True grit and determination are just a few ways to describe the Sasse family. It’s not every day members of the same family graduate from the same commercial driving license program, let alone four. But Cassandra Sasse and three of her kids (Kendall, Katelynn and Kodi) turned to the trucking industry to support their family.
“We’re no strangers to heavy duty trucks since my husband holds a Class A CDL, so my kids and I started looking at the trucking industry for opportunities,” said Cassandra Sasse. “I have seven kids, and four of them still need supervision. It was important for me to find a career that would give me the flexibility I need to watch over my young kids.”
After relocating to Elko, NV, the Sasse family discovered that Elko’s thriving commercial transportation industry offered the financial and time flexibility the family sought. On top of that, Cassandra, Kendall, Katelynn and Kodi each applied for and received full scholarships to attend Great Basin College’s six-week CDL program, making the decision to enter the trucking industry even more enticing. They became the first students to receive scholarships for the program.
In January, Cassandra, Kendall and Katelynn enrolled in the CDL program and graduated with their Class A CDL in March. Kodi waited to enter the same program in May, so that she would be 21 years old and eligible to drive out-of-state following her graduation in June.
While the Sasse family was in the middle of transitioning into a new way of life in Elko, the Great Basin CDL program was also going through changes. During the time that members of the Sasse family were enrolled, Great Basin College added a new Kenworth T680 in February.
After first learning how to operate Great Basin’s previous Class 8 truck in January, Cassandra, Katelynn and Kendall were the first students to drive the Kenworth T680. They said the differences between the T680 and the previous truck they were driving were night and day.
“There’s no doubt the Kenworth T680 is a better driving truck,” said Cassandra. “It’s much easier to shift, and the suspension makes for a very comfortable ride. It was a unique opportunity for us to be the first ones to drive the new T680. It’s good to have driving experience on multiple truck makes, that way we’re more prepared for our careers. I see why Ken (Kenneth Pope, Great Basin College CDL program instructor) likes Kenworth trucks so much. The drivability is hard to beat.”
Pope, who has more than 22 years of driving and teaching experience, was a big advocator for the program’s administration to add the T680. “In my time on the road, a Kenworth truck was my favorite truck to drive,” said Pope. “The T680 is a reliable truck that will provide me many years of teaching the next generation of drivers how to operate a Class 8 truck on the best equipment available.”
Great Basin’s T680 features a 76-inch high-roof sleeper and 500 hp engine. A 13-speed manual transmission was spec’d so that students would not be limited to operating automated transmission trucks once they graduated.
“We want to ensure that our students have had plenty of practice operating a manual transmission before beginning their careers,” said Pope. “In Elko, our elevation is at more than 5,000 feet and we have mountain passes all around us. I teach my students how to navigate steep slopes, acting as if they are hauling a full payload. It doesn’t matter what the weather conditions are; learning how to drive in tough conditions makes you that much more prepared for professional driving. You can imagine the beating the transmission is taking from students who are just learning.”
The CDL program Great Basin College offers consists of no more than four students at a time. The small class size allows for students to get lots of hands-on driving experience. For long-distance training, Pope will take students out on a 500 to 600-mile route, switching drivers every 125 miles.
“We customized the 76-inch sleeper with three air-ride seats so that we could have all students onboard during our over-the-road training,” said Pope. “A lot of skills can be learned from watching other drivers and the sleeper provides our students a comfortable place for them to sit, especially on those long trips.”
Since graduating from Great Basin, Cassandra, Katelynn and Kendall are driving professionally, hauling heavy equipment locally for mining companies in the Elko area. While the family describes themselves as the “Diesel Family,” Cassandra and her kids originally had no plans of becoming truck drivers, but they have quickly embraced the trucking industry.
“We’re excited about the opportunities we have in the industry,” said Cassandra Sasse. “Our ultimate goal is to own and operate our own trucks and eventually drive long haul.”