New group takes aim at 'trailerism' within trucking business and culture

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Updated Apr 2, 2024

Back in the pre-e-log 1990s, hard now as it is to imagine, we didn’t have what my friend from Tennessee calls “all these Youtubes and Spotifryers.” You see, righteous reader, we made our own entertainment right there on the CB radio. You had to use your imagination back then. Sometimes, at 3 a.m., when the only law was don’t get sleepy, things could get interesting. 

Self-styled rhyming comedians weren’t uncommon. Then there were the female impersonators, hoping to lure the grain haulers. And there were the females themselves.

For my part, I would sometimes sing on the CB. It went something like this:

Breaker one-nine.

Go ahead, break.

I’d like to share a song. 

Someone would sigh, then:

Go ahead, I guess.

Before I broke my neck in that 2001 truck wreck, with God as my witness, I could do an impression of Willie Nelson on the CB that was virtually indistinguishable from the Red Headed Stranger himself, or so I thought.

So I launched with gusto into “My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys.” 

When I finished, a hush came over the channel, which moments before had been quite chatty. I assumed everyone had been so moved by the performance that speech was momentarily unmanageable. 

An older-sounding gentleman finally keyed up.

Who sings that song?

Willie Nelson, sir. 

Let’s keep it that way.

I didn’t sing much on the CB after that. It was such a clean burn, so perfectly timed, and I had walked right into it. I guess my skin wasn’t thick enough for show business after all.

Truth be told, channel one-nine was fast becoming a daily reenactment of my own eighth-grade trauma.

Then there was that fateful evening, headed eastbound out of Idaho with a load of spuds. I was on I-86 somewhere between American Falls and Pocatello, doing about 70. A conversation between a man and a woman was bleeding in from a side channel and the signal was getting stronger. (For those of you who began trucking after 2007, a side channel is one other than the old one-nine.) A mile or two on and I could see them on my back door now, big pressed-out hoods pulling flatbeds with big radios. One truck was overtaking the other one.

Just then I could make out the man saying, “Wow, baby!“, the way they would say it on the  CB back in the 1990s -- a whooping, growling kind of way. 

“Wow, baby! Shugah, shugah! My my my!“ 

They were playing leap frog, passing each other over and over again, evidently putting on some sort of performance. My idle curiosity got the best of me, so I went to channel surfing and found them down on 17. 

“My lord. You must work out, girl,” the big rig Romeo observed to his new friend.

“Oh baby, you have no idea the things I do for exercise,” she cooed. Soon, the large-car love birds were overtaking me. They must have been doing around 80. The woman was a bona fide performance artist. Or at least that’s the way it seemed when she overtook me. She was a raven-haired beauty wearing nothing but a smile, a prodigious collection of tattoos and an itty black leather vest. I was fully awake now, and yes, I’ll cop to gazing into her cab just a little too long. She caught me at it, and in so doing, threw me a stink eye that belied all the sweetness the conversation with her Peterbilt paramour had promised.

When they were about a mile ahead of me, she keyed up again, still on that side channel: 

“One thing I could never do is go out with a fat, stinky, disgusting reefer hauler. I mean, gag me with a spoon!”

I suppose she thought she was out of earshot. I turned off the radio and slowed down, ashamed of my idle curiosity. Furthermore, I wasn't even that fat back then. 

While some amongst my fellow old-timers might say I got my just comeuppance for eavesdropping on a side channel, some 30 years later I've come to believe I was a victim that day.

A victim, that is, of trailerism. 

Some attribute initial coinage of the word trailerism to then-Syracuse University student of photojournalism James Year. As part of his work for his Masters thesis, Year spent several months accompanying long-distance drivers. In a series of remarkable photographs, he chronicled the American trucking subculture.

Once, riding with an Ohio-based reefer hauler, Year was told matter-of-factly that it was always best to try to park a running reefer next to another running reefer at a truck stop when space was available. The reason? Because flatbedders detest having to park next to a running reefer.

“Wow. So it's like trailerism,"  he quipped. Year would come to define trailerism thusly:

Trailerism (Noun -- Politics -- Disapproving)
Definition: The erroneous belief that one type of work involving a specific type of semi-trailer is superior to another and that anyone who does an inferior type of work is less of a person for doing so. Trailerism often occurs in the form of a crude joke. Example: "How do bull haulers practice safe sex? They mark the ones that kick."

The coinage would go on to inspire the formation of the Anti-Trailerism League of America (ATLA), whose rather ambitious motto is ¿Eqos de colores diversum queo conficio, quare ne transportus cum carrum diversum?, which roughly translates to “Horses of different colors can get along; why can't truckers with different trailers?” 

The league is headed by an obscure figure within the trucking industry, one Lenwood C. Barstow. What follows is part of my talk with Barstow, conducted via Zoom. 

'The more these truckers preach about brotherhood, the more they wind up hating each other when the free hot dogs run out.' --Lenwood C. Barstow 

“Recently one of our members heard a joke at a diner near Portales, New Mexico,” Barstow began. 

It went like this:

How can you tell if a steel hauler has been eating fried chicken?

Answer: The tips of his fingers are clean.

Space between two different trailers“We're not going to breach the trailial divide with one conversation at a diner,” said Barstow, “but we're holding Zoom seminars with our members on how to engage within the over-the-road space with tact and respect about how jokes like that are trailerist in nature, and designed to keep us divided."

“We believe that a certain Washington-based entity, which deploys functionaries within the vortex of the regulators and trucking industry, may possibly be playing a role in circulating these jokes in service of their mega-fleet masters," Barstow said. "If they can keep the bull haulers and flatbedders fighting, then we’re never going to take this industry back.”

Though he declined to mention the entity or even the masters by name, Barstow, a self-described “veteran of five failed protest convoys,” said any new wins on the advocacy front will occur, in the main, digitally. 

"Truth is, the more these truckers preach about brotherhood, the more they wind up hating each other's guts once the free hot dogs run out," Barstow said. "Instead of trying to get people together physically, which is costly, annoying, and typically doesn't involve a free shower program, we’ve got to raise awareness using technology. We’ve got to make our fellow drivers realize that equipment aesthetics and function do not comprise identity. The trailer doesn’t define the man -- or woman -- any more than the length of a shifter indicates a driver's virility." 

Barstow himself recently converted to a 2021 Freightliner Cascadia with an automatic transmission in what you could easily interpret as a bid to reinforce the anti-trailerist message. "We're after hearts and minds, here,” he said.

When queried about a website sympathizers might access for more information, Barstow maintained that the ATLA is a secret society that can be joined only by invitation or referral.

“The hazing process is brutal,” he added. "We only want people who are 100 percent ATLA.  

“If you qualify, one of us will be contacting you. We’re not after likes and views at the Anti-Trailerism League of America. It’s about human dignity. This is about people’s lives."

Readers can contact Long Haul Paul directly to get a message to Barstow. Use #truckingaprilfoolsday in the subject line of any message.

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