Dashboard Confidential
The crack of the whip

By Dave Sweetman, columnist

When I was a much younger lad, growing up on my grandfather’s farm, I knew firsthand the meaning of hard work.

Everyone but me called my granddad John Henry or “Pop John.” He was a big man, built solid and worked hard. And, in all the years, I never heard him raise his voice in anger. I saw a progression of how he worked the land – a team of horses that pulled plows, discs and harrows; a huge John Deere tractor that had steel cleats on the wheels the size of tea cups that you started by turning the flywheel by hand until it chuff-chuff-chuffed to life.

Some years ago, before he passed, my father, uncle and granddad went to the Rough and Tumble Museum, in Kinzers, Pa., just east of Lancaster, for the annual Thresherman’s Reunion. It is a gathering of farmers, young and old, their families and others. They are folks who celebrate ancient coal-fired steam engines and equipment and demonstrate how it was done back at the beginning of the 20th century. Huge black behemoth machines with massive boilers produced the steam to power giant pulleys for sawing timber into logs and pulling threshers in harvest.

One of those, a giant Case, had belonged to my granddad. Some years before, he had donated it to the association. I could tell it did his heart good to see it in action. At noon, all the operators blew the steam-powered whistles on their charges and, brother, it was LOUD.

Wandering around the grounds, we came across a man with a team of oxen, yoked together, pulling a huge log. The man had a whip that he cracked and stung the oxen on their rumps to keep them moving. Without a word, Granddad walked over to the man, said a few words we couldn’t hear, and the stranger handed over the reins and whip.

Granddad refused the whip. Instead, he walked around to the front of the team, put his hand on the heads of the massive animals, and talked to them for a few minutes. My dad, uncle and I just looked at each other and waited.

Granddad took control of that team of oxen with a pull on the reins and a firm voice. He walked that log all over the fairgrounds, calling out either “gee” or “haw” – those being the terms for right and left. It was plain he had plenty of experience with oxen when he was a younger man. And he never raised his voice nor used the whip. I still get goose bumps when I recall the power of that team of oxen he controlled and never used that damn whip.

Roll forward a bunch of years. The museum is still there, the big Case can be seen in all its glory along with many others, and I can still see the tracks that team of three made in my mind. And, I can’t help but think that somehow we, truck owners and drivers, are much like those oxen. Big, purposeful, powerful … but we have been beaten, lied to and dragged around by our necks. Our government wields that whip, stinging our backside with one more useless rule and regulation after another, legislating us out of business or, at the very least, forcing counterproductive rules on us that make no sense under the guise of safety.

Believe me when I say there is no one more concerned with safety than myself. I currently have more than four and a half million accident-free miles in an 18-wheeler, and on a daily basis I am responsible for several millions of dollars in ultra-exotic cargo. I have been a part of many safety programs through the years and can’t stress enough the education of car drivers on better safety around big rigs.

At a time when safety records show trucking to be the safest it has ever been, those lashing us with that whip treat us worse than that team of oxen. In my opinion, they are trying to fix something that is not broken and will continue until it IS broken and then blame us when they get brown lettuce and green fuzzy meat.

And the whippings continue, but how long until many of us “oxen” say we have had enough of the harassment, robbery, mistreatment and abuse, and cash it in?

I continue to run compliant, own and drive new, safe equipment and try to enjoy what I do. I am too young to retire just yet, but as I see more abusive legislation, restrictive rules, onboard recorders, speed limiters, local yokels using us as a revenue source, I wonder how long I care to do this.

My granddad could sure show them a few things about how to work a team, but they wouldn’t hear it over the crack of the whip.

Happy trails and a safe, prosperous 2014. LL