Overdrive founder ‘spent his entire life trying to better’ trucking

Jill Dunn | July 29, 2014
overdrive

From a 1979 issue of Overdrive: Members of Parkhurst’s Independent Truckers Association stage a protest against a fuel tax hike.

Mike Parkhurst’s friends say they will remember Overdrive’s founder and longtime editor for championing deregulation and the cause of the owner-operator.

American Trucker host Robb Mariani (left) poses here with Mike Parkhurst at the 2014 Mid-America Trucking Show. Mariani, who had been working with Parkhurst of late on a few safe-driving projects, said on his Facebook page that Parkhurst was "a true champion for the industry."

American Trucker host Robb Mariani (left) poses here with Mike Parkhurst at the 2014 Mid-America Trucking Show. Mariani, who had been working with Parkhurst of late on a few safe-driving projects, said on his Facebook page that Parkhurst was “a true champion for the industry.”

Parkhurst died Monday, July 21, of a heart attack while visiting his children in California. A closed service is planned for the activist and filmmaker. Although 81, his death surprised friends because he had been active and seemed in good health.

In 1961, Michigan trucker John Carny met the former owner-operator turned publisher at a truck stop, where he was distributing the inaugural issues of Overdrive. Over the years, they collaborated on business ideas, most recently a project to promote highway safety to a wide-scale audience.

Related

Overdrive founder, trucking activist Mike Parkhurst dies

Mike Parkhurst, who founded Overdrive and served as its editor for more than two decades, died of a heart attack Monday. He was 81.

“Parkhurst spent his entire life trying to better the trucking industry,” Carny said. “He had an uncanny ability to see through cheats, liars and lowlifes in this business.” 

Mike Reilly, chairman and CEO of Randall-Reilly, publisher of Overdrive, said Parkhurst’s enthusiasm for his causes and the industry are to be admired. 

“Mike Parkhurst was an icon in the trucking industry,” Reilly said. “Whether you liked him or didn’t, whether you were on his side or weren’t, you had to admire his passion.”

Retired owner-operator Don Kottchade was Minnesota’s state representative in the Independent Truckers Association. Founded by Parkhurst on Overdrive’s first anniversary, ITA sought to protect truckers’ interests and provide services. “Deregulation wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for him,” Kottchade said. 

“Tenacious is the word. I’ve never seen anything like his drive to get something done. He’s a typical Type A individual with big heart.”—Russ Meyer

The legacy of the early 1980s legislation that began the process of economic deregulation of the trucking industry remains contentious to this day. Some blame depressed rates since those times on deregulation, while others see the removal of barriers to getting carrier authority that it brought as the very lynchpin of the success of their businesses. Recent comments from readers (see below) illustrate the division, but one thing is certain: Parkhurst “always knew how to get audience with a congressman,” Carny recalled. 

Parkhurst asked ITA members to display a truck banner supporting the 1981 Economic Recovery Tax Act. Years later, during a 2000 congressional debate, his letter was quoted in support of repealing the fuel excise tax. 

Related

Breaking Free

From fighting for enhanced freedom to haul in its early days to stressing smart business practices later, Overdrive has championed the owner-operator’s concerns.

In 1966, Parkhurst started Roadmasters to publicize “the trucking industry’s current plight to the proper authorities.” National conventions drew prominent speakers, including former President Gerald Ford in 1980.

He also used publicity stunts to bring attention to issues such as outdated laws. At 29, the California resident mounted his horse Confusion, attached a sign reading “20th century roads, 19th century law!” and road the Palomino to Texas.

After selling Overdrive to the Alabama-based Randall-Reilly (then called Randall Publishing) in 1986, he remained in the industry, from hauling steel OTR to producing the DVD “Trucker Wars” and the ebook “Semi-Justice–Digging OPEC’s Grave.”

California Overland’s Russ Meyer was involved in “Trucker Wars,” which documented the trucker strikes of 1974, 1979 and 1983. Parkhurst was “very knowledgeable, very good at putting thoughts into words,” recalls Meyer, who heads the Minnesota-based carrier.

“Tenacious is the word,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like his drive to get something done. He’s a typical Type A individual with big heart.”

Parkhurst himself may have summarized his outlook on life in an article urging readers to contact lawmakers about unfavorable trucking legislation. The cover of the first Overdrive promoted the story with the headline, “Silence Is Dangerous.”

A.R. Fairman: What a sad day for trucking. I'm the guy (A.R. "Bob" Fairman) standing at the back in the photo, between the gentleman with his arm in the air and the other gentleman in the cowboy hat. That was in the 1960's and so long ago. Overdrive did a couple writeups about me over the years and was always a great supporter of the owner-operator and small transportation business. Thanks for all you did Mike!

A.R. “Bob” Fairman on Parkhurst’s passing: What a sad day for trucking. I’m the guy standing at the back in the photo, between the gentleman with his arm in the air and the other gentleman in the cowboy hat. That was in the 1960s and so long ago. Overdrive did a couple write-ups about me over the years and was always a great supporter of the owner-operator and small transportation business. Thanks for all you did, Mike!

More voices on Parkhurst:

Via OverdriveOnline.com:
Dick Butler: What a shock. Just reconnected with Mike a month ago, after many years. Had a great phone call and a few long emails. We were going to have coffee on my way though Minnesota next trip. I met him when I was in my late teens and he always had the independent’s best interest first. His push for deregulation is the reason Denka Trucking is in existence. He helped a lot of us who were operating outside the rules become legit and grow. R.I.P., my friend. See you on the other side.

Jim Stewart: A real legend has departed. May Mike Parkhurst rest in peace. I met Mike a number of times over the years. He actually was responsible for me choosing trucking as a career back in the 60s. I know I faithfully purchased every new issue of Overdrive magazine from the mid0-60s up while Mike was editor/publisher of the magazine. I too proudly belonged to the Independent Truckers Association back in the early 70s. It’s amazing the history we’ve witnessed in this rough business, along with the many adventures we’ve had over the years. Those outlaw trucking days are now long gone. Sadly, the respect we had back then with the general public and among ourselves has all but disappeared with a past era. I sure hope Overdrive takes the time to increase coverage of some of that past history of this magazine, those trucks, the truckers, and Mike himself. Who knows, it may cause a few folks to take a little more pride in this business that many of us once had? Goodbye, Mike. May God bless your family.

Former Overdrive Senior Editor and Channel 19 columnist Andy Duncan in 2006 wrote this long-form review of the Moonfire film in the original version of the Channel 19 blog, housed then on the Blogger.com site. Some of the review's formatting hasn't survived the transition to the current OverdriveOnline.com site, but the archived review provides a window into the film's long legacy.

Former Overdrive Senior Editor and Channel 19 columnist Andy Duncan in 2006 wrote this long-form review of Parkhurst’s 1972 Moonfire film in the original version of the Channel 19 blog, housed then on the Blogger.com site. Some of the review’s formatting hasn’t survived the transition to the current OverdriveOnline.com site, but the archived review provides a window into the film’s long legacy.

Roger Galloway: He was at first my boss, then my friend and brother. I knew him well for 45 years. I worked with him on Overdrive, “Moonfire,” plus a movie script I wrote and a TV special, “Truckin’ in Nashville,” and countless other projects. We laughed and fought together over the years. He had a strong will, was a creative genius, and never gave up. He was truly one of a kind. I last spoke to him two days before he died. He was working on an idea for a TV trucking series for the Discovery Channel. He worked right up to his passing and he certainly came across as someone much younger than his age. I’ll salute him with a final toast (among the many we had together over the years). Mike, I will definitely miss you. I know truckers will miss you and remember all you did for them, and I’m so glad you were with family at the end.

Via Facebook:
Tom Puckett: [Parkhurst] was a big supporter of deregulation — bad idea. Out of the top 500 trucking companies around during the 70s I don’t think one survived. All of those middle-class jobs vanished. Today trucks are moving freight for a dollar a mile.

Gene Hall: I have my own authority because of deregulation. I do not haul freight for a dollar a mile — last year … I averaged 2.43 cents per mile for every mile I put on my truck from the start of the year to the end. Mike was a champion to me. 

Larry Aungst: I was there — deregulation was bad, but [Parkhurst] was not the only one who pushed it! A lot of the big union trucking companies bit the dust back then, and thousands of jobs were lost … Times change.

John Deter: One last ride, Mike. Thanks from all of us old guys. 

–Todd Dills contributed to this report.

  • Mike Smith

    Amen

  • Jesse

    How about a little honesty in the story? Parkhurst had not a thing to do with Overdrive after it was sold to the current owners. He also rued the day he sold it. Stop pretending that Overdrive in its current state, or over the past 25 years had anything to do with Parkhurst.

  • bonnie robinson

    Without Mike, the heart of OVERDRIVE magazine is an echo.. Imagine Mike with todays technology back then. He did wonders with what was available. Always reinvesting any profit + toward the betterment of Truckers lives. He was driven, honest
    and focused. The world needs Brave Souls like Mike today. With Respect and fond memories with condolences, I was lucky to have known Mike and his Father Winthrop & worked for his creation. et al

  • bonnie robinson

    We should never forget, there would be no OVERDRIVE at all if not for MIKE PARKHURST

  • owner / operator, since 1972

    Your soooo right Jesse, NO ONE should be be writing for any trucking magazine that has not spent years working & driving in this ” Trade ”

  • DonM

    Revenue per mile should be pegged to the price of fuel. Rate per mile would be $4.00, if Fuel is $4.00 per gallon. Then people could maintain some good equipment with properly compensated drivers. Drivers should be making $150K a year in this economy.

  • LMF

    Was a Roadmaster and ITA member…marched on the ICC in DC with Mike and friends. Nobody else at that time gave a hoot. Reading Overdrive made you feel like somebody cared. Was never the same after the sale. RIP

OverdriveOnline.com strives to maintain an open forum for reader opinions. Click here to read our comment policy.