‘Secrets of trucking shall remain secret’: An elegy for the counter of knowledge

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You may have seen this linked story last week, the first in our new “Highway Hacks” (a play on the now-common “Lifehacks” shorthand for creative, sometimes quite simple solutions to a variety of daily issues) series detailing specific approaches to common equipment and/or business issues that an owner-op is likely to have. In the case of this first one, Riley, Kan., resident and longtime Overdrive occasional contributor Gordon Alkire detailed (with a nod to fellow owner-operator Bill Marciniac) his grease-distribution system, a way of sending grease to under-chassis components without a lot of physical effort — or excess grease. 

Retired owner-operator Gordon AlkireRetired owner-operator Gordon Alkire

Alkire, regular readers may recall, told me about the system in years past, detailing it in this post in 2012 as well. Back then, Alkire’s operation was leased to Landstar, but as of this moment, his days of commercial hauling are in the past.

At once, he offers a further tip on grease to those who have their trucks greased in a shop — shop staff in his experience “seldom know about the grease fitting on top of the kingpins. Not easy to see, and can be harder to grease on some vehicles. Older trucks seem to confuse them. Remind them, or at least check yourself.

And too many mechanics “overdo the greasing,” Alkire says. “They keep pumping until the seal is broken and grease comes out — they think that is how it is done. Nothing could be further from the truth. That seal is there for protection to keep out contaminants. They cause,” in effect, “a leak. The seal is no longer able to do its job, shortening the life of the part the seal was protecting.”

All that is to say, Alkire remains a fount of creative energy, which today he’s put to a guest post of sorts — a celebration of the driver, but also a somewhat double-edged elegy for something else entirely …:  

People say the trucking industry is tough. They might be right in some respects. It’s made up of many things and people. From logistics experts, manufacturers, warehouses, distributors. Truck stops, fuel distributors, vendors off all types, including the fast food that replaced the sit-down restaurants that used to be the favorite place to learn. Of course, the trucks that get all the manufactured and grown goods and food to all places in America do, however, sit an awful long time. Not moving, not doing anything. Collecting dust and rust. The industry sits still, no smoke, no workers getting paid, food shelves in grocery stores empty. Nothing moves.

Why? A strike? No strike. The industry is not complete and able to function at its best if the most important part is missing — the most important cog that puts every thing into motion. The cog that puts food on the table, cars in lots to be sold, gas at the station. You know what I’m talking about. And it’s those drivers who have it the toughest.

The drivers give up home time, miss kids’ graduations, their own wedding anniversaries. The best day of fishing on the lake. Again why? So everybody else has what they want and need from the store of their choice. The milk, the meat, the bread, the shoes, the hats and coats, the cars they drive, the bricks and lumber and so much else required to build the homes in which they live.

Given all that, it’s also a fact that many drivers today don’t know enough about the industry they chose to go to work in. Why? Recall those sit-down restaurants I mentioned earlier. So did the counter of knowledge go.

What old-timers are left trying to teach in a driving school just don’t have have enough hours in the day, or in some cases the inclination, to spell out every one of the ins and outs of trucking, to pass on the secrets they have held close for many years: tips and tricks to stay awake and safe, the shortcut to this or that customer, when the scales close in this or that jurisdiction … . In the sit-down diners was the counter. The all-knowing, never-wrong counter of knowledge, usually manned by experts 24 hours a day. I mean that driver at the end over there with the commanding voice, having the cup of coffee and a piece of apple pie, not the server — then again, some waitresses behind such a counter could catch up a four-days-behind logbook better than many drivers, and correctly, too.

This counter of knowledge is where many drivers got the education, heard the important stories, firsthand. Stories about how to beat that ticket or bypass the scale on Route 30, or exactly when to call the U.S. Marshals in on a dispute on a dock. Things that green driver needed to know to be able to handle the really tough days — when dispatch says the load’s canceled and, driver, you’re not getting home for your son’s first birthday …

For the untrained in the secrets of trucking, this is a serious situation. A traumatic experience. Had the counter of knowledge been available, he may have already learned how to handle that and take it in stride. Behold: it’s a sad thing to see the young driver in tears and a long way from home. Sad indeed.

Will the past return? It’s doubtful. The teachers of the secrets are finding other outlets for their knowledge and abilities. The secrets of trucking shall remain secret. –Gordon Alkire, Riley, Kan.

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