Jim Freeland first climbed behind the wheel of a rig in 1948, shortly after dropping out of high school. On his first run, he drove a ’48 F 8 Ford to Chicago with a load of general freight. “The truck had two speeds: slow and slower than that,” he chuckles.
It’s easy to lose track of time talking to this OOIDA Senior VIP member from Statesville, NC. He can put you on the edge of your seat as he recounts the day nearly 50 years ago that while driving down the curvy and winding Fancy Gap road in Virginia that his brakes overheated. He vividly describes how he fought the Diamond T for five miles as he raced down the mountain and finally, found a ditch and turned the rig on its side.
Jim’s trucking tales about his experiences behind the wheel make you very aware of how different the industry was a half century ago. Jim can tell you stories about the days when truckers traveled mostly down two-lane roads where passing another vehicle was infrequent. Inside the rig, comfort didn’t exist. Sitting in the cab during a hot summer day without air conditioning while bouncing up and down on a seat in need of shock absorbers was an average day. All the while, Jim says, your maximum speed was about 45 mph, downhill.
Freeland says he’s enjoyed the good times the trucking industry has provided and survived the bad. Through it all, he has always been willing to stand up for the industry. In 1974, when diesel prices jumped from about 23 cents per gallon to 40 cents, he took part in blockading a Knoxville, TN, truckstop for seven days, blocking fuel trucks from passing through. “It wasn’t until they got a court order telling us to move that we let them through,” Jim recalls. During the ’79 shutdown he took part in another blockade of diesel fuel movements in Charlotte, NC. “I was charged with resisting arrest because I wouldn’t move,” he said. Shortly afterward, he drove to Washington, DC, to speak with legislators about the high fuel prices. “It was hard to get anything accomplished up there on my own. That was about the time I joined OOIDA,” he said.
Todd Spencer, OOIDA vice president, considers Jim to be a valuable resource. “Jim has grown up with the trucking industry. He has always been active in the industry and has a tremendous amount of insight,” Spencer said. “OOIDA is proud to claim him as a member.”
Jim trucked hard through the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s. Then, after years of thinking about going back to school to fulfill his requirements to graduate, he earned his high school diploma at the age of 61. “My entire family watched me graduate,” he said. “I think there were more people there for me than anybody else. I was very proud.”
In the early ’90s, Jim stepped away from trucking to spend more time with his ailing wife, Betty. In 1997, after 47 years of marriage, she passed away. Then, after more than five years away from the rig, Jim decided to get back behind the wheel. “I had to get out of the house,” he said. “I didn’t like being in the house alone. I wanted to keep busy so I decided to get back behind the wheel.” Jim has since been running short trips hauling general commodities freight for Douglas & Sons of Statesville.
Trucking isn’t the only activity that now keeps Jim Freeland “out of the house.” Adding to his list of accomplishments, Jim recently earned his pilot’s license. “I think I got my license because the instructor didn’t want to have to get back in the plane with me,” he laughs. According to Jim, the biggest difference between trucking and flying is “there are no interstates to guide you in a plane.” He also noted that “flying is a piece of cake compared to driving a truck on Elk Mountain on black ice with 40 mph side wind.”
Restoring his ’46 Chevy pickup for the last few years is one of his favorite pastimes. He also is a member of the American Truck Historical Society. In the late ’40s, he worked at a shop building and hauling racecars for NASCAR legends like Junior Johnson. He also built “bootleg cars.” “If I hadn’t married at about that time, I might have been put in jail,” Jim said.
Jim also enjoys talking on amateur radio. “I talk with people all over the world,” he said. “The radio keeps me company and I can find out what’s going on elsewhere. Plus, I get to argue back and forth and debate with people,” he laughs.
He was forced to slow down recently following shoulder surgery, which kept him out of the truck for a couple of months. “I felt like a one-armed paper hanger trying to keep up with all the gears there for a while,” he said. “I climbed the walls not being able to drive or do anything else.” Over the past few months, the shoulder has healed enough to allow him to get back out on the road. “It still hurts, but it’s mind over matter now.”
Looking back on his life as a trucker, Jim says he has no regrets. “If I had it to do it all over again I would like to think I would do it smarter, of course. There were some tough times, but I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve met a lot of good people through trucking.”
For 71-year-old Jim Freeland, the special lure of trucking is that it is not entirely about the money. He says he plans to drive as long as he enjoys it. “I’ve driven all these years, not just for the money, but because I enjoy