By Bill Hudgins
This year marks the 15th anniversary of my being what some folks call a “truck writer.” I started right after the big trucking slowdown of the early 1990s, which is when I met my friend and ace gearjammer Rufus Sideswipe.
We’ve been down some roads together, and along the way he has consistently tempered my gee-whiz reactions to the latest and greatest from the industry think tanks with old-fashioned experience and insight.
For instance, I remember early on looking at the underside of a hood on a new tractor model at the Mid-America Trucking Show one year in Louisville.
“Wow, that’s really sleek,” I said to Rufus, who I could tell saw something he didn’t like.
“It’ll cost a lot to repair when it gets dinged,” he judged. “It’s all one piece, see? Not panels. They did the same thing when they quit splitting windshields, so you have to buy a whole big piece of glass now.”
He educated me on the evolution of trailers from 48-footers to 53-footers, and why that was a double-whammy to the drivers.
“It made us more ‘productive,’ which meant we hauled more for the same pay and had to deal with getting the longer trailers into places that weren’t designed for them,” Rufus said.
Much the same kind of analysis took place when we visited a newly opened “trucktravelstoppingplazacenter.” To me, it looked like a shiny new mall, with the aroma of recently laid asphalt still in the air.
Rufus, however, immediately began picking it apart. The parking spaces were too small and close together. The building was too close to the parking lot, so trucks had to squeeze by. No drivers-only area in the restaurant. The layout tended to separate truckers from other motorists. Truckers entered through the back door, and the areas most likely to interest them were all at the back, too.
“That’s just not respectful,” Rufus muttered into his corned beef hash and eggs. “They don’t appreciate the ones that brung ’em to the dance anymore.”
He started lamenting the passing of the small mom-and-pop truck stops, which were proud to call themselves truck stops and to welcome truckers as their customers.
“There was this one place,” he said, trailed off and then added, “I got something about it in the truck.”
There amid a veritable treasure trove of trucking memorabilia, he found a tattered placemat that carried the following poem.
“Salute to the Truck Driver”
Hats off to the man who drives a truck
He battles traffic, dust and muck;
He pushes thru with heavy loads
No matter what or where the roads.
His life is one of sleepless nights,
Of facing thoughtless undimmed lights,
Of countless flats, of juggling spares,
Of changing tires with lighted flares.
He must be made of sturdy stuff,
Or long ago he’d said enough
Of loading produce, oil and freight
To haul away to some other state.
To each of you who drives a truck,
SHADY LAWN CAFÉ wishes you “loads of luck,”
For on the road we’ve found you fair
And hope that some day you’ll wind
And when you climb those
We hope you find no use for flares.
Just go to the Gates – and walk
And get that sleep that’s long past due.
Until next time, be safe, make money and get home often. LL
Editor’s note: Bill says this poem is from an old card in his wife’s own treasure trove of trucking memorabilia. Bill’s never been able to find the author, although the Internet has yielded a couple of places where the poem, minus the Shady Lawn couplet, appears on tombstones. Anyone familiar with this poem? Let him know at firstname.lastname@example.org.