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.

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