One of the very best things about MATS this year was being able to park in the Papa John’s lot and hang out with people who have been in the trucking industry since Jesus had a new pair of sandals. I really love listening to the road war stories, and I was actually able to follow along with about half of what they were saying without having to ask questions every five seconds. I’m especially fascinated with old cabovers — I’ve still never ridden in one.
I was sitting in the tent with some of the Landstar drivers we met through our friends, Dennis and Michelle Mintling. (We met the Mintlings in Florida – my first time out with George as a Landstar BCO. They were some of the first from the company to welcome us like family and extend every helping hand they could. Their stationary home happens to be at a perfect stopping point in this regular Laredo thing George is doing, and they’ve fed him and put him up along the way, like we’ve known them forever. They’re awesome.)
Anyway, George and Dennis had wandered off to walk the dogs or something, and I got to sit in the tent and listen to the memories. I followed along great with the part where they talked about leaving their pants right in between the seats when they got into the rack of the old cabover, because there was just enough room to swing your feet over the side and slide into your pants in the morning, or whenever you started rolling. The guy telling this story had a heavy Northeastern accent – he said, “Or whenevah ya stah-ted rollin.” It was incredibly entertaining and informative at the same time. These are the kind of people who should represent trucking on television, not some dumbass who can’t seem to understand how big his trailer is, no matter how many times he has to load it.
I learned of primitive air-conditioning, in the form of a bag of ice in a pan in front of the fan. These guys got animated when they were explaining how hard it actually was to drive the beasties of yesteryear, and they lost me when they started trying to explain tri-shift transmissions. All I can say is, “Holy crap.” I don’t even understand the premise, but from the pantomime I got along with the story, it appears to be the most dangerous thing known to mankind. At some point in the shifting sequence, I’m pretty sure both hands are needed on various knobs, and the truck (with manual steering, mind you) is steered with one knee – because the other leg is jamming a clutch. It was terrifying in re-enactment alone — I can only imagine actually being present in real life. It’s a far cry from autoshift, and I’m pretty sure the safety department would have something to say about it…