‘Over the Road’ episode 3: A brief history of trucking in America

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Updated Jan 26, 2021

Previously on Over the Road: Channel One-Nine Special -- Our favorite roads

No. 3 in the eight-episode Over the Road podcast series, a collaboration between Overdrive and PRX’s Radiotopia, is available today, charting the history of the trucking business from the early 20th century through the Motor Carrier Act of 1935 regulating much of the business (and exempting ag) through 1980s deregulation and up to the present. Host “Long Haul Paul” Marhoefer sits down for a lively truck-stop-counter debate with career household goods-hauling owner-operator Finn Murphy, author of The Long Haul: A Trucker’s Tales of Life on the Road.

Read more about Murphy and his book via this link to Marhoefer’s 2018 talk with him, part of the “Faces of the Road” series of oral histories/interviews.Read more about Murphy and his book via this link to Marhoefer’s 2018 talk with him, part of the “Faces of the Road” series of oral histories/interviews.

The conversation in the episode, embedded above (and available via a variety of podcast players if you add the OTR show to your favorites there), covers how the industry’s regulatory history helped shape today’s trucking culture. It traces developments from the 1935 legislation, with its partitioning of rate-regulated freight from exempt agriculture goods, to the 1980s when deregulation had profound impacts on driver pay and independents’ opportunities. Such tumultuous changes help explain the bedrock values of freedom and independence that many drivers treasure today.

Along the way, Marhoefer introduces listeners to a personal hero, former independent and sometime back-in-the-day wildcatter Theldon Thornburgh of Indiana, now in his 90s.

Retired independent and former wildcatter Theldon Thornburgh, 93, telling his story to Marhoefer (right) for Episode 3, in part illustrating how high freight rates for regulated commodities of the pre-deregulation era presented opportunity for those willing to moonlight outside of unregulated agricultural freight. | Photo by Denise MarhoeferRetired independent and former wildcatter Theldon Thornburgh, 93, telling his story to Marhoefer (right) for Episode 3, in part illustrating how high freight rates for regulated commodities of the pre-deregulation era presented opportunity for those willing to moonlight outside of unregulated agricultural freight. | Photo by Denise Marhoefer

Next up on Over the Road: Channel One-Nine Special -- Music

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