“You watch, fuel will be 50 cents a gallon by the end of the year,” Bill Yeager said.
It was 1972 and the half dozen of us sitting, drinking coffee in Yeager Union 76 Truck Stop in Zellwood, FL, couldn’t believe our ears. Some laughed, thinking he was making a joke; after all, the pumps outside displayed .299 a gallon. I – and some of the others – didn’t laugh. America was being held hostage for the first time anyone could remember, and the ransom was oil.
It was in this atmosphere that I bought my first truck and started trucking – a White (White Motor Corp.) Model 9000 with a 220 Cummins lying on its side. The 9000 was a compact unit similar to the Mack B Model of that time. The engine lay on its side in order to get the “big” Cummins diesel under the small butterfly hood – the hood raises on each side via a hinge that ran the center top from the firewall to the radiator. The frame was arched like today’s aluminum flatbeds, giving the little single axle more strength.
Starting off as an owner-operator with a 9-year-old truck was no big deal when new technology came about every decade instead of today, when it’s annually. In Florida, where I lived, the truck was perfect for hauling citrus fruit, potatoes and watermelons in open trailers. I pulled for an exempt (agricultural) broker that kept me busy during the crop seasons. The loads paid well and I soon had my own trailer.
As fuel went up and rationing began, most of the truckers I knew were still doing well staying with what they knew and close to home.
The broker kept asking me to go “up the road” with watermelons and potatoes, but I felt I needed more truck for that and I had no reliable contacts for loading back. A friend was going to Georgia to buy a truck he had seen and asked me to go along. The Freightliner cabover had a 250 Cummins and a sleeper. I bought it. Wow, I was a big-time trucker ready to go “up the road.”
I bought a reefer (40-footer, too) and quickly found that the brokers and/or customers wanted the unit running even if the cargo was OK at ambient temperature. And the shippers wanted it running to cool off the guys loading. Sound familiar? Some things just never change. I traded the reefer for a flatbed and never looked back.
One year the watermelon season was late, which meant several of the crops were ripening at the same time as opposed to starting in south Florida and working up the eastern seaboard. My broker had a load going to Virginia but no truck to cover it, so I went to Virginia. After unloading, I called the broker who said to stay overnight and call back the next morning. He had a load of watermelons 40 miles away going back to Miami. When other drivers on I-95 saw me headed south with watermelons, they called on the CB to tell me I was going in the wrong direction.
In my first full year of trucking – 1972-73 – I grossed $33,000. All my equipment was paid for and I paid taxes on $13,000 – about 39 percent of gross, which I thought was a terrible year. But owner-operators today would be grinning ear to ear and looking to buy more trucks if they could keep 61 percent of their gross.
Staying with what I knew turned out to be lucrative for me during a time when no one had a clue what was going to happen next. It also taught me to be willing to change when it was time to do so, and move on. LL
Editor’s note: Bill Boyd has been a member of OOIDA since 1979. He lives in Mount Pleasant, SC.