Speakout: The Voice of the American Trucker – March 2009


Owner-operator RAY McCURRY, 56, was only 12 when the Ford bobtail he was driving down a dirt road at grain harvest started acting like a wild Mustang. “The cab started tilting up, and the more I pushed the brake, the farther it came up,” recalls McCurry, a native of Burrton, Kan, where he hauls grain. “When I got her stopped, it was all the way up, and I was staring straight down at the road,” McCurry says. The load of wheat was intact. “I guess I just hopped out, but I’ll never forget that little trip.”

Lee Tedder Trucking company driver JIMMY CRIDDLE, of Vardamon, Miss., started hauling pulpwood as a 15-year-old, in part because his father died when Criddle was 9, the youngest of 10 children. He received only one session of instructions prior to his first haul, in Calhoun City, Miss. “They were trying to teach me to turn the trailer and when I tried to back up, it would turn in the opposite direction and jackknife on me. I finally got it – after about three hours.” That training has served Criddle, 55, for more than 35 years of trucking.

JAMES JOHNSON, of San Antonio, Texas, shivers when he describes a wild ride he survived 14 years ago as he steered a Freightliner loaded with 48,000 pounds of steel down Interstate 5 in Grapevine, Calif. As he and his girlfriend headed toward Bakersfield, the brakes gave out about 3 a.m. “In those days, there was only one escape ramp, and I had to ride it down,” he says. “All I could think of was that I wasn’t going to die on that mountain because of my kids.” He recalls being angry that the engine blew and that the new brakes gave out, but mostly he was relieved.

Trucking’s changed a lot during the past few decades. Tell Overdrive about your early days behind the wheel, whether it’s heartwarming, funny or horrific.

Send your recollection and contact information to Lucinda Coulter, Overdrive, P.O. Box 3187, Tuscaloosa AL 35403, or e-mail them to [email protected]. Include a print or digital photo of yourself, if possible; prints will be returned. Published submitters will receive a keychain pocketknife and an Overdrive hat, license plate and T-shirt.

How has the economic slowdown affected you?

“It’s been bad. We went from four loads a week to one maybe a month since late October. I’m keeping enough to get by.”
Northport, Ala. | Owner-operator, JJade Hauling, Inc.

“So far I’ve been lucky. It slowed down a little bit, but I’m not sitting around.”
Hudson, Fla. | DMS Express

“My company tries to do the best they can to keep us moving. We’re trying to keep our heads above water. Nobody has anything to buy nothing with anyhow.”
Danville, Va. | Design Transportation

“One guy said it best, that you could point to any ZIP code two years ago and go to that location in the U.S. and get freight. And now 30 guys are waiting for 15 loads in any area.”
Parkton, Md. | Owner-operator
leased to CRST Malone

“I run a dedicated run so I haven’t been affected.”
Ian Cortese
Fayetteville, N.C.
Covenant Transport

“The fuel really put a binder on us and now freight has come down. We’ve got drivers who’ve been here for 10 days. We can’t find freight. It’s all-around hard on the driver.”
Limerick, Maine
L.E. Seidl

Veterans, rookies should respect one another

Soon I will leave my little oasis of home and join my fellow drivers as we deliver goods across this beautiful country. After 39 years, I still love the throb of that Pete as I ease onto the slab under a full load.

Years ago, we gathered around truck stop coffee tables, exchanged large doses of blather and doled out advice to younger guys about an occasional route around a scale or other helpful tips. Years ago, someone grabbed a pair of gloves if another driver needed help.
Now, truckers sit alone, playing on computers or eating truck stops’ idea of food. Now, over the CB, truckers make fun of inexperienced newbies.

Some changes in the profession have been positive, but shows of disrespect between veterans and rookies need to stop. If a rookie driver asks a question on the CB, he shouldn’t be put down as stupid.

Maybe we should recognize one another for who we are: drivers, pure and simple. None of us were born with a CDL in our diapers. We have earned that distinction solely by climbing behind the steering wheel and driving.

All of us fight battles of fatigue, long hours, storms, traffic and other situations that do not distinguish between those of us who have been on the highways forever or for a day. We should make those challenges easier by acknowledging our common ground instead of belittling one another.
STAN De LEEUW | Rolfe, Iowa

“My business philosophy is old-time, old-fashioned values,”
but using the most modern technology to deliver those services. Pony Express set the standard for service in their day,” says Tommy Roach, whose Tommy Roach Transportation logo includes a galloping Pony Express rider. His 1999 Peterbilt 379 took third in its class at the 2006 and 2007 Pride & Polish shows in downtown Dallas.

” Cool only goes so far when fuel prices are so high.”
– Independent driver Bill Rethwisch tells the Los Angeles Times he traded a Peterbilt 379 for a Kenworth T660 in search of better aerodynamics

“If the price is $1.80 per gallon over a year ago, there’s not much comfort knowing that even last year’s price was way too high.”

– Brian Gillespie on the June 30 estimated national diesel price of $4.65, roughly $1.80 higher than it was during the same week in 2007. His family owns a nine-truck fleet in Green Bay, Wis. The Gladwin, Mich., resident says diesel prices have forced him to park two trucks.

What is your idea of the perfect truck?

“Something like a Peterbilt, with 10-gear transmission. Something that doesn’t smoke too much. . . . A white truck.”

“One with a bathroom. Nothing fancy. Just nice on the inside. Comfortable seats, comfortable bed. You can’t drive well without a good night’s sleep.”
Memphis, Tenn. | Southern Refrigerated

“I’d like to have a decked-out Peterbilt 369. There’s nothing prettier than a black truck when it’s clean with lots of chrome.”
Jacksonville, Ala. | Sunbelt Transport

“A mattress, a good, working sleeper, a comfortable seat. I’d be partial to white myself.”
Pearl, Miss.
Atlantic Industrial Services

“I’m not too big on the fancy things. . . . So my idea of a perfect truck is no chrome, no payments, plenty of room inside.”
Noble, Okla. | J.B. Hunt

“One that has plenty of power to get you up a hill and an air conditioner that works well.”
Paducah, Ky. | Pascal Truck Lines

Plan well to survive
For an independent trucker such as myself, only one economic law applies: supply and demand. Right now there’s plenty of trucks in supply and not much demand for them. The result is many trucking companies will be forced out of business. No shipper cares how much fuel costs a trucker or what his other costs are. The shipper cares only about how much he can get a truck for. And you can be sure the federal government or the states won’t do anything to help. As Linda Longton correctly points out in her column “Be a survivor” [Viewpoint, June], owner-operators better figure out a way to survive.

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