Dashboard confidential
An oak tree at the root of it all

By Dave Sweetman, contributing columnist

Ever since I was a wee lad, I have had the greatest interest in big trucks. I still do. Growing up in rural farm country in northern Delaware, about a half mile from what is called the “Wedge,” this was the point where Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania meet, as surveyed by Mason and Dixon, just off Route 896.

Sitting in the shade of the huge oak tree in front of my grandparents’ farm, I would call out the names of the trucks and imagine the destinations. There were always plenty of big rigs and I would marvel at the low throaty rumble of the Akers, Johnson Motor Lines and D’Agata rigs. Marques long since gone into trucking history. To catch a glimpse of a Kenworth or Peterbilt was a treat that, to me, said the driver was a long hauler.

My granddad, whom everyone but me called John Henry, would tell me tales of travels in faraway places a farm boy could only dream of. Like California and Wyoming. Places a million miles away to a kid with dreams to travel and all these truckers were on their way. I wanted to go too. I still do.

Then, as now, not running away from anything but running toward everything. Everything new and exciting, sunsets and sunrises, oceans and rivers, little towns and big cities that linked to the call of the highway. Picture book destinations a farm boy like me could only visualize at the school library.

Yearly family vacations only fueled my curiosity and love of travel that the family Studebaker or Mercury could not fulfill. I wanted to keep going. I still do.

I had an uncle, my father’s brother Richard, who was a trucker. A steel hauler for many years and later, a linehaul Teamster driver for a big company. Richard would tell me stories for hours, sitting under that oak tree and I listened to it all. Steel mills in Pittsburgh and Allentown, blizzards in Buffalo, hard-nosed scale masters in Ohio. Some 60 years later, not much has changed in trucking. But still, those stories fueled the travel desire fire.

Sadly, some years ago, Richard had fought a long, tough battle with cancer that caused him to give up the road. Many of his last days were spent under that same oak tree, listening to the rumble of the passing trucks and waving to the drivers he shared the road with for so many years.

My last glimpse of Richard was under that tree, after we had visited and he had checked out my new Kenworth. As I eased on past, he tapped his chest, stretched out his arm and flashed me his usual peace sign. The look on his face clearly said, “I want to go too.”

It was now my turn to salute and offer up a blast on the air horn. The extreme irony tearing away at my heart, I still recall it as if it were yesterday.

Sometimes, late at night, driving on a country road, I will pass by a huge old oak tree. I still see Pop, John Henry and Uncle Richard waving, as I make my way back from faraway places. Like California and Wyoming.

I wonder if generations to come will treasure the mysteries and sights of the open road I have. Will they catch their breath at the sight of a fire red sunset in Oklahoma? Or the majestic snow-capped Rocky Mountains? Or the rich, lush smell of the forests in Oregon? I wonder. Or will they only see it on a computer screen, a brief megabyte on a dot.com virtual tour?

So, when you see that kid, pumping his arm for a return blast on your air horn, give him or her a short howdy and a friendly wave. Perhaps it will cause them to study geography a bit more, stir their dreams of faraway places like it did mine.

Dreams under an old oak tree can come true.