President Jimmy Carter threw deregulation into high gear at a small town meeting.
Did a 36-year-old independent trucker change the course of the America trucking industry on the night of March 16, 1977? Perhaps that’s too strong a claim, but George Oberg did help suddenly pop the top off Pandora’s trucking box.
On that night President Jimmy Carter was in Oberg’s hometown, Clinton, Mass., for a town meeting. Locals had to enter a lottery system to have a chance at a seat at the event. Oberg won his way in and stood to ask Carter a question. “I kind of put him on the spot,” says
Oberg today. “He wasn’t expecting it. I remember it was a long question, some television newsman that night called me ‘a long-winded truck driver.’ But it was a chance, and I wasn’t going to miss it.”
Oberg asked Carter if he would support legislation that would let him, and men like him who owned just one or two trucks, compete with the big companies. The president, reportedly to the surprise of many of his White House staff, virtually announced deregulation was around the corner. Three years later came the Motor Carrier Act of 1980.
“I was just a little guy trying to make a living,” says Oberg, “and the regulations, the way they were, made it hard for little guys. I was hauling out to the West Coast a lot, mostly what I wanted was for us to have chance at good backhauls and not having to duck and dodge around the regulations, worry about the ICC or the Texas Railroad Commission every day. We were like gypsies, and we shouldn’t have to have worked like that to make our living. Most of us had good equipment and insurance and were real pros.
“Most of us independents didn’t want deregulation, we wanted re-regulation. The system worked, it just didn’t work as well as it should for the little guys. I wanted a way for guys like me with a couple of trucks to make a living without having to scratch for every penny or find ways around the regulations,” said Oberg, who, at the time of the Carter meeting, was vice president of the New England Independent Truckers Association.
“It didn’t work out the way we hoped. It was done like everything else in Washington, it was a mess. I think deregulation was the worst thing that ever happened to the trucking industry.”
“Deregulation of freight in the 1970s is the reason I got out of the owner-operator business. I’ve been a company driver ever since,” says Carl McDaniel of Robbie D. Wood Trucking, a
Oberg, who at one time owned four trucks, left over-the road driving in 1990, but he didn’t leave the cab. Today he hauls outsized loads for Boston’s “Big Dig,” a major underground development that will speed traffic through the city’s congested downtown.