by Jason Cisper
In 1979, the trucking industry faced a crunch that likely strikes a chord with many owner-operators today: Skyrocketing fuel prices. And OOIDA and Land Line were in the thick of the discussion.
Just a few years after the Arab oil embargo in 1974, confrontations in the Middle East had once again driven fuel prices to new heights. Many owner-operators were left with the tab. OOIDA sent repeated warnings to the federal government noting that if relief wasn't soon in coming, a work stoppage would result. The drama appeared to be escalating in much the same manner as it had five years earlier. Eventually, truckers nationwide opted to park their trucks for a few weeks. When the association - on behalf of truckers nationwide - demanded assistance, Land Line was there to cover the story.
Running under the headline, "Shutdown '79: Rerun of a 1974 disaster movie," Land Line, in the summer of 1979, reported the details leading up to the strike (as well as the incidents that followed). Because OOIDA was instrumental in the hearings during the shutdown, Land Line acted as a direct line to truckers who might not otherwise be "in the know." And while other publications remained silent, OOIDA's official publication was facing the crisis head-on. And the staff wasn't pulling any punches.
"No amount of verbal contact (was able to produce) the much-needed help the owner-operators had to have (in order to stay in business)," the magazine recounted. "Therefore, it took a 2 x 4 piece of lumber upside the head to get (the federal government's) attention ... that 2 x 4 was 'Shutdown '79' by the owner-operators."
The association's proposals were clearly presented. They were: 100 percent fuel availability for big trucks, a means to recoup increased fuel costs (via a surcharge) and uniform size and weight limits (thus breaking down the "iron curtain" and allowing Interstate commerce to flow from coast to coast). When OOIDA President Jim Johnston appeared before the Senate's Subcommittee on Energy Conservation and Regulation, the magazine recounted his bold statements: "For the two months prior to these actions, our association tried desperately to get your help to head off the problem we knew was coming. Unfortunately, our pleas have, thus far, fallen on deaf ears. As a result, out of sheer desperation, truckers have resorted to getting attention the only way they know how."
And the staff at Land Line was not afraid to call 'em like they saw 'em.
"Many of the other trucker associations and a steady stream of 'truckstop movie stars' thought it was time to get their two cents worth in," one article stated regarding the shutdown. "And, unfortunately, that was about all that a lot of it was worth."
After a few weeks, the strike eventually drew to a close. Unfortunately, other media outlets had incorrectly reported that the strike was breaking up, causing a rift that resulted in truckers going back to work. The short-lived strike did make enough waves to warrant change. Land Line reported that the strike brought about some results. Among them, a regular update of the ICC fuel surcharge program (and investigation of carriers who were not passing through surcharges to their owner-operators), a DOT hotline for locating fuel supplies and an increase in allowable truck size and weights in numerous states (eventually leading to federal uniform limits).
"Our efforts," said Johnston, "were made possible only through the loyal support of a small minority... To the members who made our efforts possible, we wish to express our sincere gratitude for your support. You shook the mountain!"
Watch for a new article chronicling the history of Land Line in the August/September issue.
In the April issue, we featured a bit of magazine history in a story we just call Land Line history). Staff writer Jason Cisper mentioned that in September of '74, the membership dropped to 30. Days later, OOIDA President Jim Johnston received a letter from Myron "Mike" L. DeChaine of Tulsa, OK. Myron read the article and just had to say hello and remind us he was one of the original 30 members.
Reminiscing about the '70s, Myron recalls other groups that were born of the frustration of the times.
"Jim hung on and I guess we're the only 'real ones' out there now," writes Myron.
"It was great hearing from him," says Johnston, "I recall Myron being recruited by Dave Watson, who told me at the time it took some convincing but he had signed up his boss as a member. Dave said when Myron made a commitment, however, he would take it very seriously. And he certainly has."
Myron tells us he retired from Belger Cartage Service four years ago. He was with Belger as an owner-operator for more than 25 years. He is still a proud member of OOIDA and has a platinum VIP lifetime membership.