Road Songs

There are two things that Elwin Harbison of Logan, Ala., could never get away from: music and trucking. In fact, the two had almost always been intertwined in his life. Harbison’s last project, a bluegrass CD, showed the influence that trucking and music had always had on him.
Shortly after the interview for this story, Harbison, 65, died following a brief illness. Work on his bluegrass CD has been suspended.

Harbison worked as a company driver for more than 30 years, and retired from Consolidated Freightways in 1993. Shortly before his retirement, he began writing songs based on his experiences on the road. Harbin, who played in bluegrass, country and gospel bands, recorded nine original songs, and he was waiting to record the final one to complete the collection.

Most of the songs on the CD reflected Harbison’s life on the road. The first song that he wrote is “The Credit Card” and was inspired by a man in a truckstop.

“I was sitting in the driver’s room filling out paperwork when a man came in and was complaining about his wife,” Harbison said. “She had spent so much money on her credit cards that they couldn’t afford groceries. I got to thinking how stupid that was to borrow so much money that they couldn’t eat, and I just sat down and wrote it right there.”

Though Harbison spent most of his life involved in music, this compilation was his first solo attempt. He learned how to play the mandolin and guitar as a child and soon moved on to the fiddle. He played lead guitar with a gospel group and fiddle with a bluegrass band, and he even played in a band while he was stationed with the Army in Germany in the ’50s. Even though he retired, Harbison didn’t give up performing before he became ill. He volunteered to play at nursing homes and senior citizens’ centers in his spare time.

“If you’ve got talents you don’t use, you lose them,” Harbison said. “I’ve played just about everywhere. We never did make any money; I just did it for the fun.”

To support his family, Harbison began a career in trucking in 1961 after returning from Germany and marrying his longtime girlfriend. Looking back, he said he wasn’t sure why he chose trucking, but he thought it would be a good way to earn money.

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“I didn’t love trucking at first. I just did it to make a living,” Harbison said. “The longer I did it, the more I liked it. I guess it’s true what everybody always says -trucking gets in your blood. I miss it; I could go out today on the road. I see trucks drive by, and I would like to ride out with them, sometimes. But I’ve got a lot of other things going, so I’m all right letting one thing go.”

Harbison and his wife, Ruby, were married for 40 years, and had two children and one grandchild.

“There couldn’t be a greater woman anywhere,” Harbison said. “She’s stuck with me when we’ve had good times and stuck with me when we’ve had bad times, and there have been a lot of both of those. She’s backed me in anything I wanted to do.”

“I’ve had a great life,” Harbison said. “I’m not talking financially. I haven’t gotten rich doing any of these things, but I’ve loved it and that’s what counts. I’m nothing but a plain country hick, but there aren’t a lot of people who have had what I have.”