Happy trails

| November 01, 2001

The Overdrive 40th Anniversary Voice of the American Trucker Tour left Cottondale, Ala., Aug. 5, bound for Dallas – the long way, via New Jersey and Portland, Ore.

En route, magazine staffers and ace trucker Harvey Zander had plenty of adventures. They saw Mount Shasta and the Grand Canyon. They visited the New River Valley Volvo plant in Dublin, Va., where the VN 770 tour truck was manufactured, and the Pacific Northwest Truck Museum, where it was part of Truck Show 2001. They dealt with Tropical Storm Barry in Alabama, a sandstorm in New Mexico and two heat waves: California was the hotter at 104 degrees, but Virginia was more humid.

And most importantly, the intrepid travelers met people: the founder of the Petro chain, a man named Diesel Trailer Truck (really!), a professional hypnotist – and hundreds of truckers.

Here are just a few of the voices that made this tour, like the past 40 years, truly memorable.

TA, Cottondale, Ala.
“Ever since I was little, this is what I wanted to do,” said Robert Dieter, who hauls for Crete Carriers. “I finally got the guts to last year. It’s a hard life. You don’t realize how hard it really is until you’ve lived it. I’m on the road for three or four weeks at a time.”

Petro, Bankhead Highway, Atlanta
Frank Smith, an owner-operator leased to Prime who drives team with his wife, Lori Smith, said he wished Overdrive still had photos of scantily clad women. “I understand why you don’t anymore, but I used to hang them all over my cab. Hey, my wife didn’t mind. I looked forward to Overdrive like a lot of guys look forward to the Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition.”

Petro, Mebane, N.C.
Ken Van Grouw of Orange City, Iowa, said he’d been driving for more than 30 years. “I’m more than ready to be home. I’m not ready to retire. I just want to get off the road. I’ve got a lot of important things I want to do, like get involved with Habitat for Humanity and build a house.”

Petro, Ruther Glen, Va.
“The only thing the police had that qualified as radar in my days was a black cable stretched across the road,” said Charles Powell of Augusta, Ga., a 38-year veteran owner-operator leased to Arnold Trucking. “Things sure have changed. The language on the CB is just terrible. All they want to do is cuss and argue. Some of these drivers have their wives and kids with them. I know they don’t want to hear it, and neither do I. I try to avoid dark areas. There’s too much flimflam. Too many people want to steal your loads or beat you up.”

Petro, Bordentown, N.J.
Mark and Tammy McDonald, owner-operators leased to FedEx Custom Critical, have driven as a team for several years and enjoy traveling together with their dog, Angel. Mark, 30, and Tammy, 29, have been married for 10 years and have known each other from their childhood in Alabama. The two say all the time together is what they want. “Everybody asks us the same question – how can you stand each other all that time,” he says. “Well, I love her.” Tammy says because the two drive team, they see each other just in passing when times are busy. “I got my license so I could travel with him,” she says. “We’re living on love.”

Petro, Milton, Pa.
Louis Fordyce and Ray Martray, who drive for Maxim Crane Works in Pittsburgh, recalled the December 1973 protest shutdown that Overdrive helped lead – a shutdown that turned violent. Someone shot a bullet into Fordyce’s sleeper. “People were throwing bricks off overpasses,” Martray said.

Petro, Rochelle, Ill.
Brenda Prestridge and Paul Connella of Alexandria, La., who drive team for 3M Transport, sat glued to the television inside the air-conditioned tour trailer, watching The History Channel’s “Modern Marvels” episode on the history of truck technology. Of Jake Brakes, Connella said, “I don’t know what I would do without them. In every state, even the ones you think of as being flat, there are some pretty steep hills.”

Iowa 80, Walcott, Iowa
Diesel Trailer Truck of Junction City, Kan., who has driven for Werner Enterprises for 15 years, said he legally changed his name in 1995. “I didn’t want the name my parents gave me because I didn’t want to be reminded of them. Trucks make me happy, and your name should be one that makes you happy.”

TA, Council Bluffs, Iowa
“I read Overdrive to keep up with what’s going on with the industry,” said James Smith of Bushnell, Fla., who plans to teach his girlfriend, Jennie Poch, to drive a truck.

TA, West Grand Island, Neb.
Ronald Schmidt of Rockford, Minn., a 32-year trucking veteran, said he had read Overdrive for “as long as I can remember.” He said he likes making more money as a company driver, but “the independence of being an owner-operator keeps pulling at me.” He would like to get a truck with a larger sleeper, because he and his fiancée, Renee, live in the truck “98 percent of the time.”

Petro, Laramie, Wyo.
George Douglas of Sumas, Wash., is a company driver for United Transport Services – the only one. “I’m 100 percent of their fleet.” He has been trucking 53 years, starting behind the wheel of a logging truck at 13.

TA, Fort Bridger, Wyo.
Kevin Beach, an owner-operator from Springfield, Mo., said his fiancée was in the hospital with complications to her 15-week pregnancy, but he couldn’t afford to rush home, especially not with medical bills to pay. “She called me crying a little while ago. She knows I’ve got to stay out here a few weeks.”

TA, Boise, Idaho
“Overdrive’s what saved me,” said Mitch Stokke of Dillon, Mont., who became an owner-operator in 1974. “They used to have an 800-number you could call if you had any problems, 24 hours a day. If you didn’t read Overdrive back when I drove truck, you weren’t a driver.”

Pacific Northwest Truck Museum, Brooks, Ore.
Jerry Lauer of Sheridan, Ore., came by to say thank you because his subscription to Overdrive, mailed to him in the Central Highlands, helped get him through his 1968-69 tour of duty in Vietnam. “The other guys had pinups of girls on the wall,” Lauer said. “I had pictures of trucks.” When he got home from the war, Lauer became – what else? – an owner-operator.

Jubitz, Portland, Ore.
Self-professed old-timer Richard Turnbull of Cashmere, Wash., a gray-bearded company driver with TWT, compared notes with self-professed newbie Austin Payne of Castlegar, British Columbia, a young DiPietro company driver who looks like a fraternity pledge. “I’m a professional tourist,” said Turnbull, who wants to be on the road as much as possible since his wife died. Payne, on the other hand, said, “I take a week off every two weeks. I have a wife and a 2-year-old son.” Turnbull plans to keep driving as long as possible; Payne plans to get his B.A., then his master’s and Ph.D., and become a counselor for juvenile offenders. In contrast to the rumpled Turnbull, Payne looked preppy in his neat khaki shorts and cap. “What can I say?” Payne said with a shrug. “I like Armani. I like Polo. I like golf. And I like trucks.”

Petro, Corning, Calif.
Jack Cardwell of El Paso, Texas, founder, chairman and CEO of the nationwide Petro Stopping Centers, a sponsor of the Overdrive tour, was among those who stopped by to say hello and see the rolling 40-year history exhibit. “It looks good,” Cardwell said.

Petro, Wheeler Ridge, Calif.
Matt Junius of Wyoming, Mich., with his wife Theresa, is a company driver for M.C. Van Kampen. “We’re very family-oriented, and so is the company, so we’re allowed to take this one out with us whenever we like.” He lifted his and Theresa’s smiling 2-year-old granddaughter, Sierra, onto his lap. Theresa said, “Sierra sits up in the jump seat and waves and says, ‘Hello, trucks!’”

TA West, Ontario, Calif.
Darrell Polite, an owner-operator from McGehee, Ark., said, “I enjoy my job and the freedom that comes from owning my own truck for 12 years. It’s a good income and something I’ve always wanted to do. I’m living my dream – but I’m always dreaming about more money.”

Petro, Kingman, Ariz.
Kenny Robbins of Greensboro, Fla., a hazmat trucker with his wife, Denise, said they are doing well despite hard times. “Trucking has changed my life,” said Robbins, who started driving at age 40. “I no longer live from paycheck to paycheck. I have enough money to buy some property. It has made all the difference in the world.”

TA, Gallup, N.M.
Louis Costa, an owner-operator leased to Atlas Van Lines who drives with his wife, Ruth, has a doctorate in psychology; he specialized in clinical hypnosis before a fire ended his practice. Always willing to offer his hypnosis services free of charge on the road, Costa demonstrated by hypnotizing a woman in ongoing pain from electric shock. The joy of helping someone is payment enough, Costa said.

TA, Santa Rosa, N.M.
Overdrive subscribers Robert and Valissa Taggart of Clovis, N.M, drove two and a half hours to see the tour truck and exhibit. “You guys have been around a while and have done a lot for the trucking industry,” Robert Taggart said. “With the tour, people can come inside and learn about the history instead of just reading about it.”

Petro, Amarillo, Texas
Fred Myrick of Weatherford, Texas, ducked into the trailer to get out of the rain but stayed long after the sun came out. “I really like the old stuff. Looking at this helped me remember things that I had forgotten, like the 55 mile per hour speed limit.”

Petro, Oklahoma City
Brian Turner and Tove Kelly of Anadarko, Okla., who drive team for U.S. Xpress, were inspired by the historical exhibits about trucker activism in the 1970s. “We need to get together and share ideas,” Kelly said. Turner said, “Truckers are always complaining but doing nothing about it.” “We need to stick together.”

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