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Todd Dills

Bon voyage — a final word on leaving trucking

| November 16, 2013

Thomas Dempsey wrote in this week with a sort of farewell letter to the industry. We’ve seen more than one of these of late. All the same, his thoughts on where the industry’s gone over a career spanning decades I thought we could all benefit from. Here goes: 

final runI am sorry to say I am very close to leaving an industry I have loved since the early 1970s. I have been a company driver, owner-operator and fleet owner, and now provide driver services for two companies in my area when they are in need of help. I started driving commercially in 1975 and was involved in trucking through friends since 1971. I’ve been through the “Knights of the Highway” times (loved driving then), when we took care of each other and the public trusted us. I was around in the “Outlaw” Smokey and the Bandit times (did more damage than good for trucking), the “clean up our image” years (which we’re still in) when all the special interest groups were bashing us, and today’s “over-regulation phase,” in which our well-run government (sarcasm, yes) is doing everything it can to kill the very industry that keeps this country moving. By the way, I did all this while working full-time as a firefighter/paramedic for 30 years, retiring as Fire Chief. At 56 years old, I still have several good years left and had planned on continuing commercial driving as long as I could, and I enjoyed it.


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Well, it only took the last two years of driving to get to the unenjoyable part.

I understand, but don’t always agree, with why the hours of service are being continually debated. What I can’t understand at all is why the trucking industry as a whole is putting up with all the crap coming out of Washington and many state and local governments.  When is every segment (big carriers, leased owner-operators and independents) going to band together and say enough is enough!

Two small things that drive me crazy are lane restrictions and the “no jake brake” signs that are popping up everywhere. I understand lane restrictions in hilly or mountainous terrain. You may be able to go 55 up the hill passing another truck going up the hill at 40, but you shouldn’t block the third lane when a car can maintain 70 in that lane. Those restrictions make sense, but on the Ohio Turnpike, for example, it is mostly flat and there is no good reason to restrict trucks from the third lane. This holds true for any area where truck speed can be maintained. I have been stuck behind two cars traveling side by side going well below the speed limit, and I had a clear third lane to safely pass — but couldn’t.  


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The jake brake regulations, of course, have come from the few in our industry that run with no or ineffective mufflers. You know the ones I mean. They love the noise — they rattle windows, and they draw attention to themselves. I wish these towns would pass noise laws instead. That would cover all the annoying stuff: boom-boom stereos, loud jakes, loud motorcycles, cars, etc… But no, they choose to focus on trucks, even when educated about what noise a jake makes on a truck with a stock muffler. My hometown is a perfect example. The council people came to me when they were considering a jake brake ordinance many years ago, and after educating them, and doing some research on their own, they passed a noise ordinance. Good, but then two years ago they changed it to a jake brake ordinance due to complaints by local residents about truck noise. The noise of course was still coming from the same straight-pipe trucks as before, who had multiple warnings. Individuals can request and get these signs put up in front of their homes if they want one, and there are many in our area. These brakes are an important safety tool and should not be subject to this individual “use it somewhere else” mentality. I know for a fact that most of the people passing these laws don’t even know what an engine brake is or how it works or why it’s needed. 


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There are a host of other laws, regulations, tolls, taxes, etc., that are killing us. I understand we must have some regulations, a tax structure and fees, but I know we are way past our fair share, and if we just keep taking it, it will never stop. I know it’s not this simple, but we hold all or most of the cards. We could cripple this country with a shut down. I don’t want that at all, but is that what it’s going to take to get some of these blind, greedy politicians’ attention? It sure seems like using the diplomatic approach has just gotten us farther behind. A mix of both may be the only way toward a more stable industry, one that young people will want to enter, and current drivers will choose to stay with, and be proud to do. –Thomas A. Dempsey


Thoughts? Safe hauling for those of you on the road this weekend…

  • Tom T

    Your being joined by many others Todd, myself included, after 45 years. You more than likely know the answers to some of your questions since you as I, have lived through the day when Jimmy Carter de-regulated the industry. That accomplished exactly what it was supposed to do, divide and conquer. De-regulation pitted company against company,
    driver against driver, destroyed the unions and any hope for solidarity, and was in fact the beginning of the race to the bottom. Rates now are in fact, allowing for inflation, where they were in the seventies. Drivers became a cost of doing business and the cheaper the better. Turn over in the industry is a phenomenal 125% and the only solidarity you will find to day is with the large companies and their lobbyists. Trucking of course, is not the only industry
    they`ve ruined, just ask an airline pilot who works for an airline in bankruptcy. I miss the way it was as you do and
    still have my 76 Road King membership card and buckle
    however, what`s passed and done is just that. We look for another way. The sad fact is our economy as a whole
    has deteriorated into companies that are owned by
    holding companies and no longer care what`s in the
    package as long as it is marketable. The bottom line
    is shareholder value as most CEOs do not even know much about what they produce and the really sad part of our story is that the young guys who are going into trucking today have no clue as to what it was really like.
    All they know is they are getting screwed. Good Luck.

  • Karen Simpson Moore

    Well said Thomas Dempsey. I was ask to write a farewell letter myself recently by one of the staff at Overdrive, but I think you said it all! Our trucking career is coming to an end as of Christmas this year for all the reasons you just stated. Congratulations on a fabulous career; I hope you have something exciting planned for your “retirement!”

  • Tom T

    My apology to Todd. I meant Tom .Karen is correct, you said it all and I wish you all the best and just remember
    they can take anything they want from us but our memories and I am sure you as well as I have some
    great ones that bring smiles to our faces.

  • JohnB

    Thanks for telling how it’s been and how worse it is now. I been driving since 70’s. Job market for drivers is not to be found on L.I., N.Y.. If you find a job they want to pay 1970’s wagers, feel sorry for guys just starting out.
    Keep on Trucking

  • bill henry

    Been at it since 1969 and total agree with what Tom has stated. Fuel at one time was about a third of what the truck made now it’s about 50 to 60%. Don’t forget the parking problems at night and how many brokers are screwing us over too.

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  • Tom T

    Bill, your right about brokers and parking. We could probably list quite a few changes we have seen over the years. I started in 67 and remember when truck stops were for truck drivers and you would have plenty of parking available and you could go inside and leave your truck unlocked and windows down and were warmly welcomed. When you walked in the door, it was like you were with people you knew all your life even if you never met them before. I remember being at a 76 truck stop in
    Pa when a bus load of people came in and they wen`t out of their way to make sure the truckers were served first. Far cry from today`s so called ‘travel centers’.
    Back then you could get a smile and a good meal for a reasonable price. A few of us were waiting in small truck stop for loads and we were all gathered at a table when the waitress came over with coffee and said what are you guys hanging around here for? We said we are waiting for loads, she said if you were hauling BS you`d all be loaded and running by now.
    Back then we got paid for what we did and it seems to me brokers were a lot more honest except perhaps in produce. I miss those days. Take care old timer.

  • David

    Why didn’t you stop deregulation? Why do want to live in the past? We’re was the solidarity when drug and alcohol testing went into effect?o o I d a wad against drug testing? Why, why did you have to drive outlaw and run 2 log books? Why didnt you take care of your equipment which resulted in accidents and the government responded to the outcry from the public? Why did you need you need to turn all those miles ? Driving 24 hrs a day with a bag of pills? Why did the knights of the road die?the reason we have these regulations is because we didn’t take care of our business and now the government said well take care of it? The industry has even asked the government for training standards because if we have trained drivers we want more money!

  • EF McHenry

    False, False and false again! During the early years regulations did NOT affect labor, or the worker or the driver! It had more to do with regulating commerce and in that sense any wouldbe corporation/investor. Since deregulation we are simply seeing the industry get reregulated in the image of the American Trucking Association which is nothing but a MASSIVE lobby group for Massive Corporate Trucking Companies! Most Big Trucking are member of state trucking associations.For example the many trucking companies say based out of Calif or Washington State belong to their state trucking association. But those state trucking associations are represented collectively by the American Trucking Association. And ever rule, regulation, policy, codes, standards, fees, licenses, guidances etc etc are meant to favor the logistical operational business models of these large truck load carriers to ultimately driver out the smaller competition! One way to do this is to place a attack on the available labor(ie truck driver)! By encouraging regulations and rules that attack labor across the board, you are attacking the small companies that employ those drivers. For example suppose a sleep apnea regulation or rule becomes law! The Big Trucking Companies will have their own internal programs to deal with it! Like sellings CPAP machines to drivers deducting the cost from their paychecks, setting up sleep labs for testing/screening etc., often subsidized by some federal govt block grant that only large corporate trucking can take advantage of!! On the other hand the small guy whether 1truck 1driver or the smaller mom & pop trucking company will now face massive cost and the loss of good experienced help. The big companies will weather the storm of the new rules and the smaller ones will have to rethink their whole business! This happens, rule after rule whether it’s a speed limiter or some kind of EPA Smart way emmision standard until more and more are driven out of business! Ann Ferro was the former head of the Maryland trucking Association falling under the American Trucking Association. We have a revolving door between business and government! This is NOT free market competition and it is absolutely not laissez faire!! It is Corporatism at the very least and Fascism at the worst!

  • EF McHenry

    Deregulation? Here’s what has been happening since the deregulation of trucking.

  • Craig Hansen

    Sounds like someone told you a bunch of BS….I have been there and it was better when the police respected us and we them, fuel was cheap and freight was plentiful. So KMA sir, you know not what you spew! Until you have actually been there ….be silent and learn from some of us “old timers”, we actually did go through the college of hard knocks.

  • Tom T

    Re-regulation of everything but the rates which gives the large companies the advantage as they can then cut so low as to force any small guy right out business. Before de-regulation, they could not do
    that as everybody paid the same set rate
    and the competition came from those who
    gave the fastest and best service. Large companies could not compete with small guys who got it there quicker with more personal service, hence more regulations
    but not the rates. Before de-regulation, everybody made money and we could stick together to help each other out. Investor
    driven large companies could not have that.
    They want it all.

  • Paul Turner

    If you think your going to get more money, you must be talking out the rear end of a cow. this industry is on a downward spiral, and from the way you talk, it’s drivers like you that has put the industry in this position..Company’s are training foreign drivers to come to the US and work for almost nothing. Insurance company’s now tell carriers who and who not to hire or pay higher ins. premiums, if the government didn’t tax the crap out of trucking to pay for the railroads, there might be a little extra for drivers,, I drove over the road from the 70’s to late 90’s when trucking was something, now it’s just an over regulated circus.. you couldn’t pay me enough to get back behind the wheel.
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