Downshift
A story every mile

By Bill Hudgins, columnist

While OOIDA celebrates its 40th birthday this month, I’m chalking up my 20th anniversary of learning and writing about this industry and its amazing people.

I didn’t know much of anything about trucking when I started, and the learning curve was steeper than the uphill side of Monteagle Mountain, and as fast as the downhill side. But it was love at first sight, and I was fortunate to have great mentors like Land Line’s own Perfessor Paul Abelson – and most every driver I spoke to.

While I eventually had a good enough understanding of the more technical aspects to not embarrass myself, it was the kaleidoscope of people and their stories that fascinated me most.

Recently, I gave a speech to a Rotary Club about trucking, and getting ready took me back down memory lane, as I tried to recall some of the more colorful characters and unusual uses they had found for a big rig.

For example: I once interviewed two brothers who had been part of Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. They had a bright idea – build a rolling aquarium, fill it with sand sharks, and take it to fairs, carnivals, sporting events and so on.

Once they arrived and set up, they’d lift one side of the trailer to reveal a glass-walled tank. During each show, their wives would swim with the sharks. The brothers had a running gag. When one of the women would get ready to go into the water, the guy emceeing would say, “This is my new wife …”

Another unusual story involved elephants. Not far from Nashville there’s a place called The Elephant Sanctuary, where aging and often abused zoo and circus elephants can spend their remaining years. Naturally, the elephants arrive by truck.

I heard about an upcoming delivery and was given permission to cover it. The Sanctuary does not allow casual visitors, their belief being that the pachyderms have spent most of their lives being gawked at and harassed by people.

The elephant’s name was Winkie, and she’d been in a zoo in Madison, Wis., for 34 years in a space about a quarter-acre in size. The trip was uneventful, but the unloading was not. There wasn’t enough room in the trailer for the elephant to turn around to walk out, so she had to be persuaded to step out backward.

After a while, they realized she was balking because the trailer floor was a couple of feet off the ground and all she felt was air below her feet. They quickly got a baby Bobcat and piled up a ramp of dirt so she could finally exit. Cheers – and some tears – all around at that point.

Born in 1966, Winkie is still at the Sanctuary – and far from the oldest elephant there. Read more at http://bit.ly/winkiebio about Winkie’s journey.

Bee haulers always fascinated me. One couple from Yakima, Wash., hauled their bees to California to pollinate fruit and almond groves. Then they took them to the Dakotas where they made honey all summer.

The couple loaded and moved out at night when it was cool, and ran straight on with only the briefest possible breaks. Cool, moving air kept the bees quiet. Stopping would warm them up and they might swarm away from the trailer, despite a mesh tarp covering the stacks of hives.

I met them in 1994 and their business was … buzzing. Since then bee populations worldwide have plunged. I checked on them recently and they’re still as busy as, well, they still work hard.

Finally, a lot of companies build custom trailers to demonstrate or showcase their products. Shell Rotella and others are big attractions at MATS every year. One of my all-time favorite special-purpose rigs is the Johnsonville’s Big Taste Grill (bigtastegrill.com/blog). It looks like a tanker trailer until the side rolls back to reveal stainless steel grills ready to cook up some of their famous brats. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the food is good too.

Until next time, be safe, make money and get home often. LL

Aug/Sept Digital Edition