Turbulence marks the American memory: Vietnam, civil-rights marches and assassinations of the 1960s and economic and political strife of the 1970s. Older truckers share those memories, but closer to their hearts were their own battles for better treatment carried out via highway blockades, truck shutdowns and government office protests.
Overdrive was often at the forefront of their fights. Under colorful founder Mike Parkhurst, an ex-trucker who owned the magazine in its first 25 years, Overdrive targeted a wide-ranging enemies list – corrupt politicians, the Interstate Commerce Commission, crooked police, railroads, dishonest brokers, motor carriers, truck makers, inadequate truck stops – in its editorials, on the highways, in the courthouses and on Capitol Hill.
In September 1961, the magazine debuted with headlines such as “Silence Is Dangerous,” urging readers to contact lawmakers about unfavorable trucking legislation. Overdrive provided postage-paid cards for readers to submit gripes. “The more names we have in our file, the more weight we carry in our fight against higher taxes and unfair taxes,” the article read.
On its first anniversary, Overdrive launched the Independent Truckers Association, a nonprofit owner-operators group to protect truckers’ interests and provide services such as truck stop discounts. But when ITA’s enrollment disappointed Parkhurst, he skipped the November 1962 issue, and in the next issue, he blasted trucker apathy.
That November, he made headlines with another protest. The California resident saddled up his horse, Confusion, and rode to El Paso, Texas, to protest outdated motor vehicle laws. Parkhurst, then 29, attached a sign to his Palomino that read “20th century roads, 19th century law!”
In 1966, Overdrive began another organization, Roadmasters, with the goal of publicizing “the trucking industry’s current plight to the proper authorities.” That association lasted years, and its national conventions drew speakers as prominent as former President Gerald Ford in 1980.
Don Ridzon Sr. of Ohio says he joined Roadmasters because “a large number of people are strong.” The Roadmasters sticker on a truck or trailer deterred law enforcement harassment, he says. “They’d see the Roadmasters decal, and you might get a warning,” he says.
In January 1963, Overdrive‘s “Avalanche!” section was born, where readers were asked to contact officials about an issue affecting truckers. In 1964, Overdrive gave free subscriptions to readers who had letters published in newspapers. The next year, the publication investigated truck stops and motels to see if they turned away black truckers. Soon, Overdrive began accepting collect calls from distressed truckers who had questions or wanted to report run-ins with the law. By 1972, Overdrive was paying hotel accommodations in Washington for truckers who went to Capitol Hill.
Any wrongdoing against truckers was magazine fodder, remembers C.O. Bruce Jr., a Texas owner-operator leased to W.W. Rowlands Trucking of Texas. Bruce recalls visiting the magazine’s California offices March 20, 1967, the day editors received a phone call from Roadmaster James Chiles, who had been stopped by an Arizona inspector. Chiles refused to allow the inspector into his trailer. When he entered anyway, Chiles locked him inside until police arrived to prove his rights were violated. Roadmasters’ lawyers later won reduced charges for Chiles, from more than $1,000 and five years in prison to $25 and two weeks in jail.
Overdrive‘s persistent demands for fairer laws for truckers and its involvement in strikes and shutdowns also helped readers. “Overdrive planted the seed through their magazine and helped to get people organized,” Bruce says.
In the 1970s, Overdrive accompanied several groups that went to Washington, D.C., or their state capitals to fight for better conditions.
In early December 1973, truckers blockaded highways in several states to protest fuel prices and speed limits. Another strike occurred after Overdrive distributed thousands of posters demanding a trucker shutdown Dec. 13 and 14.
Bruce remembers shutting down for a week. Chris Yoder, a Missouri owner-operator, also remembers parking his truck in protest. “It was supposed to turn things around, but it didn’t,” Yoder recalls.
Another owner-operator shutdown occurred in 1978 over fuel prices, and in June 1979, a second national shutdown lasted at least two weeks. The ’79 strike resulted in a federal mandatory fuel surcharge, which Overdrive criticized as affecting only half of the independent truckers and providing too little compensation.
Paul Ace of Pennsylvania, whose Paul E. Ace Trucking was featured as Small Fleet of the Month in the December 1971 Overdrive, remembers participating in the ’79 shutdown. “I shut my truck down a couple days because people were throwing rocks off of overpasses,” Ace recalls. It was often unclear who was behind the violence or why.
Retired owner-operator John Parkinson Jr. of Pennsylvania recalls steel-hauling owner-operators rebelling in 1967. The steel haulers were Teamsters but formed their own group, the Fraternal Association of Steel Haulers, and won better conditions. Parkinson, who was a FASH zone leader, says the strike protested unreasonable wait times, unfair treatment and other issues. “We were shut down for over two months,” Parkinson says. “I almost lost everything I had.” Parkinson, who had owned two trucks and two trailers, found himself blacklisted and spent years as a company driver before buying a truck in again in 1981.
A second FASH strike ensued in 1969. According to published reports, both the Teamsters and FASH members had guns and weapons, and it was more violent than the first strike.
Other Overdrive editorials and stories ran from serious examinations of problems to humorous contests, such as the “Filthiest Truck Stop of the Month.”
The activism of the ’60s and ’70s was largely replaced by more substantive changes in the ’80s and ’90s, and Overdrive remained on top of developments.
The Motor Carrier Act of 1980 effectively deregulated the trucking industry, a change that Overdrive had advocated for decades. Two years later, the federal Surface Transportation Act set uniform weight and length laws throughout the United States. Before the ’80s ended, Congress established national requirements for licensing commercial drivers.
More recently, federal officials proposed broad changes to the 60-year-old hours-of-service rule. The magazine’s extensive coverage of the negative impact of the federal plan won an award from the American Society of Business Publication Editors. Owner-operator outcry over these and other issues has been closely followed in Overdrive, says Editor Linda Longton. “Overdrive has led trucker causes since it began in 1961,” Longton says. “And it will continue to herald owner-operator issues.”
Overdrive will celebrate its 40th anniversary with a cross-country tour beginning Aug. 5 and concluding at the Great American Trucking Show, Sept. 7-9, in Dallas. See pages 32 and 36 for a schedule, a list of prizes and other details.