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Just the other day...
Good. Better. Best.

I bought some gasoline for our pickup. Gasoline is sort of a new experience for me. The last time I bought some in quantity, they were selling it for fifty-something a gallon. My Girl Shirl went inside to pay the fare, which gave me some free time to stare into space and look around at nothing in particular. Almost accidentally, I spotted the gasoline billboard. Mercy! “It’s the Sears Thing!” I yelled out loud, startling an old-timer at the pump.

The “Sears Thing,” goes back to the days when Sears had a catalog. Everybody knew Sears basically sold only three things: “Good,” “Better” and “Best.” It didn’t matter if it was a sewing machine, a lawn mower, an axe, a bike, a blanket or a set of pots and pans, Sears showed you three similar items on one page and labeled them “Good,” “Better” and “Best.”

Invariably, if good cost a buck, better would cost two bucks and, logically, the best went for three bucks. It was one of the most effective marketing tools ever invented.

You might have wanted to buy “the best,” the most expensive item in the line, but sometimes you had to settle for better or even good. Now, there was nothing wrong with the item in the good category, but it just didn’t have all of those whistles and bells found on better and best.

Sure enough, I’m staring at a gasoline sign that’s screaming, “Good-Better-Best.” $1.30, $1.40 and $1.50. To sell the deal, they added three precious metals for flavor: “Silver,” “Gold” and “Platinum.” We drove to North Carolina, and at every gas station it was “Good-Better-Best.” Better cost an extra dime, and best cost two extra dimes. At some places it was “$1.33. $1.43 and $1.53.” At others it was $1.37, $1.47 and $1.57. When will we ever learn?

OOIDA June Safety Month
Want to be a winner? Run legal. Do it β€” Don’t talk about it. Just do it!

If everybody does it, they’ll cave.

I remember when the cops in the Baltimore area were thwarted by the politicians for their pay increase. They put on costumes and sat on hills by the berm off I-83, I-95 and I-70. One enterprising cop took his camper and his family for a breakdown on the highway, where they set up radar while waiting for “help.”

Another cop, dressed as a farmer, with his partner “wife” wearing a yellow wig with pigtails, used a hay wagon with a radar gun hidden in the hay. The drivers nicknamed the area where they ran their weekend sting “Mother Goose Land.”

Going 56 in the 55 zone got you a ticket. Zero tolerance! In one weekend, they wrote more than 8,000 tickets β€” mostly to the voting citizens of Baltimore and its environs. They had no intentions of backing down. “You want legal? You got legal!” was the cry of the embittered police. By the third weekend, it was over.

I thought about you guys and gals when I watched a neat movie the other night. Tom Selleck, playing the role of a decent, hard-working cowboy, probably gave the best performance of his career in a picture called “Monte Walsh.” There were classic lines. “If I can’t do it from a horse, I ain’t gonna do it.” Now that’s a cowboy!

To me, he was the truckdriver of the ’30s through the ’70s. Everything was centered on the truck and the driver’s professional pride. While giving the driver an impossible schedule, the dispatch might ask, “Can you get it there on time?” I can almost hear the driver replying, “You can count on me. If I can’t do it from a truck, I ain’t gonna do it.”

That kind of thinking, running illegal and a lot of other dishonest broker/shipper or truck company practices, has kept hundreds of thousands of drivers in debt or working for peanuts for the past 70 years. Things may have changed somewhat, but the game is the same.

Classic example: Moe Jubitz, the founding father of Jubitz’s Truck Stop, and two bright boys, Fred and Al, asked me to check out his newest venture, then called Dial-A-Truck. He had a few units in the Northwest. I went to Marty Finn’s old truckstop in Federal Way for indoctrination and education. Back then, electronic load posting was new and exciting. I sat there and watched loads and drivers for several hours. How was I to know I would soon meet an owner-operator whose driver survival skills were in the top 1 percent of the nation?

Apples were running out of Washington, and DAT had a broker advertising them from Yakima to Birmingham for .24 cwt. Guessing the tare would be 4,000 and the mileage 2,500, I started doing some mental math based on fuel at $1.33 running at 5 mpg.

Without factoring in depreciation, insurance, tires, oil, permits, food, possible lumper fees, this load didn’t make any sense until I heard a voice say, “That looks pretty good.”

“How do you figure?” I asked.

“I ain’t seen Momma for three weeks,” he grinned in reply.

When he gave me the vital numbers, I crunched them and told him, “There are four ways you can make this a paying load. 1. Stop in Albuquerque, where you break even, get a gun and hold up a convenience store. 2. Siphon fuel out of another truck. 3. Sell some of the apples before you deliver the load. 4. Don’t run legal, whatever you do.”

When asked where I learned how to figure like that, I told him Mrs. Winters taught me arithmetic in the seventh grade. He then asked me to write out the formula for him, which I did.

“How long have you been driving?” I asked.

“Eleven years, going on 12,” he replied.

That’s when I shook his hand and congratulated him on being one of the greatest survivors I had ever met. Eleven years, going on 12, running up and down these roads without a clue as to what was going on.

I wanted to tell him he was in a business that was never designed to make him rich. I wanted to yell, “The deck is stacked against you!” I also wanted to tell him how he and the “I’ll-take-any-load backhauler” were major problems for the other owner-operators who ran for profit. I didn’t have to. There was a heavy equipment hauler in the room. He was a former college professor.

“I’ve been waiting for a load that is shaping up. I’ve been here three days, but when I go home, it will be with $5,000 profit. I’m as anxious as you are to be home with my wife, but we’re in this business together for money. I run a business. I take only paying loads. I drive safely, and I drive legally. Believe it or not, I make a lot of money β€” far more than I did as a college professor.”

Two hours later, his load came through.

Never settle for good or better, when you know you can be the best. Something to think about while driving legal from point A to point B.

LL β€”The Silver Fox

Aug/Sept Digital Edition