Line One
Dashboard Confidential
Some truck history from a packrat

By Dave Sweetman


I was in my garage the other day, cleaning, sorting and going through boxes of junk. Trashing stuff that should have been gone years ago, but I just couldn’t. While I’m not as bad as some of the people on the TV show “Hoarders,” I have a pretty extensive collection of truck- and car-related trinkets, giveaways and magazines from shows and events.

A ZZ Top key chain that Billy Gibbons gave me when I delivered cars for the band … a vintage Union 76 Road King Drivers Club pack of belt buckles, key fob and card … a Secret Service All-Access hologram pass from the Salt Lake City Winter Olympics … a gazillion dash plaques and trinkets from countless truck shows and beauty contests … other weird stuff. I could have a field day on eBay.

Then there are the trucking magazines. Boxes and boxes of magazines. Ones that I have been lucky enough to be featured in, some I have written for over the past 16 years, some dating back to the mid-’60s.

Pulling up an empty milk crate, I started going through the boxes and sorting into the good pile and bad pile. Flipping through the pages to see what is worth keeping, I became lost in time and my memory went back to when the magazines were published.

I could admit to being an impressionable young man who wanted to drive the big rigs, and some of those magazines were the bait that attracted me. When I actually did start to drive, the magazine articles and stories were what kept me informed and entertained. When I bought my first truck in 1979, the magazines were what helped me try to be a better and smarter businessman.

As I sat there on the milk crate, thumbing through countless pages, scanning some of past life lessons, it dawned on me: More than 40 years later, there’s much about our industry that has resisted progress.

Most of us don’t drive cabovers anymore; the trucks have gotten nicer and the trailers have gotten longer. We now only need a single license plate and a single IFTA sticker instead of six plates and 20-plus fuel decals scattered all over the truck. And considering that I pulled a 42-foot trailer, paid 79 cents per gallon for fuel, and paid $54,000 for a nicely decked out Kenworth, I cringe when I think that today’s fuel costs are almost four times that. I haven’t seen rates quadruple.

But basically, the problems we face today are still the same as all those years ago, just reinvented. Some are magnified 10-fold – the insane costs of fuel, insurance, tolls and other drains to our wallets. Truckers today are trying to scratch out a living for a buck-per-mile at 1969 rates, when fuel costs eat up at least half of that.

Flipping though the magazines, there were endless stories about our state, local and federal government using trucks and truckers for revenue enhancement. Change the date on the pages and there is no difference between then and now.

One thing that I do recall, “then vs. now” is the fact that drivers were part of a brotherhood. In that respect, the industry has regressed. Today, it seems like everyone is out for themselves and a big part of that camaraderie is long gone. If a truck broke down, there would be help from fellow drivers in a New York minute. Today, some of these steering wheel holders won’t even show enough courtesy (or safety) to move over one lane. 

I could go on and on, like some milk crate curator, letting the pile of stuff in my garage take us on a trip through trucking history. But then Homer already wrote “The Iliad” and “The Odyssey,” and those kinds of epics are more or less out of style. LL