Stiff wind to pay the toll: The 2011 Channel 19 year in review
What better way to start the new year than with a look back on the previous? I did it last year, after all, so let’s make it a tradition, how bout?
The Chinese Year of the Rabbit saw all manner of issues hopping in and out of the national on-highway spotlight, bookended by a proposed hours-of-service rule and its ultimate issuance, slightly reducing potential weekly work hours. Bound up in the discussion was, as any regular reader will remember, the notion of a “driver shortage,” as carriers competed hard for the best drivers and owner-operators with sign-on bonuses, pay hikes and other perks as the economy slowly chugged back to life and CSA made carriers ever more wary of drivers with marks on their records.
But lots happened along the way, of course. Indulge me — and yourselves — in this trip down memory lane…
The year started with an inauspicious boom.
Oil and, hence, diesel prices were headed up quickly again, and of course commodity futures markets continued to be open for business to what some were calling the investment banks’ “long con.” In other quarters, a wireless roadside inspection technology pilot program was wrapping up on the very day that the FMCSA proposed to mandate EOBR technology for virtually all interstate truckers — which would be necessary for the inspection technology to work, it just so turns out. Convenient? Conveniently, we were at the scale house the day it came down.
After the FMCSA’s Compliance, Safety, Accountability program went live in December, its potential effects on driver pay were being debated by a large swath of the industry. A driver-led effort to benefit wounded soldiers at Fort Sam Houston in Texas got off the ground as a Chinese ag hauler was sentenced to life in prison for hopping quite rabbit-like $560,000 U.S. worth in tolls by running two trucks with fake military license plates, load services were poking fun at Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg (and themselves), and Overdrive 2010 Trucker of the Year Mike “Mustang” Crawford got his own authority.
A new TV show debuted chronicling the lives and businesses of drivers, custom truck shops, trucking companies and more — in another, a truck manufacturer CEO pledged to his workers that the company would not “off-shore” its U.S. facilities to Mexico.
CSA driver scorecards became available for some individual haulers outside the purview of company staff, and Old Man Winter showed his grizzled white head in more ways than one — each involving early-month blizzards across large swaths of the nation. One owner-operator emerged from adverse conditions to be trumpeted for his heroic rescue of a trapped, freezing couple in a car, and the year of the smartphone trucking app got under way.
At once, a 2010 story — the closing of the Nashville downtown TA after flooding — wrapped up with the stop’s triumphant reopening and remodel. Far east of the United States, a South African truck driver strike turned violent, and haulers into and out of Egypt as the later-dubbed “Arab Spring” got under way were having all sorts of problems.
I saw a couple infamously familiar faces at a Starbucks on I-24 in Manchester, Tenn., owner-operator Dan Heister was named Overdrive‘s Trucker of the Year, and the famous Willie’s Place truck stop in Carl’s Corner, Texas, shut its doors for good.
One trucker wanted to talk to President Obama.
Though he didn’t exactly specify a subject for the potential conversation, language lurking in a Government Accountability Office report on CSA detailing FMCSA intentions to release driver safety data to the public could well have been a good topic to pursue. Driver Ed Webb, Lord knows, had things to say about the enforcement program, as he fought marks on his record via the DataQs system.
Owner-operator Mike Crawford’s fabulous trucking dog, Fred, passed on to the heavens just as trucking representation on cable networks was reaching new highs, commodities futures position limits were back in the national spotlight, a Wisconsin attorney called for a national large-truck lemon law, and an intermodal hauler was caught with his pants down behind the wheel. Greatwide owner-operator Bob Grantham’s Western novel became my then-favorite book penned by a highway hauler, of all time.
The weather gods of spring gave Old Man Winter a run for his money with disastrous tornado events in the home city of Overdrive, Tuscaloosa, and all over Alabama and elsewhere in the Southeast. An owner-operator team caught one of the Georgia twisters on their live webcam, and Dan Heister told his story of riding out the Birmingham winds at Boyd Bros. headquarters.
The weather in 2011 may well go down as the top story of the year — and not just for drivers’ on-highway nightmares, of course. Carriers and drivers stepped up to the plate in the aftermath of the disasters to deliver relief to the affected areas, which we would see much more of in May.
And no foolin’, not that you need reminding — diesel topped $4 a gallon this month, drivers continued to debate CSA’s ultimate effects, cargo thieves were posing as legitimate carriers to steal tomatoes, and more trucking apps for smartphones were introduced.
Trucking efforts at Alabama tornado relief ramped up and continued, shifting into overdrive in Missouri late in the month as Joplin, home of the Chrome Shop Mafia and numerous trucking interests, was slammed by a massive tornado — owner-operator Todd Arnold told us his harrowing story of riding out the direct hit at the Pilot Flying J on I-44. A dump hauler in the Pacific Northwest called on interstate haulers to join him in receiving National Weather Service storm-spotting training.
Owner-operators kept the conversation going on CSA, and FMCSA administrator Anne Ferro told a giant conference call’s worth of them that, in her view, shippers should be held accountable for excess detention time. Nonetheless, that agency moved ever forward in its rewrite of the hours of service, industry watchers seeing potential for regulatory/legal stalemate and the need for Congress to intervene, ultimately, and legislate a solution.
Driver-led efforts to expand federal funding for truck parking nationwide gained ground with the reintroduction of Jason’s Law at an event where the measure’s principal sponsor on the Hill, New York rep Paul Tonko, was joined by a cross section of trucking representatives, and a California law enforcement official noted that “numerous water bottles and other containers filled with a colored liquid other than water” found on West Coast roadsides were not attributable to truckers.
The 23rd of the month saw a call to action by drivers on Jason’s Law, with scores of haulers calling their Congresspeople to express support for the law with the goal of momentum-building.
Ed Webb, a treated sleep apnea sufferer put through the medical certification auditing ringer by his home state state of Indiana, shared his story with the driver community in the pages of Truckers News and live on a memorable edition of the Truth About Trucking Live online radio program, the Chrome Shop Mafia’s Bryan Martin his own tale of the Joplin tornado’s aftermath on the All Driver’s Together conference call series.
And otherwise it was a marquee month for odd and entertaining bits among the trucking news, a Channel 19 staple for years. Former independent owner-operator Annabella Wood granted a long-haul wish to a senior, a horse was northbound and down on I-35 in Minnesota, and what would be epic flooding throughout the nation’s midsection was filmed in part in North Dakota by a cheeky truck driver making the best of a soggy haul.
Owner-operator Mike Crawford paid tribute to his past in the U.S. Marine Corps with his first-ever tattoo.
One owner-operator was pledging “No Apologies!” to anyone for his business’ success and calling on others to adopt a similar stance in the face of tightening regulations, parking problems along Minnesota highways were made worse with rest area closures as the state government shut down, L.A.’s I-405 “Carmageddon” became a “Truckermaggedon” and American Trucker entered its second season on the Speed Channel with an episode about tornado relief efforts in Joplin.
A car hauler made a mistake.
Trucking smartphone apps continued to proliferate, and long-haul driver Paul Clewis was uninjured and would drive out the remainder of the 2011 season after an attempted right-side pass resulted in disaster for 2009 Heisman Trophy winner Mark Ingram’s four-door Infiniti — and Clewis’ tractor’s front end.
Not only did I get a new all-time favorite book penned by a highway hauler in Marc Mayfield’s In the Driver’s Seat, a memoir of the trucking life, but the Great American Trucking Show saw a big further push for driver health efforts, even amid 100-plus degree temps in Dallas, just as we were again saying “____” to electronic logs on the blog, given the 2010 EOBR rule’s announced permanent vacation.
A dispatcher paid the American truck owner-operator a compliment, Keys Truckers Jan and James McCarter penned a modest proposal for U.S. lawmakers hellbent on regulating the industry into extinction, fake bull’s testicles were roasting in litigious fire in South Carolina, and Overdrive geared up for its September 50th anniversary with a reader-survey-based top-ten list of the all-time greatest trucking songs.
And, as if the weather hadn’t been bad enough, the East Coast shook.
In Overdrive‘s 50th-anniversary month, other anniversaries were remarked upon at length. Lawyers were continuing to air four-wheeler-baiting anti-truck ads, while other lawyers were advising drivers on novel strategies for dealing with “hot loads.”
The second U.S.-Mexican cross-border program began to much fanfare and backlash, while an Illinois-based driver was making it one of his defining issues in a run for his district’s seat in the U.S. House of Representatives and owner-operator Jim Schlise dealt with the price of fuel with some cheeky graphics applied to his fuel tanks.
The commercial vehicle operator texting ban had drivers humming a silly ditty the nation over, a self-proclaimed “bedbugger” was paid $25,000 for writing a story, and floodwaters revealed their wreckage with recession.
A new lobby emerged to gain drivers’ support of National Pork Rind Day.
Drivers danced with their rigs for a chance at money, and the first-annual driver-organized Truck Driver Social Media Convention kicked off in Tunica, Miss. — an independent won a set of side skirts out of the deal, and many others left mobilized to make a real difference for drivers in the industry. It’s this event that sticks out among all the others I attended and/or covered via the blog this year, not the least for its daylong simplicity and the frankness of the discussions. Look for details to emerge about a follow-up in the coming year.
Drivers were objecting to some instances of the industry’s portrayal on the cable networks, and we mourned the passing of two giants, former Overdrive editor and actor Charles Napier and owner-operator Bob “Cowpoke” Martin.
Finally, a trucking services company introduced something smartphone-related that was not a smartphone app, and former owner-operator Frederick Schaffner went to Washington, spurred on by discussions held at the Truck Driver Social Media Convention, to take drivers’ and owner-operators’ concerns directly to the FMCSA’s Motor Carrier Safety Advisory Committee.
Meanwhile, on the Hill, Jason’s Law trucking parking legislation was being included in a Senate committee’s version of a two-year highway reauthorization. Drivers were encouraging other drivers not to view this as a victory but to continue to urge lawmakers to include the legislation in any final version to emerge (and none has, as of press time, for reasons anyone listening to/reading the national political news will be cognizant of, no doubt).
Yet another TV show involving truck drivers was in planning stages, Mack trucks were still being made in America, and drivers in ever greater numbers assisting law enforcement in combatting child prostitution via the Truckers Against Trafficking organization’s national hotline.
Overdrive 2007 Trucker of the Year Henry Albert took a picture of two people stowed away on the roof of a tractor at a Laredo, Texas, truck stop.
I won’t mention all that went down this month except to say that U.S. military combat personnel’s withdrawal from Iraq might have made another neat bookend, as would the hours rule, Fred Schaffner’s presence at the round of MCSAC meetings early in the month (the next round, on sleep apnea, is this week — details in the post at the previous link), MCSAC recommendations on sleep apnea treatment in the medical qualifications, the DOT’s ban on handheld cell phone use and all the conversations it’s sparked, and more.
But as you know, given the evolving nature of news, bookend they shall not ultimately be — as December’s Channel 19 posts hold the keys to the coming year’s contentions and conversations. With any luck, it will be better than last.
Cross your fingers, keep your ears on, and here’s a heartfelt thank you for reading. Expect the best I can offer in the new year.
And, oh yeah, Happy New Year!
Over and out…
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