.

“Honestly, he naturally always chooses the right thing,” Aaron said.

Claborn, who graduated from North Medford High School last year, has some advice for his fellow classmates on pursuing their dreams.

“You’ve got to think past the minimum wage job and think for yourself,” he said. “Stop focusing on what everybody else is doing. … Then you’re just going to be like everybody else.”

Reach reporter Kevin Opsahl at 541-776-4476 or kopsahl@rosebudmedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @KevJourno.