Line One
‘Old School’
The way we trucked back in the day? Nothing but style

By OOIDA Life Member Robert Esler
Taylor, MI


Recently, I met an old machinery-hauling driver I hadn’t seen in years. He had just pulled into the fuel island and I walked over to say hello. He opened the door of his old gray KW and as we were talking I noticed the floor-mounted dimmer switch. I pointed to it and said I hadn’t seen one of those in years. “Yeah,” he said, “that’s old school.” We chatted a few more minutes, wished each other Merry Christmas and were off to do what truckers do – get the job done.

As the day progressed, I pondered the phrase “That’s old school.”   

“Old school” was when you pulled into a truck stop like the old Sinclair truck stop in Watkins, CO. Trucks were fueled, oil checked, floors swept, and ash trays emptied, windows washed, tires bumped and lights wiped clean. Then, if requested, your truck would be parked while you were inside doing whatever (a big old plate of biscuits and gravy comes to mind). And as I remember there was a waitress inside that collected pens. If you had a pen in your pocket from a company that wasn’t in her collection, you’d better have a spare.

“Old school” were days spent at the old Whittier, CA, truck stop. If you unloaded in the Los Angeles area on Monday, you could bet that it would be Thursday or Friday before loading out. Whittier was the place to gather. Getting creative has always been a trait drivers come by naturally. Guys would get together and pass the hat. The menu for the evening meal was discussed. One night, steak and potatoes, the next night a stew that had been simmering all day. You asked how it was done? An old grocery store cart served as the grill. Denny’s never stood a chance when the parking lot cooks were at work.

“Old school” was Gasper’s Truck Stop in Kingdom City, MO. The driver’s section was just what the name implied, drivers only. There could be a line out the door waiting to be served. People would point to an empty table and Mrs. Gasper would say, “One of MY drivers will be here shortly needing a place to eat.”

Many years ago I fueled at Gasper’s, parked and went inside. Enjoyed a great supper – those carrots cooked in cherry juice – superartabumfistical. Filled old Stanley, paid for my meal and hit the road. I got way into Illinois and realized I didn’t pay my fuel bill. Could not find a phone fast enough – no cell phones in those days. Called Gasper’s and told them what happened. “Not to worry” was the reply. “Your ticket is on the board; we’ll see you next week.” Try that today.

“Old school” is remembering drivers like “Mustang” and his gun-gray cabover Mack with a flatbed painted to match. Always dressed in black, and you never knew where you would see him. Or the driver leased to Safeway Truck Lines who drove his 1951 Sterling for more than 30 years between Milwaukee and Boston. The folks at his regular fuel stops said you could set your watch by when he would be there, rain, sleet, snow or shine.

“Old school” is sizing up your dilemma when the trooper asks you how good you are at backing up a nine-axle Siebert on a winding two-lane road. You ask how far. His answer: two and one-half miles. Three hours later …

“Old school” is getting out of your warm truck and helping a young driver get his truck going when his air is froze. There was a day you were in the same shape. LL