As far back as I can remember there was always a White, Mack, Diamond Reo, Freightliner or Peterbilt parked in our yard. My father was a trucker, and the activities of my younger years resolved around trucking.
I traveled with him during the summer. I watched him find addresses he had never been to before, using both experience and intuition. “It should right around the corner,” he’d say. Sure enough, the warehouse or foundry we were looking for would magically appear within a minute or two.
In 1977, the year this magazine was founded, I was 12. I went with Dad to Chicago with a load of steel that summer. I remember he turned his tractor-trailer around in the second-story of the facility where we delivered after being told he couldn’t do it. A guy with a cigar in his mouth wanted to use a forklift to slide dad’s empty flatbed trailer around. It’s too tight in here to maneuver it yourself, he said.
Stubbornly, my dad spent 15 minutes proving the cigar man wrong. At a truckstop on the way home, my dad gave me a pony-sized beer and told me not to tell my mom. It was a rite of passage, I suppose.
When we got back to Alabama, the first thing I told my mom was that I drank a beer and that Dad almost got in a fight with a man wearing a hard hat and smoking a cigar. “Well, we’re both in the doghouse now,” he told me.
Trucking was a great adventure to me then. I didn’t understand much about the hardships and issues of the profession because they didn’t affect me personally until a couple of years later. Dad left the road for time to haul coal locally, and I would ride with him on Saturdays. I was already an avid hunter and I liked to look for deer in the wooded area near the coal washer where I was sometimes allowed to hunt.
At that time, union representatives were trying to unionize the coal business in North Alabama. A lot of coal haulers, including my dad, just wanted to work. There was a strike called. Fights broke out at the Invesco Coal Mine office. Union opponents hired a well-armed group called the Rat Patrol to guard the office. Truckers who wanted to work were told to do so are their own risk.
My dad told me I couldn’t ride with him anymore. One of his friends was shot in the chin by a small-caliber gun as he drove down the road.
Alabama Gov. Fob James called out the State Troopers to protect the coal haulers. Dad and the other drivers traveled in convoys with troopers on their front and back doors. Troopers blocked traffic so the drivers didn’t have to stop at intersections.
The drivers were encouraged to keep a constant dialogue with each other and with the troopers while rolling down the road. Troopers and truckers got to know each by name and CB handle. Once a car somehow got behind my dad and he reported it on his radio. Two unmarked patrol cars rushed to the scene immediately, and along with one of the trooper escorts, pulled the car over to the side of the road.
My dad said he had never been treated with such respect while on the job. That statement and the chaos surrounding that time made me realize that there was a lot more to trucking than just climbing behind the wheel of the truck.
In this issue, Truckers News is taking a look back at trucking over the past 25 years. It has changed greatly because of deregulation, equipment, technology and demographics. It’s still an industry of issues – some of which have changed for the better and some for the worse. But, overall, it’s about people from all walks of life who strive to provide for themselves and their families.
While, thankfully, there are more programs and awards today that recognize the accomplishments and dedication of truckers – I would love to see all drivers get even greater respect for what they do every day.
Respect from law enforcement almost a quarter of a century ago made the hazards of trucking during a turbulent period seem a little more worth the effort for my dad. It really wasn’t because troopers were blocking intersections for him and his fellow drivers – it was because they were treated as professionals who had an important job to do.
Hopefully, more people will come to realize that over the next 25 years.