CHICAGO - As Tim Krauskopf steers his 33-ton rig and its load of frozen bagels down an Illinois highway, he is indistinguishable from other truckers hauling loads across the nation.
But the 41-year-old in his blue jeans and baseball cap isn't your average trucker. He owns his own small trucking firm, for starters. He's also a millionaire several times over.
What really singles out the bespectacled man from suburban Chicago is what he did before he became a trucker: At the dawn of the Internet Age in the 1990s, he was one of the 20- and 30-something whiz kids who helped make the Internet what it is today.
His status as an Internet pioneer derived partly from Spyglass Inc., a company he co-founded in 1990. It developed a groundbreaking browser software called Mosaic that Microsoft soon leased and then spun into its Internet Explorer - now the world's most widely used browser.
Later, Krauskopf founded or worked for a handful of other IT companies, some of which were more successful than others. He worked briefly for Divine Inc., a software firm that spent nearly $1 billion in under four years, never turned a profit and then went bankrupt in 2003.
Krauskopf's unlikely career change began as career changes often do: He lost his job.
He was a vice president at cell phone maker Motorola Inc. in 2002 when his was one of many jobs cut in a cost-saving move. Thanks to lucrative Spyglass stock he'd cashed in, Krauskopf was suddenly in the exclusive, even enviable category of being both unemployed and very rich.
"I was determined to do something to pull myself out of the intensity and to decompress," he said. "I wanted a change of pace."
Krauskopf could have retired or taken up an expensive hobby, like sailing, he said.
Instead, he decided to take classes to learn how to drive a tractor trailer. If nothing else, he remembers thinking, it'd be an interesting way to kill time; 160 hours of instruction later, he got his license to drive big rigs.
His first trucking job was hauling billiard balls, slippers and metal fencing to warehouses in the Chicago area for a $15 hourly wage.
Such dramatic life change is not surprising for Internet pioneers, who tend to be free-spirits and motivated at least in part by the thrill of discovery, said Dennis O'Reilly, an editor at the San Francisco-based PC World magazine.
"They are more likely to go their own way and not follow traditional paths," he said.
Other high-tech pioneers seem embittered about never attaining the status of Microsoft's multibillionaire founder Bill Gates even though they might have once had a chance, said Tom Steinert-Threlkeld, an editor at Baseline, a New York-based information technology magazine.
"How would you feel if you should have been Gates and you aren't?" Steinert-Threlkeld said.
He didn't say the observation applied to Krauskopf - and it doesn't seem to. In person, Krauskopf comes across as easygoing, content and contemplative.
While driving, Krauskopf mused about his life in high-tech and how the sector had changed.
"For me, the '80s and '90s were a perfect time," he said. "Today, if you don't have billions of dollars behind you, there's nothing you can do."
Concluding that the fun was now in applying existing technologies to other industries, he decided to spend $50,000 to start his own trucking company, calling it Round Lake Freight. Later, he bought two small trucking firms to merge with his.
Krauskopf's trucking company is modest by industry standards. His three-room office in Downers Grove employs an accountant, a dispatcher and himself. He owns 14 trucks and 31 trailers.
In his new career, Krauskopf has drawn increasingly on his old one.
He devised a prototype system using GPS navigation that sends signals via cell phone from trucks to Krauskopf's office computer every two minutes to let him know where they are. He has deployed the $2,000 system in two trucks and should have it in his other 12 later this year.
His office also digitally scans all cargo orders and receipts into a data base, then throws the originals away - something he says few trucking firms do. Like more and more firms, his also relies on Web sites like InternetTruckstop.com to quickly locate cargo companies seeking trucks.
These days, Krauskopf is usually stuck doing managerial work in the office. But when he's short a driver, he still makes deliveries, as he did recently hauling the breakfast bagels to a McDonald's warehouse in his 2002 Freightliner - a sleek blue, 450-horsepower tractor trailer.
If Krauskopf's friends think he is crazy for entering a quintessentially blue-collar profession, they are polite enough not to say so. After hearing he drives the giant 18-wheelers, many friends - particularly ones tied to nine-to-five desk jobs - are quick to ask him a favor.
"They want to know," he laughed, "if they could have a ride."