Faces of the Road: Retired hauler and fleet owner Theldon Thornburgh

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A few days ago, I was privileged with the opportunity to talk to retired fleet owner Theldon Thornburgh over a hearty country breakfast prepared by his son, Tim, a onetime owner-operator turned itinerant sign maker. In the tradition of old truckers, we set about, over bacon, eggs and coffee, to solving some of the world’s biggest problems.

Theldon ThornburghTheldon Thornburgh

Theldon Thornburgh: Retired fleet owner
Past Jobs: Soldier (World War II), Market gardener, Sheep shearer, mechanic

‘If I was pushed, I could sleep 15 minutes and go on up to Edmonton.’

“I was pretty lucky. I think I traveled 5.2 million miles and never did have a chargeable accident, and half the trucking I done was junk trucks, wildcattin’ and stuff like that, mostly, the first ten years without having any insurance, no permits or anything…

“I never could sleep any. It ain’t that much fun, now. I stay awake about all night, then sleep a little in the daytime. When I was trucking, I could leave Florida, heading for Calgary and Edmonton, drive clean up this far [to Central Indiana.] If I was pushed, why, I could sleep 15 minutes and go on up to Edmonton…”

Thornburgh and his wife, BerniceThornburgh and his wife, Bernice

‘I was always kind of an outcast.’

[On Mike Parkhurst, founder of Overdrive magazine:] “That was one of the greatest men who ever lived. I would have liked to have seen him be president….

“You know where I think they made their mistake on these electric log books? They would have been a lot better off if they’d spent the money making more rest areas so a guy’d have a place to take a nap. Electronics don’t keep you from being sleepy. Like Bud [Theldon’s other son, a trucker] said, ‘you get sleepy, you have a hard time finding a place where you can pull off’; but they’re closing ’em instead of making ’em! Like in Markle [Indiana], they closed one on each side. I thought that was real stupid….

More ‘Faces of the Road’

“I’ve always said, if I had life left to live over again, I never would have set in a truck; I never would ride a damn motorcycle. I won the 500 Mile National Cross Country in the side-car class. There were 700 people in it. I’d truck all week, then go to a mudrace on Sunday, and just keep truckin’. Bernice hated it. If you win a big motorcycle event, like the Jackpine was, there’s thousands and thousands of people there, see. Then they get around you to make you feel like you’re some kind of big hero or something. Then Bernice always thought I done that so them damn crazy women would … you know how they do when you win somethin’ — it’s like what ol’ Trump has to put up with. [Laughs.] They’ll do anything to try to make you … some of ’em will. When I finally won the side-car class, then I decided I was going to quit. I sold my motorcycle pretty cheap to Bernice’s brother.” [Laughs.]

Thornburgh’s first truck, a late-30s/early-40s International gas job with a 269 Blue Diamond engine. He took out the sleeves to make a 308 powerhouse.Thornburgh’s first truck, a late-30s/early-40s International gas job with a 269 Blue Diamond engine. He took out the sleeves to make a 308 powerhouse.

“I worked with the C.I.D. [The U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Command.] Before I got out, I had to make a vow to never speak of the things I saw or else face a firing squad. I’ve seen what governments can do. It’s been over 70 years and I still can’t get it out of my system. I still dream about it. I guess I was always a little bit different. I was always kind of an outcast.”

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