Speakout – December 2008

El Turbo

“Back in those days, that was the look – aluminum. It didn’t match the truck,”
says antique truck collector Jerry Howard of Fairborn, Ohio, of the sleeper on his 1949 Peterbilt 350. He bought El Turbo in 2006, restored it and won First in Antique Working Truck at the 2006 Pride & Polish. The truck’s boxy sleeper was custom-made for Gene Smith, known as “the West Coast Legend.” The truck, which Smith ran on the California coast from 1970 to 1998, was featured on the October 1976 cover of Overdrive.I was a trainer for Werner Enterprises for nearly three years and an owner-operator for the fleet for just under a year when I was involved in a terrible accident.

Werner helped me through hell
On May 29, 2006, I was on Maine’s Kennebec River when my boat struck a submerged log and threw me into the water. The boat ran me over twice as it traveled uncontrolled in a circle, and I received deep cuts across my arms, chest, fingers and face.

I awoke 26 days later at Maine Medical Center. A week after regaining consciousness, I called Werner to find out the status of my 2003 Freightliner Century, which was financed though the fleet. They immediately suspended the $1,600-per-month truck payments and made sure my insurance premium was paid each month. I was in the hospital for five more weeks, learning how to walk. My badly mangled right arm was amputated above the elbow, and I had limited use of my left hand.

When I was released from the hospital, Werner gave me time to find a driver for my truck. They continued to pay my insurance premium from my escrow maintenance account and allowed me to pull money from escrow to pay pressing bills. When I couldn’t find a qualified driver, they made arrangements for me to turn my truck in with no recovery fee.

They also started me on 18 months of COBRA insurance from the truck’s recovery date, not the accident date, and gave me the remaining balance of my escrow account.

Werner has told me that when I re-establish my CDL, I have a guaranteed job with them. I now can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Even before the accident, Werner repeatedly proved to me that driver retention is important. I truly am grateful to everyone who rooted for me to pull through.
Roger Mackbach
Turner, Maine

Want better treatment? Act right
I’m responding to Frank Gonzales’ letter in the August WriteOn [“No one appreciates what truckers do for others”] about truckers being perceived as scumbags.

My grandfather and father drove, back when truck drivers were respected, and were courteous and friendly to other motorists. I rode with them when I was a child, and they took the time to help someone stranded on the road. People in those days were glad to see a truck driver lend a hand.

But times have changed. Most of today’s American truck drivers don’t speak English and park their truck across five dock doors, blocking everything. They dump trash on the pavement and throw bottles of urine in parking lots. They use profane language on the CB and are rude to other truck drivers.

If my grandfather and father still were alive, they would be ashamed of today’s trucker, as my truck-driving brother and I are today. Not all drivers act unprofessionally, but a majority do.

If truckers don’t want to be labeled as scumbags, then they should stop acting like scumbags. The actions of a few affect us all.
Steve Baker
Russellville, Mo.

Clean CDLs are to be treasured
Linda Longton’s August Viewpoint [“Bad drivers’ days are numbered”] was a great perspective. Drivers are abused, unappreciated and ignored, yet they have a prerequisite that cannot be purchased: experience. A driver with good experience and a clean record has something to be treasured. No amount of money can create a clean driving record with years of experience; it must be earned.

Drivers are captains of their ships as they truck along the concrete sea, and deserve more credit than they receive. It starts with drivers demanding this credit and respect.
Danny Schnautz
Pasadena, Texas

Military contract is fishy
I’m a carrier of military freight, and flabbergasted at the recent $1.6 billion Defense Transportation Coordination Initiative contract awarded to Con-way subsidiary Menlo Worldwide Government Services.

How is our government going to save money hiring private contractors to do what the military already is paid to do? I would like to know how many generals got promised jobs, after signing off on this one. Our government and our troops are getting sold down the river.

I find it difficult to believe this deal will result in a more cost-effective or “precise and reliable” shipping operation. Perhaps our soldiers would not be waiting in the fields for supplies and equipment if some of those dollars were put into the military budget.

If we paid our young soldiers what they are worth and got rid of private contractors, we would never lose a battle, and we would never have a lack of troops in our military. They would never be waiting for the supplies they need.

Instead, the government wastes more money on another boondoggle to fatten the pockets of people who don’t care what happens. I am glad that I am 60 years old.Maybe I won’t see this nation fall because of too many people putting themselves before the country they should be protecting.
Russ Mills
Rochester, Wash.

Are you concerned about cross-border trucking with Mexico?
“I am absolutely concerned … because competitive wages are low as it is. I know they will go down even more.”
AmeriSouth Recycling

“It’s fine how it is now, with Mexican drivers just bringing loads across to Laredo. But if it changes, we’ll get less work. It would be better if they would just bring the loads to Laredo and let us take them.”
Laredo, Texas
Intercon Carriers LC

“Cross-border trucking takes away jobs.”
Peru, Ill.
National Freight

“I could care less, really. It doesn’t affect me because I don’t think Mexican drivers will take American work.”
Tuscaloosa, Ala.
Boyd Bros.

“As long as we all have the same laws and regulations, and a level playing field, I think it’s all right.”
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
Q-Line Trucking

“It takes away jobs, it’s unsafe, and they aren’t held to the same standards as everyone else. They don’t have a national database for crime or past accidents or driver’s licenses. They don’t have log book rules. They can drive for 13 hours over there and just start a new one when they cross the border. The rules aren’t the same.”
Lumberton, Texas
Pro Transport

Ticket to ride
In 1975, Mike Pompura was 20 years old, tired of factory work and without trucking experience when he borrowed $5,000 to buy this 1969 White. It had a 290-hp non-turbo Cummins and a 10-speed transmission with a tag axle. The roof-mounted air conditioner didn’t work. The truck’s top speed hovered around 62 mph with the engine turning 2,100 to 2,300 rpms.

“I wanted to get by with a minimum truck and a minimum price,” Pompura recalls. He soon took an owner-operator’s course and signed a lease agreement with Mayflower.

Pompura had driven over the road for six months when a drunk driver, speeding the wrong way down an Interstate exit ramp in Louisville, Ky., smashed into him and was killed.

“That was the end of that truck,” says Pompura, who’s been driving for 30 years. The 52-year-old owner-operator owns Florida Expedited Delivery, based in Orlando.

MIKE HARKINS of Hesperia, Calif., bought his first truck, a 1954 LT Mack, in the early 1960s. “I kept it for five years, and by then everything was falling off faster than I could put it back on,” he says. The Mack had a butterfly hood, and its wings would pop open and flutter at highway speeds. The truck lacked air conditioning, air ride and just about any other comfort, Harkins says, in that age “when truck drivers were truck drivers.”

ART HAUBERT of Snyder, Texas, was 19 in 1970 when he bought his first truck, a 1967 Freightliner cabover. “I didn’t have a chauffeur’s license. You had to be 21 at the time to have a chauffeur’s license. Back then it was no big deal. I got pulled three times and got a ticket for between $35 and $45, and they just told me to be careful.” Summer heat often forced Haubert out of the cab, which wasn’t air conditioned. “I would sleep on a hammock I tied under the trailer.”

Do you recall the most memorable truck you ever owned? Maybe it was your first and not much to look at, but one you were proud of nonetheless. Or maybe it’s one that served you well beyond a million miles, defying all odds of longevity.

How about your most memorable haul? The one where everything went wrong, or you encountered a bizarre situation, or you received – or gave – a kindness in time of need.

Send your submissions and contact information to Overdrive, P.O. Box 3187, Tuscaloosa AL 35403, or e-mail them to [email protected]. Include your recollections and, if possible, a print or digital photo; prints will be returned.

Published submitters will receive a keychain pocketknife and an Overdrive hat, license plate and newly designed T-shirt.

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