Listening to old hand truckers talk about the good ol’ days, one would think that the highways were paved smoothly with gold, trucks never broke down, truck stops were paradises, waitresses all looked like Marilyn Monroe and the DOT were a bunch of morons who were easily duped. It just goes to show that memories viewed through rose-colored glasses distort the facts; trucking was not perfect back in the day, though I think it was better for drivers.
In my opinion, the two lane highways in Iowa were the most dangerously designed back then. Most had sloped curbing on them and if one were to hit it just right, it either would throw you into the other lane, or could flip you over. The interstate system was being built in the 70’s and 80’s; many remember when stretches were finished. I remember well when I-40 was completed through Williams west of Flagstaff Arizona. Of course, the town’s ticket revenue fell drastically.
It was not unusual to see a driver rebuilding an engine at a truck stop or rest area, but that driver would usually have two or three other drivers there helping. One time, the throttle spring broke, in the middle of the desert, on the truck I was driving. Two drivers stopped and using a bungee strap, fixed it so I could continue on to a truck shop. The trucks back then were easier to work on than now, but harder to drive. Power steering was non-existent; air ride might be in your seat if you were lucky, but the truck rode on springs and one crawled over the doghouse and crawled through a hole in the back of the cab to enter the bunk. About the bunks, most were small twin, like bunk bed, sized and there was little or no storage in most.
Perhaps the biggest changes have happened in the truck stops. There did not used to be huge nationwide chains of truck stops. A few small chain facilities were dotted around the country such as the Bingo’s, 76’s or Husky truck stops, but not close to what it is today with TA/Petro and Pilot. Most truck stops were mom and pop places with room for trucks and who had a couple of diesel pumps, there was only one hose; you would throw the hose under the truck to fuel the other side. Many truck stops had bunkrooms for drivers; small motel like rooms with a bed, t.v. and perhaps a bathroom or one was down the hall. The showers were in the men’s room and just a stall; no private showers back then. Women drivers would have to find someone to guard the door while they showered quickly. It was sure nice when we women found a truck stop with either the rare private showers or a shower stall in the lady’s room.
Services provided for truckers were wonderful at many of these mom and pop truck stops. At some, one could pull onto the fuel island, the attendant would fuel your truck, check your oil and wash your truck while you were in having a free piece of pie and a cup of coffee; some even parked the truck. One could register with the fuel desk for a wake-up call and be assured that the wake-up call came on time and with a cup of coffee or tea. Most cafÃ©s had a driver’s section with at least one big round table for the drivers to congregate. Though waitresses did not look like Marilyn Monroe often, they were attentive to truck drivers for the most part and served truckers quickly. The food was better then too, fresh made instead of frozen and microwaved.
The DOT back then were not morons. However, both truckers and DOT officers had their roles to play in the trucking game and both played them well. Regulations were easier and fewer, so being legal was easier. There were not the super scales like there are today, most were small buildings; you can still see some of them in service today, for instance, the I-35 northbound scale north of Kansas City Missouri. California was more trucker friendly back then, though the DOT officers were just as tough. Most inspections were done roadside in wide spots along the highways left for that purpose. At the few scales around in California, especially in the agricultural valleys, courtesy weighs could be had if you asked nicely.
The biggest change in trucking I have seen over my 40-year career is the loss of the camaraderie among drivers. This has changed with the prevalence of just in time freight scheduling, cell phones and the changing of trucks stops to ”˜travel plazas’.
Today it is rare to see a bunch of drivers running along the highway ratchet jawing on the CB and all stopping en mass for coffee or a meal. Gone are the round tables in driver’s areas in truck stop cafes where anyone could pull up a chair and join in. A usual sight on truck stops around the country used to be a bunch of drivers getting together and cooking out on a weekend. I have not seen that very often in years. Now, a trucker is more apt to sit in their trucks when laid over for the weekend playing on their laptops or watching movies.
The CB is filled with CB rambos with most drivers listening to satellite radio or talking on their cell phones; I remember running many night time miles listening to someone running near me singing on the CB or telling clean jokes back and forth, I have not done that in years. Put out a call on the CB 20 years ago that you needed help and it was not a whipstitch of time before four or five trucks were there on the shoulder with you trying to help.
Has trucking changed over the years for the better? Yes, in many ways it has; better equipment with more comforts for the driver, easier communication with cell phones or satellite, more truck stops to name a few ways. Personally, I will keep on my rose-colored glasses and remember fondly those days long ago. Trucking was definitely harder in many ways, but it was also more satisfying and driver friendly. However, I do not think I would give up the conventional truck I now drive, with air ride everything, jake brakes and my cell phone, to go back to those days, rose-colored glasses or not.