Line One
Spitballin’ with Cowpoke
Chicken coops and Smokey Bears

Bob "Cowpoke" Martin
contributing columnist


Why do they call them chicken coops and Smokey Bears?

Someone asked me that the other day, and I had to admit I had never even thought about it. But it soon came to me.

When I started driving in the early '60s, weigh station buildings sometimes resembled a small farm chicken coop – wood construction, painted white, some even up on blocks as opposed to modern state-of-the-art brick, steel and glass weigh and inspection stations.

I suspect that the drivers back then – before the CB and all the slang it brought – hung that label on the weigh stations, which were primitive by today's standards.

Some of today's modern coops (they call them " super coops") look more like a control tower at an airport. Florida is a good example. I always hated taking oversize loads across Florida coops. They always made me bring my permits up to the gun tower ('scuse me) observation deck. Fat cops and fat truck drivers, who needs the stairs?

These new coops have it all – in-ground sensors that can run you through the bypass lane; X-ray machines looking for drugs; laser beams to check for height and width. They even have a gadget now that detects bad brakes as you roll across the scales.

Some of the northwest states are hooked up via computer and compare notes. If you roll across an Oregon scale, don't be surprised if they have a time-stamped photo of you crossing a scale back in Idaho.

So the buildings evolved from a shack that looked like a chicken house to the modern stations we have today, but we still call them chicken coops and probably always will.

And who runs these coops? Smokey Bear, of course (sometimes civilians but mostly Smokey). Where did that name come from? It was that cartoon character, a bear with a flat brimmed hat that campaigns against forest fires. Like all bears, he hangs out in the woods.

The image kind of stuck, but not all the state troopers stood up to this flat-brimmed hat standard. States like Indiana, Illinois, and California are right in there. Others like New Mexico and New Jersey miss the mark big-time, and they wear bus driver/Marlon Brando biker hats.

In fact, New Jersey's whole uniform makes me a little nervous. The whole New Jersey uniform looks like it was patterned from the German army uni – from that bus driver hat bent down on the sides and high in the front, to those knee-length shiny black boots.

Of course, Texas had to be different, with good-looking uniforms topped off with a cowboy hat, the sides rolled up as opposed to a flat brim. You can see where this rolled brim would be a handy tool if three troopers wanted to make a doughnut run in a pickup.

But we just threw a blanket over them and called them all Smokey Bears.

Of course, you never know. One time on I-80 in PA I kept hearing bear reports ahead of me on the CB. Someone said, "There is a bear in that field just before Exit 5." Someone else wanted to know what the bear was doing in the field.

"The guy responded, "I don't mean a bear; I mean a bear." Sure enough, when I rolled by there was a big ol' black bear romping around in the pasture like it was the first day of spring. Who knows? Maybe it was.

Personally, since I never did anything wrong I never had a problem with the coops or the bears. But I did have a fantasy that never materialized.

Remember how sometimes the officer would do an inspection while wearing a sidearm? I always thought it would be a hoot if, while he was rolling around on a creeper under the truck, the pistol would fall out of its holster and discharge, blowing a hole in a fuel tank.

Maybe it's just me, but it seemed like those guys that were packin' while doing an inspection were the ones with an attitude.

I wouldn't have wanted him to get hurt or lose his job. But if it scared him into soiling his DOT coveralls, well, I could have lived with that. In fact, I would probably have been down on the ground laughing and rolling around in the fuel that was gushing out of my shiny fuel tank.

Someone call the EPA. 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