By OOIDA Life Member Bill Boyd
Mount Pleasant, SC
Every winter issue of Land Line reminds me how lucky I was to have grown up and started trucking in the South. Of course, it wasn’t too many years before business included all 48 contiguous states and some Canadian provinces, but learning the trade with my dad is the best of memories.
Long before I-20 was finished between Atlanta (the Big A) and Birmingham, AL – aka “Smoke City” because of the acrid smoke from the steel mills that hung over the area – the run was U.S. 78 up and down the hills at the foot of the Allegheny Mountain chain.
I was with Dad late one humid summer night, rolling east from Smoke City, dragging a convoy behind us. There were several cafes on the east side, the westbound side being up against the hills. They catered to truckers, but had no fuel or services. Dad did not stop at the ones that had a couple of house trailers on the property.
This particular night, as usual, a steady line of headlights stretched up and down the hills and valleys of the two-lane highway. When we pulled in for a break, I jumped out with a tire iron and bumped all the tires to make sure they were all aired up tight. When tube tires went flat, and there was no place to get off the road, they would easily catch fire.
As I rounded the front of the gas-burner GMC, I saw a group of men walking up through the dust cloud kicked up by several trucks that pulled in behind us on the gravel lot. They stopped to watch me put away the tire iron.
And as Dad came around to the passenger side, one of the men said he wanted to buy us a cup of coffee. Dad replied he never turned down a free cup but wanted to know “how come?”
The man said he had been running up and down these hills for a lot of years but had never followed anyone with such a steady foot. The steady foot was the way Dad regulated his speed through the hills to accomplish a steady ride without a lot of gear shifting or braking.
Since west-bounders didn’t want to cross the two-lane twice to take a break, they mostly rolled on. So most of the trucks at this cafe were steel haulers.
I learned to chain and tarp a load before my teens, although I was a little light on the cheater bar.
The floor of the cafe was dusty and all the windows and doors were open to welcome a breeze, should one come along. A cloud of blue tobacco smoke hung over all the tables and counter with drivers trying to be heard over the Rock-Ola jukebox playing Johnny Cash or Merle Haggard, or occasionally Red Sovine telling the story of “Phantom 309.”
Another long run on the two-lane was down through the middle of Florida on U.S. 27 before I-75 was built. From the Georgia line down to about Haines City, it was pine woods, horse farms and citrus groves, but south of there was mostly wide open country known as free range.
Back then, at night, a driver had to see like an owl to keep from running over cattle or some other animal.
One night Dad and I were headed down to Immokalee, near Lake Okeechobee, for another load of watermelons. He would buy the load from a grower and sell them wholesale at the Atlanta or Birmingham farmers’ markets.
That night a large wild hog ran out and went under the truck and knocked a crack in the rear-end – a single axle with an electric two-speed gear. Before long we were on the side of the road and in, what seemed to me, the middle of nowhere.
All kinds of sounds were coming from the pitch blackness to compete with Dad’s snoring, but I didn’t sleep a wink. It was well after daylight before anyone came along to give us a ride to find a wrecker.
Another time hauling melons, we were near Leesburg, FL, on U.S. 441 when Dad saw a large rattlesnake crossing the road. He stopped the truck so the left front tire was on the snake and opened the door to get out when the snake struck the door of the old Dodge.
Dad decided it would be better getting out on my side and took a tire iron with him. When he got around to the other side it was obvious (I was watching out the driver’s door window) that there was too much snake and not enough tire iron.
Luckily, a car came along and a man handed Dad a .38 revolver. After killing the snake, they put it in a basket the man had in the trunk – and it was a full bushel of Eastern Diamondback rattlesnakes.
When I started running long-haul, I had to carry tire chains as required, but in 30 years trucking I never once had to “hang iron.” I love trucking in the South. LL