Miss Bethany presented me with a series of questions about my passion for trucks and how I deal with my profession in today’s world of trucking. I thought I’d answer her in a different context with a story of myself and how I started watching trucks ply the roads as a child.
Today I’m known as “The Highlander” and this is my story.
As a child, anything with an engine fascinated me. I lived close to a major drag strip and would listen to the cars racing at night off in the distance. This started my passion for anything with a mechanized engine in it to grow. It was the ‘60s and this was an urban area, but my parents didn’t like the drugs and free love of the times and thought it was time to move to a safer haven. In 1972 I was uprooted and plopped down in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia along Interstate 81 in a small town with only 600 residents. I81 is a major thoroughfare for trucks heading north and south on the eastern side of this country. I no longer had cars racing in the distance to listen to, but the trucks were there–off in the distance. I could hear them for miles, depending on the type of engine and whether they had straight stacks or not. I know today this isn’t the cool motor to run, but the V8 Detroit sounded BAAAAAAAAAD back in those days. What’s even more interesting is I didn’t know at the time what I was listening to…I just liked it. The whine of the tires and the roar of the motors on a dark summer night, miles away, coming and going up and down the highway was music to me. Whenever the family took a trip up and down this Interstate, I would look at the trucks coming and going, watching the black smoke roll off the top of the trailers as the drivers accelerated up the hills. My father would always complain about the smell of burnt diesel fuel enveloping the car…I would just inhale the smell of raw power and smile. It would amaze me on certain nights how many trucks I would see running north, then two nights later see them running south, all trying to get their loads delivered.
During this time I got involved with horses. You might ask what this has to do with trucks and trucking. My father started dealing in horses and I would have to take care of them as my daily chores. Horses need to have their hooves trimmed every six weeks and the Ferrier that came to do this was a teamster driver who worked for a company called “TimeDC” for many years. He was a brute of a man of about 6’4” tall, probably weighed 250 lbs and was as strong as an ox. I watched him handle many a rank horse without putting any effort into it while I held the other end of the lead. He was a truck driver by profession and a Ferrier and horse trainer for the passion of working with horses. I thought anybody that could handle a horse and truck like this had to be the coolest person in the world.
So that’s where the desire to drive a truck got planted, but it got worse.
In the late ‘70s my best friend started driving a truck over the road for a local company. I stayed home and worked to help my father in his business. When my friend got in off the road on Friday nights, we would go out to raise Cain in the local establishments. He would have his co-workers join us. There was Water Baby, Cowboy, Jeffro and others that I didn’t know by their real names. These were their CB names used in trucking and still used by a few today. The stories of mischief this group of men had running from as far north as Boston MA to as far south as Brownsville TX each week was fascinating to me. The jokes they played on each other and the fun they had doing a job was amazing to me. I thought no one should have so much fun working. You see, I was still working a real job with my father in construction doing heating, air conditioning and commercial refrigeration.
One of the most unusual jokes they played on each other that still stands out in my mind still today is the time they found a co-worker asleep across his steering wheel in a rest area and they set him up for a rude awakening. They took a second truck out on the Interstate and turned it around to come in the exit of the rest area then pulled this truck up to the front of the sleeping driver’s truck, facing head on. Then they lined up two more trucks slightly ahead, but facing in the same direction as the sleeping driver’s truck. As a coordinated effort, the two trucks alongside started backing up slowly, while the truck facing him head on, turned his lights on and blew his horn. You can only imagine the startling awakening that poor driver went through, but all had a great laugh in the end.
I kept asking myself how it was that a group of individuals could have so much fun working. Their loads were always delivered on time and undamaged.
My friend was called “The Little Rebel” in those days, today he’s known as “Mr. Haney”. In the mid ‘80s he moved to Florida and I didn’t get to hear too many more trucking stories. Every now and again he’d stop on his way through and pick me up for a ride up north and drop me off on his way back south to home. He always had a fast running truck with the fuel cranked up, blowing smoke and running just fine. The sound and vibration of the motor working always made for a good ride to wherever he was going. The V8 CAT he had was the “baddest” of the bad company trucks he ever drove. I never thought the sound and acceleration of that truck could be duplicated. I never thought the smoke screen it left in its wake could be duplicated…but I was wrong, as time will tell.
So as you can see the addiction had started…the desire…
…fast forward to the ‘90s.
As you can remember, I was still living in a rural farming area. My younger brother decided to be a broker for hay and straw to the rich horse people in Virginia and he bought a small straight truck to deliver the product. Every now and again he needed someone to help him unload a load of hay in the barn, so I rode along. After a year or so he needed a larger truck and bought an International dump truck with a tandem axle to convert to a hay truck. This truck had a RoadRanger transmission in it and we had to teach ourselves how to shift it. I’d ridden in many a truck, but never drove one and didn’t know how hard it was to shift the transmissions in these trucks. It takes much practice and skill. In all the rides I’d taken over the years with “Mr. Haney”, I only heard him scrape a gear once and I kidded him about it. If he could have seen me that first time, I would have been blasted. I actually found a book that had written instructions on how to shift the transmissions in these trucks to teach myself. I had one friend that lived close by that took me out and showed me a how to shift. I swear to this day I still need to learn to do it better.
Before this truck could be modified to a hay truck, a friend of my brother’s talked him into working it in “the city”…this is what us country boys called Fairfax County in Virginia. All of a sudden there is a dump truck working construction jobs in an urban environment. I wasn’t driving it at this time, my brother’s friend was, but he proved to be an unreliable employee. In order to provide a steady income for the truck, my youngest brother started driving the truck. He had to travel 90 miles to and from where the truck was being parked in Fairfax County to go to work. So he drove 180 miles to and from work each day only to drive all day long while working. At the same time my wife graduated from college and went to work in the same “city” area and had to commute this long distance to work as well.
After six months of commuting, everybody grew to hate driving so much. My wife and I moved to the western edge of Fairfax County; this shortened her commute, but then I had to commute to Shenandoah County to work. My youngest brother was tired of commuting east and I was tired of commuting west, so we started trading work days. Thus, I started my professional driving career working a dump truck in one of the most crowded urban areas in the country.
The truck was being worked through a large trucking company that supplied as many as 150 dump trucks per day to large excavating contractors working the region. I got to work with the same bunch of guys each day…Wine Jug, Snake, Beaver Teaser, and a bunch of others. Again, here I was in a group of individuals that didn’t work for a job, but had a job to have a good time–with the benefit of making money. This made me decide to buy my own truck, thus starting my own small trucking company.
My beginnings were in a small tandem dump truck, but today I own and drive a tractor trailer. This transition in my career came about when I worked a construction site at Dulles International Airport. I was hauling wet concrete from a portable concrete plant to the runways that were being rebuilt. In order to make the concrete, sand had to be hauled in on dump trailers because the distance from the sand pits to the airport was so far away. I’d never worked with these dump trailers before and to watch the drivers raise their dump bodies so high in the air fascinated me………I wanted to do that. Actually, the desire to be a real truck driver came from watching these guys in their large cars delivering sand.
Finally, in the late ‘90s I had the chance to buy a new Peterbilt tractor to pull a flatbed trailer delivering hay for my brother. I bought the truck and again had to teach myself how to drive, only this time a tractor trailer compared to a small tandem axle dump truck. I would load hay in the horse country of Virginia and deliver it to the mushroom farms in and around Avondale PA. Each year I had to move 4,000 tons of hay and straw to Avondale by truck. This lasted four years before many other farmers decided to make hay for the mushroom farms. Suddenly the price of hay delivered to the mushroom farms wouldn’t even cover the shipping costs, so I sold my flatbed and bought a dump trailer.
The commodities I deliver are sand, gravel and salt using what is known in the trucking industry as a “bucket”, or an end dump trailer. With the bucket trailer I still work within a small community of drivers working the region. Their names are Bad Company, JJ, Cookie Monster, Jungle Rat, Suicide, Lil Dog, Spike, Slim Jim and others. We, as a group, loaded sand early in the mornings from an area south of here and delivered it to Northern Virginia asphalt and concrete plants. On the return run south we took crushed stone to the asphalt and concrete plants because crushed stone isn’t as plentiful south of here. The salt comes by ship into the city of Baltimore and is used to clear the ice and snow off the roads in the winter by government agencies. As a group, we had fun and always watched out for each other.
I’m the guy that made it possible for you to drive your cars up and down the highways. I’m the guy that helped build those buildings you work in. I’m the guy that helped you have a safe ride home on a cold, snowy, winter night.
I’m “The Highlander”.
Most of my friends have left this industry, yet my passion for a high horsepower truck moving great amounts of weight has kept my desire to work in this industry alive. The drivers that have come to replace them……couldn’t. The new breed of truckers today will never replace the ole timers; they’re a few with the old values, but not many. Today I travel the roads with 95% of the 4wheelers trying to make my day harder…..yet without me there wouldn’t be any smooth ice free highways for them to travel, there wouldn’t be any concrete in the buildings for them to walk in.
I now work to experiment on how to increase the horsepower of the engine in my truck because there is no fun left in trucking. I’ve got over a million miles of experience driving in one of the most crowded urban environments in this country.
When you see me out there on the roads, could you please give me a little consideration, I’m just trying to do my job, and if I’m lucky I get a chance to smile while I do it.