Turning 30

| December 05, 2007

The Minneapolis I-35W bridge collapse reflects a growing sense of crisis in highway maintenance funding.

In November 1977, the National Association of Truckstop Operators launched a publication, distributed free to drivers at member locations. NATSO Truckers News, as editor Mark Perry wrote in that first issue, was founded on the premise that “truckers and truckstop operators have a lot more in common with each other than any other people in any other two industries. All they need to do is talk to each other and work together” for change.

Perry was insistent on providing a platform for open communication to and from truckers in Truckers News, a platform that survives to this day.

To celebrate our 30th anniversary, we’ve assembled a long haul through 30 years of trucking history. In some instances, guest columns from industry representatives – from veteran driver R.L. Grant to former Interstate Commerce Commission chairman Dan O’Neal – accompany stories, and we’ve included stories and illustrations from past issues of Truckers News. Enjoy the ride.

Paint by Numbers
Trucking stats show change on numerous fronts

It’s not only Bob Dylan who tells us that the times are a-changing. Numbers tell us, too.

For the 30 years since Truckers News began publication, many of the major changes in our industry are starkly outlined in statistics, from the cost of a gallon of diesel to the money drivers can expect to take home.

They don’t tell the whole story, but these statistics show the sweeping changes the industry has gone through and give us a window into the past.

Today a gallon of diesel will cost you nearly three bucks. Way back in 2006 a gallon was only $2.07, excluding taxes. But back in ’78 a gallon of pre-taxed diesel cost you a quarter, a dime and three pennies. Then in 1980 (remember those gas lines?) it leaped to three quarters a nickel and two pennies. A barrel of crude oil in ’78 was just $12.50, but by 2006 it was $60.20 – the average price of a barrel rose by 64 percent between 2000 and 2006. As we prepare this issue of Truckers News, crude is going for more than $80 a barrel, an all-time high.

In 1977 there were 141,000 new Class 8 tractors sold, a figure which had soared to 253,000 by 2005. Between 1970 and 1985 there was an average yearly increase in sales of 2.8 percent, but between 1985 and 2005 the comparative figure was 4.3 percent.

Not all Class 8 trucks are over-the-road haulers. But for what government statisticians call “combination trucks” (which includes trucks designed to pull a trailer) there were 1.24 million registered in 1977 traveling a total of 55.7 billion miles on American roads and using 10.8 billion gallons of fuel. Average fuel economy was 5.1 mpg. In 2005, 2.08 million combination trucks were registered, running 143.7 billion miles and using 24.4 billion gallons of diesel at an average of 5.9 miles per gallon.

The average rig used 9,201 gallons a year in 1980 and 12,289 in 2004. That rig rolled 38,829 miles in 1970, 48,472 in 1980 and by 2004 averaged 72,325 miles a year.

Roads, four-wheelers
Truckers had 41,120 miles of interstate to run in 1980 and 46,837 in 2004, a 14 percent increase. If you think you are seeing more small trucks and vans out there, you’re right. The minivan and SUV revolution shows up in the numbers. In 1977 combination trucks made up 3.8 percent of vehicle miles traveled by vehicle type, with cars at 75.6 percent and two-axle, four-tire trucks (those pickups, vans and SUVs) at 17.1 percent. In 2005 big rigs made up 4.8 percent of all vehicle miles, but cars made up only 56.5 percent – those light trucks more than doubled their share to 35.4 percent. Call it the “soccer mom effect.”

Trucks, trailers, containers
How many older rigs are you seeing out there? The average 1970 model truck over 26,000 pounds was on the road for 20 years, statistically speaking (that is, after 20 years half of them had been scrapped). The 1980 model lasted on average 18.5 years, but half the 1990 models will be around for some time – their average working life is expected to be a stunning 28 years.

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