Line One
Dashboard Confidential
Good old days?

By Dave Sweetman


Spend any amount of time hanging out with truck drivers and the conversation always gets into the “good old days.” Fueled by gallons of coffee that sometimes adds fire to the conversation, but sometimes dulls the memory (or at least alters the fond recollections), we sometimes tend to think it was better then than it really was.

Granted, I can recall days of less traffic, cheaper fuel and better rates-per-mile, considering the cost of  trucks, insurance and everything it takes to run a business has gone through the roof. My point is about trucking itself and the many changes I have experienced over my career.

I recall fondly the 1965 GMC Crackerbox cabover with the noisy 238 Detroit with the drainpipe for an exhaust that was so loud you could not hear the AM radio. I also recall how hard the ride was, made even worse by the ratchet driver’s seat (no air ride).

Even more fondly, I recall the time when the accelerator pedal cable broke on the approach to the Goethels Bridge, as I was leaving Staten Island. By some feat of magic, I used the hand throttle and nursed that (ahem) little gem all the way back to the terminal in Delaware.

Picture me double-clutching, linking one arm through the steering wheel, the other pulling and pushing the hand throttle, gnashing gears. Kind of like an early version of cruise control. I should have been awarded the “Idiot of the Year” trophy, but I made it safely.

I fondly remember my R685 Mack with the 350 V-8 Detroit that ran like a scalded dog but had a “Camelback” suspension that still hurts my back to think of it. I am also the proud owner of several destroyed vertebrae in my lower spine, courtesy of too many miles in that back killer. One of its good points was that it was easy to check the oil in the engine. Just look under the truck for the puddle. No puddle? Better add some; it must be low.

With great admiration, I recall my GMC Astro cabover. A greenhouse of a cab, the windows were so big it never did stay cool in the summer months. Plus the AC system would eat fuses like candy. It was a single-drive axle tractor, and I loved how well it handled in the winter months across I-80 in Iowa and Nebraska. (Insert sarcasm here.)

I recall bias ply tires that would go flat in the middle of nowhere, and a driver who told me to fill it with water to keep it from getting too hot until I could get to a repair shop. I recall a driver who told me to pour orange soda on a squealing fan belt to quiet it down. I also recall a driver telling me that a pair of women’s panty hose, stretched tight around the pulley would replace a fan belt in a pinch.

If you Land Line readers honestly think I would admit to any of these practices in public … well, let’s just say I’m not sayin’.

The art of trucking radio has come a long way in my opinion and makes our jobs so much easier, safer and entertaining. Rolling back through the years, I do remember being addicted to Big John Trimble, who broadcast from Jarrell’s (“Geraldine’s”) Truck Plaza near Richmond, VA, on WRVA; Charlie Douglas, out of New Orleans on WWL; and Bill Mack on WBAP in Ft. Worth, TX. AM radio cranked to the max, the signal fading in and out every 30 miles, trying to hear through the alternator whine.

Now, many of us have in-cab stereo and entertainment systems to rival a studio. Digital LCD TV satellite TV reception, DVD, MP3, iPod, GPS, Sirius XM radio, cell phones the size of a pack of gum, Bluetooth: It’s all there to make the miles easier, more productive and safer.

When you think of information, in the “good old days” there were a few truck magazines, but by the time the news hit the stands it was history. Today, we have Land Line online, as well as Land Line Now on Sirius XM, Dave Nemo, Evan Lockridge and others on radio to keep us informed of today’s news and events 24/7, as it happens.

These are the good old days, tough as they are. I think I’ll keep my air ride cab, seats, suspension and trailer, radial tires, power steering, trick stereo, cell phone and all the other niceties I have become accustomed to. And when the nostalgia bug hits, I’ll break out the black-and-white photos and rub my aching back. LL


Dave Sweetman can be reached at