By Bob "Cowpoke" Martin, Columnist
Awhile back Dave Sweetman, a longtime trucker and writer for Land Line Magazine, said that I might have been born 100 years too late. He thought I would have fit right in as a stagecoach driver or cow drover.
Actually, I love the cowboy way of life from a distance. But being a cowboy back then would have been too tough. Sleeping on the ground in all kinds of weather, drinking water from wagon tracks? I don't think so.
There is a line in a Western movie that kind of ties the cowboy to my way of thinking. Sam Elliott on being offered a meager ranch job: "I'll do whatever as long as I can do it on a horse." That's me. Just make it a truck.
So much for campfire talk.
Fast forward to the truckers of the '30s, '40s and early '50s. Those times couldn't have been all peaches and gravy. Hard to imagine stuff like hard rubber tires, open cabs, rutted roads and chain drives. I'm guessing when they progressed to pneumatic tires, the rides went from back-breakin and bone-jarring to riding like a stiff-legged billy goat.
And crawling up and down those crooked switchback city roads over mountain passes with vacuum brakes? I was never at ease over the same passes and on some interstates with modern trucks until I got my first truck with a Jake Brake.
Somewhere along the line the forerunner of the reefer came along – a trailer with an ice bunker in the nose with a big fan above it. The fan was powered on the outside with a one-cylinder Briggs & Stratton motor. They were "bunker and blowers" and everybody called the little motor a "putt putt" (Hello, Flying J shop? My putt putt won't start.)
All the worthy trucks stops had an icehouse. The main options, depending on the product, was to fill the bunker with blocks of ice and the fan would circulate cool air through the trailer – or some produce, fresh meat, etc. called for top ice. The ice guy would put big chunks of ice into a chipper and spray however much you wanted in on top the load. That all sounds like a lot of time and work to me.
Looking back, it seems that when I came along in 1963, trucking was in a transition period big time. For instance, reefers had been on the scene for a while, but a few putt putts were still out there. Trucks and roads were getting better hard and fast.
Being a rookie, my first rides were of '50s vintage. Ask me if I cared? It was fun then.
And today it seems as if the government agencies are doing everything in their power to make trucking less attractive to those out there now and a less desirable career choice for those that might be coming into the industry. And that's mostly BS, not about ability, skills or training. To me it boils down to electronic micromanaging of our "freedom of the road." That concept ain't down the tubes yet, but it's circling the drain.
When I was a rookie, I remember hearing stories from guys who had been out there 20 years or more. That was probably a long career back then. Hearing those stories gives me an idea of how trucking was in the '40s and '50s, and with my firsthand knowledge from 1963 on until now – well, that covers a lot of ground.
So, Mr. Sweetman, the bottom line is, I think I was born at exactly the right time for my 45 years of riding and guiding. LL
Bob Martin is an OOIDA life member from Lafayette, IN, and frequent contributor to Land Line. He's been a trucker for 45 years. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.