Dashboard Confidential
Not always as easy as it seems

By Dave Sweetman, columnist

Many times over the past gazillion years I have been told how easy I have it. Hauling ultra-cool cars around the country for the upper crust, driving a custom truck with all the features of a motor home, never getting my hands dirty, making the big money. Yep ... I’ve heard it and humbly admit that it is not always as it seems.

Ask any car hauler, exotic or not, and they will tell you it is a lot of work, and you do indeed get dirty trying to puzzle loads together safely. And as my good friend Dave “Beer Man” Brewer says, we drive the coolest cars in the world 53 feet at a time. And the custom sleeper thing was not a gift. I worked my butt off for it, as my trucking heritage goes back to a 1965 GMC crackerbox and an R Model Mack that rearranged my lower back. Not singing the blues but paying my dues … that’s what comes to mind thinking about the past 42 years of trucking.

When I got out of the Army in 1972, I wanted to drive big rigs, but being 20 years old and having a handful of safety and performance awards meant nothing to employers. My first trucking job was a gig with a mushroom farm. My job was to go to horse-racing tracks and pick up hay, straw and the byproduct from the horse. Little did I know that manure was mixed with bulk gypsum, brewer’s yeast and other ingredients to make compost. I learned a lot.

I learned that on dry days, they loaded the open top basket trailer extra high as the load of straw would settle. On damp days it would be heavier and not loaded as high because of weight.

One sunny morning my trailer was loaded high and covered with a mesh tarp. I made my way to the old stretch of U.S. 41 near Newport, Del., which had an underpass posted at 13 feet 4 inches. Exiting off I-95, the road narrowed from four lanes to two.

Directly behind me was a Triumph sports car with the top down, which I noticed was following much too close. At least he was until my 13-foot-7-inch load of manure hit that low bridge.

I went from 45 mph to zero in a flash and the little Triumph was filled to the top with my stinky cargo. The driver was not my new friend, nor was the police officer who showed up. I spent the next hour sweeping up my misplaced cargo. This job is not so easy.

About a week later, I was asked to take a dump trailer to the port and load bulk gypsum, a fine powder that flowed like a liquid. The boss told me to get a good load, so off I went. How tough can it be?

Upon arrival, the shipper’s scale was broken so I could load, scale later and send them the weight ticket, as we were regulars. The operator asked me how much I needed and I said the boss said fill it up. After tarping the trailer, I noticed it seemed to pull a bit heavy but it was not my normal truck, so I went on. Just before the old Avondale state scale house, I noticed the “OPEN” sign up ahead and thought it a good idea to – ahem – take a detour because I knew the back roads to the yard.

Rolling up onto our scale platform, I saw the boss come screaming out of the office telling me to get that ?#@& truck off his scale. My “good load” weighed 124,000 pounds.

The good news was they didn’t need to send a truck for another load for a while. The bad news was I did something really dumb and should have asked questions first.

A few months later, I moved on to a freight-hauler job but still recall with much fondness my days of being a trucking entre-manure. LL