Along with nearly 60 other trucking industry professionals, team drivers Joanne and John Gilchrist dressed in formal wear and partied for a good cause.
If you had stopped at the Antique Automobile Museum in Hershey, Pa., the night of Feb. 18 looking for directions, you’d have been hard pressed to identify the elegantly-attired visitors as truck drivers. At least until they gave you perfect directions to your destination.
John and Joanne Gilchrist, for example, were at ease in their clothes: a traditional tuxedo with bow tie and cummerbund for John and a black and white floor-length evening gown with spaghetti straps, sequins and low back for Joanne. Nothing about their dress showed the 280,000 miles they put on their rig each year as team drivers for New Century Transportation.
“Just because we’re truck drivers doesn’t mean we’ve given up on lifestyle,” John says.
The Gilchrists joined nearly 60 other trucking industry employees at a formal ball to raise money for The Teddy Bear Education and Emergency Assistance Fund, which helps truck drivers and their dependents through financial crises. With no flannel, jeans or blue collars in sight, attendees to the first Truckers’ Ball danced until midnight, surrounded by antique cars, buses and one ancient Autocar. Along the way they raised hundreds for a new charity started by the ball’s organizer, Sheryl Youngblood, an industrial psychologist and host of the KnightTime radio program for truckers.
Youngblood says the event, which she hopes will be annual, was a success. “The drivers were beautiful. They wore their tuxes like they were everyday clothes.”
Owner-operator Lyndon Nutt of Las Cruces, N.M., faced the evening with a bit of trepidation, writing on his blog before the event: “I am sitting in a motel in Hersey, Pa., waiting to see what kind of fool I will make of myself at the Trucker’s Ball here. I will actually be wearing a tux; believe me, getting me out of jeans is not as easy task.”
But Nutt, like other drivers, blended effortlessly with trucking executives, four-wheelers and film makers from New York recording the event.
“With as much as I drive I don’t get much of a chance just to relax,” says Nutt, who is leased to Perkins Specialized Transportation. “I go home every six or seven weeks. I’m not here to look pretty. But it’s a chance to relax and meet people.”
One of the people he met was Shelly White, a Pennsylvania resident with no connection to the industry. She was attending the event after learning about it from Youngblood. “It’s really opened my eyes to truck drivers,” White says. “They’re a great bunch of people.”
Youngblood says she’s already received positive feedback and interest in next year’s event. For Joanne and John Gilchrist, who drove through an ice storm in Tennessee to make the event, the 2006 Ball was a great start.
“I think it’s fantastic,” Joanne says. “We like to dress up.”
Truckstops Are Her Stage
Truckers and country music go together like peas and carrots, like peanut butter and jelly, like Teri Hart and good entertainment.
Hart, 42, an ex-nurse from Levelland, Texas, now devotes all her time to healing people through the gift of song. She is a singer-songwriter who has made a career out of performing at truck shows and truckstop openings.
“Me and the truck drivers have a camaraderie,” Hart says. “I just want to be one of those people that shed a positive light on this industry.”
Though she’s loved music all her life and took piano lessons as a little girl, Hart’s career really started back in 1989 when, after singing in a country showdown for a radio station, she was approached by Betty Carlson, who owned a bar called The Brewery in Roswell, N.M.
“She said that I needed a band that can do anything,” Hart says. “And that’s where I got my confidence, performing with a band that can kick butt.” Hart placed second of 15 in a competition at The Brewery. “Almost everyone had been singing professionally for several years. It helped me get the confidence.”
That confidence led to her first paying gig, at a bar called the Yellow Rose in Monahans, Texas.
“It was right out of a Blues Brother movie,” Hart says. “A barroom brawl broke out when I was singing a Patsy Cline number. There was no chicken wire to be found, but we needed it.”
After that she began copyrighting her songs and went to Nashville to see what turned up. “I realized that was a town you can starve to death real quick in because people are playing on the street corners for free just to get noticed,” Hart says. “Now I’m pitching my songs to other artists to record.”
One night after leaving Nashville, Hart was trying to make a little money in a singing contest when a Rip Griffin truckstop manager approached her.
“The man said, ‘Little lady, how would you like to do our driver appreciation day?’,” Hart says. “I thought he was out of his mind to want me to sing at a truckstop. But he really wanted me, and two months later I was out singing on a flatbed trailer and the truckers loved it.”
Hart found a niche playing truckstop openings and industry shows. She’s been on the radio with Bill Mack. She can tell stories for days.
One of her favorites is when she was singing on a metal flatbed at a Burns Brothers truckstop in Coachella, Calif. The rig was crowded with electronic switchboards, speakers and instruments, and suddenly the sky opened up with a downpour. Though it was dangerous, Hart laughs about it now.
She has performed at the Great Salt Lake Truck Show in Salt Lake City, the Great American Trucking Show in Dallas, the Mid America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky., and numerous Flying J driver appreciation events. Her most memorable show was singing the National Anthem at the Yellow Ribbon Sendoff Ceremony at the Kirtland Air Force base in Albuquerque, N.M., when her son Kent, 22, was sent to Iraq.
Hart said she thinks truckers have a special relationship with music.
“They are on the road every day, and music is really all they have to look forward to,” she says. “That and taking a shower and getting a hot meal.”
Though she’s still working on getting her album funded, Hart has cut several studio demos and is especially proud of the “Jump Start My Heart” single.
She’s given out 1,000 copies of the song to truckers around the nation, and Hart says she depends on them to spread the word about the music.
“These guys will take my music and take it clear across the country,” Hart says. “Who needs a label?”
Hollywood Plans a Different Convoy Movie
Hollywood is eyeing a new Convoy action/adventure film, this one about truckers hauling in war-torn Afghanistan.
This Convoy apparently is not a remake of the 1970s cult classic about outlaw truckers who battle a corrupt sheriff. According to the Hollywood Reporter, the new film will focus on a group of U.S. truck drivers who contract to drive U.S. goods through Afghanistan in order to pay off debts.
The film reportedly will be directed by John Singleton, who directed Boyz N the Hood, the Samuel L. Jackson remake of Shaft, 2 Fast 2 Furious and Four Brothers. The script reportedly will be written by Art Marcum and Matt Holloway, who have no major Hollywood credits, according to the website Internet Movie Database. A cast has not been announced.
Joshua Marston, writer-director of the acclaimed movie Maria Full of Grace, is writing a script with a very similar premise, but a different location: Financially strapped American truckers sign up for a one-year job hauling U.S. goods through Iraq.
A number of American truckers serving in war zones have been killed or wounded in recent years. Trucker Thomas Hamill, wounded and kidnapped in spring 2004 by insurgents in Iraq, escaped from his captors and later co-wrote a book about his experience.
It may seem strange, but the man known for a cover of John Lee Hooker’s “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer” really dislikes the malted whisky.
“I can’t stand the smell of scotch. It makes me puke!” says rock star George Thorogood. “But I drank my fair share of bourbon and beer.”
Most of the drinking was done in his younger days, when Thorogood, a self-described “night owl,” would end his shows late at night, wake up in the afternoon and relax in a bar or juke joint before his next show.
George Thorogood and the Destroyers headlined Kenworth’s annual Trucker Appreciation Concert in March at this year’s Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky.
“Hey, there’s nothing more American than trucking!” Thorogood says.
Truckers have always been a part of Thorogood’s life and really helped him when he started his career.
Moving from show to show, town to town, rubbed Thorogood financially thin, and when someone suggested that truckstops were good places for hitchhikers to find lifts, Thorogood jumped at the chance for cheap transportation. Besides the free rides, the time spent in the cabs gave Thorogood ideas for future trucking classics.
“I was fortunate in the early days, and I got a ride with a trucker from Omaha [Neb.] to Denver in the middle of January,” Thorogood says. “I had been listening to an album that Johnny Cash had done about truckers. I really loved it, and I was doing a lot of traveling and went to a truckstop, and that kind of put the hook in me.”
Hearing the album made him want to write about similar things, just with less of a country twang, Thorogood says.
“I was like: I want to make a rock trucker song. Not rock and roll, but rock. And see if it flies,” Thorogood says.
That’s how “Gear Jammer,” from the 1985 Maverick album, was born, about a trucker racing home to see his girl after “nine long days through 23 states.”
You can hear in Thorogood’s voice how excited he was to cover a trucking classic like Dave Dudley’s “Six Days on the Road,” which appeared on 1991′s Boogie People. He says his version “is probably the most awesome cover of that song that’s ever been done, if I do say so myself.”
By the time Boogie People debuted, Thorogood’s band had already gained international fame. That fame is what caused the group to shorten its name from Delaware Destroyers to simply Destroyers.
“We’re an international act, baby!” Thorogood says, laughing, then explains that the longer name just “got too much to put on the marquee. Now they just put ‘Thorogood.’ If I had known that, I would have just put that on the marquee in the beginning.”
The band’s name was made up on the spot, when a less-than-reputable establishment hired the band for a few gigs. It was the first thing Thorogood thought of when asked for a band name.
“It was a topless club, and I didn’t want my mom to see my name on the marquee,” Thorogood says.
That job really helped the band find its groove and voice, Thorogood says.
“It was a like a paid rehearsal,” he says. “The band had only been together a week or so. Nobody cared, so we could play anything we want and get paid for it.” Soon enough, people began showing up for the music, he says. “The girls in this place are the ones you don’t look at twice.”
Thorogood learned playing those shows that he would have to be more than a musician if he was going to be successful.
“I realized in 1970 that I wasn’t going to be the next Robert Plant, not going to conquer the guitar, not going to do what the Rolling Stones had already done. So I had to find something,” Thorogood says. “I began looking at the entertainment factor. I say: ‘I never wrote the book on rock, I memorized it!’”
Thorogood began asking himself what he was good at. “I wanted to find something that was me. ‘What are you, George?’ I’m funny. I can play slide guitar. I’m very comfortable in bars. So I worked on that,” Thorogood says. “I can’t hit the ball over the fence, so I’ll bunt.”
After 30 years in the music business, Thorogood has left behind wild barroom antics and now concentrates on his family.
“I look at myself as fortunate to be alive for 30 years,” Thorogood says. “I just got back from a physical. Everything is going good, knock wood. I walk onto the bandstand, and I say that is all extra. I get more excited about my cholesterol being below 200 than how I do on the charts.”
Thorogood says his music isn’t all about drinking, anyway.
“We have done 10 studio albums, 10 songs on each record, 100 songs, four about drinking,” Thorogood says. “That’s 4 percent. And I only wrote half of those. That’s only 2 percent. You can’t even get drunk off that!”
A new reality show is breathing life into old trucks with loud pipes and chrome grills.
Trick My Truck, produced by Varuna Films and airing on Country Music Television, features the Chrome Shop Mafia, a group of tattooed tough guys who turn dreams into reality by transforming rigs into works of art. Brian runs 4 State Trucks in Joplin, Mo., and Rod owns Picket Custom Trucks in Washington State. Kevin is the younger brother of Rod and a custom truck mechanic; C.B. is the executor of the truck design; and Ryno is the master rig painter.
Friends and family members nominate contestants, and the drivers are selected based on their stories and unique backgrounds. The Chrome Shop Mafia then surprises the truck driver at a truckstop, “steals” the rig and adds thousands of dollars of amenities and shiny paint.
Armando Ozuna’s 1995 Freightliner needed a lot of repair to take the miles he has to haul for his large family. He drives with his brother Manuel for Elam Trucking Company out of Stantonville, Tenn., and truck repair bills and other expenses ate up most of his paycheck. The Chrome Shop Mafia turned his rig into a retro “Low Rider.”
The cameras capture the reaction of each driver as they see their rigs for the first time since the transformation. For Ozuna, “Oh my God,” was the only thing he could say when he saw the Low Rider. The interior of the truck is covered in chrome and the show’s signature metallic paint, and the roof and rear of the truck boast two huge plasma televisions and a state-of-the-art sound system. Cyber Trucker donated a Trucker’s Workstation laptop stand and computer.
Other episodes feature Rodney Ozbun, a driver who receives a rig with an American West theme, and Darlene Swift, a female driver who has earned her spot in the industry. The Chrome Shop Mafia transform her truck into a “Free Spirit” tribute to the open road, complete with a unique hood ornament.
“We try to factor in what each driver likes and what he or she is into,” says Director Todd Lewis. Each paint color, stereo system and upholstery design fits the personality of the driver.
Trick My Truck rewards truckers who work hard for little recognition, Lewis says.
“These people are on the road 16 hours a day, trying to make a living,” he says. “We want to give back to truckers who are just as deserving as anyone on the road.”
While the fabricators work on the truck for weeks or even a month at a time, the drivers drive a brand new rig, donated by Western Star, while they wait to see their revamped ride.
“That way they can keep on trucking,” Lewis says.
Nearly six figures go into each truck, and most of the money goes to the fabricators who actually do all of the work on each truck.
Trick My Truck is the first program of its kind for truck drivers, a career historically ignored by feature films and television, Lewis says.
“We are giving respect to truckers,” he says. “These people do exist and work hard all year long.”
To view Trick My Truck photo galleries and the programming schedule, log onto this site.