By John Taylor
OOIDA Life Member
When I started hauling pulpwood to Westvaco Paper in Luke, MD, at 13, I wasn’t old enough to have a driver’s license. But that did not stop me from driving a 1942-44 4x4 10-wheeler Army truck hauling 21,000 to 24,000 pounds of green pulpwood, 75 miles one way, through the West Virginia hills to the mill.
It would take about 10 to 11 hours to make this 150-mile trip with about three hours taking up unloading by hand. I remember one day near Keyser, WV, I witnessed a fender bender involving two cars on a one-way bridge. A state trooper asked if I saw what happened and wanted to see my driver’s license. I told him I didn’t have one, and he asked why. I replied “I am not old enough,” and he asked when I would be old enough. I said in three months when I turn 14 years old. All he said was “make sure to get it when you’re old enough” and walked off.
My uncle always rode with me to help unload, but he never drove the truck. From then until I was 17, I went to school (part time if I had a load to haul) and drove part time for Stewart Yeakley, hauling apples to Pittsburgh, PA; Norfolk, VA; Baltimore, MD; and Washington, DC. The truck had a 450 GMC gas engine.
The only interstate-type road at the time was the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Most people called it the “Super.” It ran from Philadelphia to Irwin and ended there.
Most of the trucks on the East Coast in the ’50s and ’60s were gas F8 Fords, KB8 and 10 Internationals, 22 White Mustang, some Autocars and Mack diesels.
Roy Stone out of Martinsville, VA, was a large furniture hauler and had cab-over-engine daycab Mack trucks. Sleepers were built in the nose of the trailer. When in Florida, sometimes the only place you could get away from the mosquitoes to sleep was on top of your trailer. The breeze would sometimes keep them away. It could be a little touchy trying not to roll off.
I left school in the fall of 1951 and went to work for Larry Dimario hauling canned goods to Florida and produce back to Washington, DC; Baltimore; New York; and Boston. I drove a 1951-52 L190 International with a Red Diamond 401-cubic inch gas engine.
There were a lot of diesel engines on the road then. Very few sleeper cabs, no A/C, no power steering, no CBs, no radar.
The first mechanical refrigerated trailer I ever saw was in 1955. That was a big trailer. At that time most were 32-foot Great Danes, Trailmobiles or Dorseys with Briggs & Stratton one-cylinder gas-engine pull starts on the front. You filled it with ice through the hatch door in the front or on top of the trailer.
The roads were all two- or three-lane. Most of the bridges in Georgia had wooden floors. From 1951 until the mid-1960s, you hardly ever saw a car on the road between 10 p.m. and 7 to 8 a.m.
From Washington, DC, south it was totally segregated. The “colored” drivers, as they were called then, all ate in the kitchens. There were not many, but those who were driving were some of the most friendly, courteous and helpful of all. We all had a good relationship with very little or no prejudice, even though “us whities” knew they were eating better in the kitchen than we were out front.
In 1952, I purchased my first truck with the help of my cousin and best friend Ralph “Bud” Kerns. It was a 1949 KB8-1 International. Bud bought a 1950 or 1951 L220 International and we leased to Novick Transfer Co. in Winchester, VA. We ran New York, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.
The rate was 18 cents per mile with a small bonus for anything you hauled over 21,000 pounds. I recall that gas was 16 to 18 cents per gallon then. Diesel was 12 to 14 cents. There were no truly large truck stops. Truck stops were all small mom-and-pop operations. They had fuel attendants who washed your windshield and checked oil and tires. Some would park your truck if you wanted. There were no Wal-Mart stores or other truly large shippers or receivers like there are today.
In 1953, I went to work for Michaels Transfer in Winchester, VA, hauling frozen fruits from Maine to Florida and through Tennessee, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky and Alabama. And again, no mechanical refrigeration units. We had 28-foot stainless steel Fruehauf trailers. We used dry ice to keep the product frozen.
In the late ’40s and early ’50s, straight air brakes were just coming on the market. There were no tubeless tires, no steel radials and very few Budd wheels on the East Coast. No big West Coast mirrors. In the ’50s and ’60s we had harsher winters, and I expect it would take a dually pickup to haul all the tire chains worn out by those of us who ran Routes 40, 50 and 60 west through Virginia, West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Maryland.
All the trucks in the early years had heavy steel bumpers, and most trailers had stout bumpers on the rear. If you had some good horsepower or a light load and ran up on someone pulling a mountain, a lot of us would ease up on their bumper and away we would go.
When I drove the old Brockway 260 for Michaels Transfer, few tractors on the road had more horsepower. I used to get some free meals from Allegheny Freight Lines and Pony Express drivers for pushing them over Cheat, Laurel and Allegheny Mountains.
We all used our lights or hand signals (daylight hours) to warn drivers going the opposite direction of danger, hidden cops, scales, wrecks, or to give the “all clear so wind-r-up.”
Fuel mileage on the 260 Brockway with 742 cubic-inch Continental engine (someone correct me if I am off a little on cubic inch; it has been a long time) with a Zenith updraft carburetor was 2 1/2 mpg – flat land running – and 1 1/2 mpg going west on Route 50.
There have been many positive changes in trucks over 60-plus years. Oil seals for wheel bearings, steel belted tubeless tires, alternators instead of generators, 12-volt instead of 6-volt, LED lights, aluminum and fiberglass instead of metal, A/C, power steering, sleepers, air-ride seats.
I could go on, but there have been a lot of negatives for us old-timers. Starting out as a kid of 15 or 16, I was acquainted with drivers who were much older – men who had come literally from the horse and mule and Model T and A days. Truly honest people, they would look you straight in the eye and shake hands. Anyone not cut from this cloth was shunned and ignored, and many times got their butts kicked.
Today, there are a lot more drivers, shippers, brokers, receivers and people in general who are not like that, which is sad.
How many remember when Virginia put the first weigh station on Route 1 at Woodbridge? If you were overloaded, there were guys with bobtail trucks at Mack’s Truck Stop in Weldon, NC, who would get produce from 10 or 15 trucks to make a legal load. They charged so much a package. They would haul your load to Capitol Truck Stop in Washington, DC, on the corner of New York Ave and Bladensburg Road where you would put it back on the trailer and continue on to Philadelphia, NYC, Boston or wherever.
I am running now from Virginia to Texas, Arizona, Florida and points in between. I have been totally an owner-operator since 1966, receiving my ICC authority in 1988.
I have always loved trucks and trucking, and those who drive the trucks are still some of the best people and work in probably the most important industry on earth. I know those of you just starting out will look back on 15, 30, 45, 60 years and marvel at the changes as I do now.
By then maybe there will be a pipeline out of Heaven to deliver all the goods for the people. Trucks and truck drivers will only be someone or something to dream about or read in history books. LL
Editor’s note: John Taylor has been a member of OOIDA since 1991. He lives in Cross Junction, VA, and has driven trucks for more than 60 years with no chargeable accidents.
He serves on the OOIDA Board of Directors.