After an impromptu visit to Overdrive’s California headquarters in 1976, John Strong left with a surprise and a souvenir.
The recently retired owner-operator recalls he was on a West Coast delivery with a trainee when he decided to take Mike Parkhurst at his word. The magazine’s founder and publisher, Parkhurst had openly invited readers to stop by his office in Los Angeles.
Strong called and the invite was confirmed. Unlike the former Overdrive Roadmansion, an upscale home Parkhurst had converted to serve as a resort-style haven for drivers for a few years in the late 1960s, which Strong had never visited, the office was “nondescript.” Nevertheless, Parkhurst “treated us like royalty.”
“He always looked like he was relaxed,” Strong recalls. “He was sincere in the fact that you were a driver and he was happy to see you.”
It was the second time Strong had met the publisher and trucking activist. Around 1975, when Parkhurst had organized a truckers’ march on Washington, D.C., Strong was among about 30 truckers who met with some U.S. House members. The truckers aired grievances over fuel costs and the 55 mph speed limit spawned by the oil embargo.
During the D.C. event, Strong and Parkhurst, a former owner-operator, shared their experiences of driving on the old Yardley, Pennsylvania, bridge that spanned the Delaware River to New Jersey. It was damaged by flooding and later demolished in 1961 after a nearby bridge was completed. When Strong showed up at the Overdrive office, he was surprised that Parkhurst could link him with that conversation.
“After all those people he’d met, he still remembered me,” Strong says. “He was ready to fight on the driver’s behalf for everything he thought we should have. He had such a tough time when he was driving and he knew what we were going through.”
Parkhurst, who sold the magazine in 1986 to what is now Randall-Reilly, Overdrive’s publisher, died in 2014.
Strong left his meeting with Parkhurst carrying the whimsical cartoon shown above. Drawn by Overdrive artist Roger Sotelo, it features Strong (on the right) and trainee Len Caputi, holding the coffee mug.
“We called ourselves Hulk and Bluto,” says Strong, whose size earned the Hulk nickname. Bluto was a heavy, bearded comic character of the 1930s who became Popeye’s antagonist in the “Popeye” animated cartoon series.
The quip in Sotelo’s sketch about “a hair in my coffee” poked fun at the pair’s “long hair and bushy beards,” Strong says. “I still get a kick out of it and the memories it brings back.”
Strong’s visit at Overdrive confirmed his impressions of Parkhurst.
“Mike was one of those guys that when you talk to him, and he’s focused on you, you felt like you were the most important person he was talking to that day. Not many people have that ability. Mike did. And he valued what you said.”
Strong, 70, had his first paid driving job at 19, in 1967, driving a Mack H-67. He bought his first truck in 1973, a 1966 Kenworth K-100 cabover. He quit driving in 1987, then worked as a dispatcher until 2000, when he got his own authority and returned to driving.
He now lives near Mount Holly, New Jersey, an eastern suburb of Philadelphia. He was driving until last year, when the electronic logging device mandate took full effect and he parked his 2006 Peterbilt. “I wasn’t about to put one of those damn things in the truck and have Uncle Sam in the passenger seat day in and day out,” he says.
For more detail on Strong and his memories of Parkhurst, look out for the Overdrive Radio podcast on Friday, which will includes excerpts from my interview with Strong. (Find all Overdrive‘s podcasts to date via this link.) You’ll hear about his bold quantum leap as a teenager from watching a truck driver shift gears to doing it himself, his assignment from Parkhurst to record a meeting about organizing truckers, and reflections on the infamous Mass 10 Truck Stop.