Mike Parkhurst’s friends say they will remember Overdrive’s founder and longtime editor for championing deregulation and the cause of the owner-operator.
Parkhurst died Monday, July 21, of a heart attack while visiting his children in California. A closed service is planned for the activist and filmmaker. Although 81, his death surprised friends because he had been active and seemed in good health.
In 1961, Michigan trucker John Carny met the former owner-operator turned publisher at a truck stop, where he was distributing the inaugural issues of Overdrive. Over the years, they collaborated on business ideas, most recently a project to promote highway safety to a wide-scale audience.
“Parkhurst spent his entire life trying to better the trucking industry,” Carny said. “He had an uncanny ability to see through cheats, liars and lowlifes in this business.”
Mike Reilly, chairman and CEO of Randall-Reilly, publisher of Overdrive, said Parkhurst’s enthusiasm for his causes and the industry are to be admired.
“Mike Parkhurst was an icon in the trucking industry,” Reilly said. “Whether you liked him or didn’t, whether you were on his side or weren’t, you had to admire his passion.”
Retired owner-operator Don Kottchade was Minnesota’s state representative in the Independent Truckers Association. Founded by Parkhurst on Overdrive’s first anniversary, ITA sought to protect truckers’ interests and provide services. “Deregulation wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for him,” Kottchade said.
“Tenacious is the word. I’ve never seen anything like his drive to get something done. He’s a typical Type A individual with big heart.”—Russ Meyer
The legacy of the early 1980s legislation that began the process of economic deregulation of the trucking industry remains contentious to this day. Some blame depressed rates since those times on deregulation, while others see the removal of barriers to getting carrier authority that it brought as the very lynchpin of the success of their businesses. Recent comments from readers (see below) illustrate the division, but one thing is certain: Parkhurst “always knew how to get audience with a congressman,” Carny recalled.
Parkhurst asked ITA members to display a truck banner supporting the 1981 Economic Recovery Tax Act. Years later, during a 2000 congressional debate, his letter was quoted in support of repealing the fuel excise tax.
In 1966, Parkhurst started Roadmasters to publicize “the trucking industry’s current plight to the proper authorities.” National conventions drew prominent speakers, including former President Gerald Ford in 1980.
He also used publicity stunts to bring attention to issues such as outdated laws. At 29, the California resident mounted his horse Confusion, attached a sign reading “20th century roads, 19th century law!” and road the Palomino to Texas.
After selling Overdrive to the Alabama-based Randall-Reilly (then called Randall Publishing) in 1986, he remained in the industry, from hauling steel OTR to producing the DVD “Trucker Wars” and the ebook “Semi-Justice–Digging OPEC’s Grave.”
California Overland’s Russ Meyer was involved in “Trucker Wars,” which documented the trucker strikes of 1974, 1979 and 1983. Parkhurst was “very knowledgeable, very good at putting thoughts into words,” recalls Meyer, who heads the Minnesota-based carrier.
“Tenacious is the word,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like his drive to get something done. He’s a typical Type A individual with big heart.”
Parkhurst himself may have summarized his outlook on life in an article urging readers to contact lawmakers about unfavorable trucking legislation. The cover of the first Overdrive promoted the story with the headline, “Silence Is Dangerous.”
More voices on Parkhurst:
Dick Butler: What a shock. Just reconnected with Mike a month ago, after many years. Had a great phone call and a few long emails. We were going to have coffee on my way though Minnesota next trip. I met him when I was in my late teens and he always had the independent’s best interest first. His push for deregulation is the reason Denka Trucking is in existence. He helped a lot of us who were operating outside the rules become legit and grow. R.I.P., my friend. See you on the other side.
Jim Stewart: A real legend has departed. May Mike Parkhurst rest in peace. I met Mike a number of times over the years. He actually was responsible for me choosing trucking as a career back in the 60s. I know I faithfully purchased every new issue of Overdrive magazine from the mid0-60s up while Mike was editor/publisher of the magazine. I too proudly belonged to the Independent Truckers Association back in the early 70s. It’s amazing the history we’ve witnessed in this rough business, along with the many adventures we’ve had over the years. Those outlaw trucking days are now long gone. Sadly, the respect we had back then with the general public and among ourselves has all but disappeared with a past era. I sure hope Overdrive takes the time to increase coverage of some of that past history of this magazine, those trucks, the truckers, and Mike himself. Who knows, it may cause a few folks to take a little more pride in this business that many of us once had? Goodbye, Mike. May God bless your family.
Roger Galloway: He was at first my boss, then my friend and brother. I knew him well for 45 years. I worked with him on Overdrive, “Moonfire,” plus a movie script I wrote and a TV special, “Truckin’ in Nashville,” and countless other projects. We laughed and fought together over the years. He had a strong will, was a creative genius, and never gave up. He was truly one of a kind. I last spoke to him two days before he died. He was working on an idea for a TV trucking series for the Discovery Channel. He worked right up to his passing and he certainly came across as someone much younger than his age. I’ll salute him with a final toast (among the many we had together over the years). Mike, I will definitely miss you. I know truckers will miss you and remember all you did for them, and I’m so glad you were with family at the end.
Tom Puckett: [Parkhurst] was a big supporter of deregulation — bad idea. Out of the top 500 trucking companies around during the 70s I don’t think one survived. All of those middle-class jobs vanished. Today trucks are moving freight for a dollar a mile.
Gene Hall: I have my own authority because of deregulation. I do not haul freight for a dollar a mile — last year … I averaged 2.43 cents per mile for every mile I put on my truck from the start of the year to the end. Mike was a champion to me.
Larry Aungst: I was there — deregulation was bad, but [Parkhurst] was not the only one who pushed it! A lot of the big union trucking companies bit the dust back then, and thousands of jobs were lost … Times change.
John Deter: One last ride, Mike. Thanks from all of us old guys.
–Todd Dills contributed to this report.