Recalling the days of 8-tracks and 'cracker boxes'

By Mark Schremmer, staff writer

Richard Hoffman possesses fond memories of his early days in trucking.

The OOIDA life member, who was a driver for 40 years before recently transitioning into the position of safety director at RoadMasters Transport in Athens, Texas, remembers his first out-of-state haul vividly.

"We took Ford parts from Detroit to the distribution center in Los Angeles," Hoffman said. "It was at night. I had the windows rolled down and the 8-track player blasting Red Foley and other trucking songs. I was in hog heaven.

"I wasn’t nervous at all. I was excited. I wore a Diamond Reo baseball cap, and I was a regular Jerry Reed out there."

Hoffman, who turned 62 years old in September, first learned about the industry when he was a teenager. His girlfriend’s father was a rock hauler in Michigan.

"I rode with him," Hoffman said. "When it was dark out and nobody was watching, he’d let me drive. I really enjoyed it. It’s an old cliché, but truckers were the knights of the road. They were bigger than life."

Hoffman said he learned a lot from his girlfriend’s father and then got his chauffeur’s license when he turned 18. He started out working for a sod farm, making intrastate hauls in a 1964 GMC cabover.

"It was a cracker box, and it felt like it," Hoffman joked. "I’m 6-foot-4 and 240 pounds and have been that way since I can remember. It certainly felt like a cracker box. But I was big time, I tell you. I was high on the hog."

The knowledge he acquired during those early years was extremely valuable, Hoffman said.

"The training is not there like it used to be," he said. "Nobody learns the old way like I did any more. You used to find an owner-operator and run with them. You went and got their coffee. You opened their sodas. You changed the tires."

Hoffman, who also served stints in Vietnam and Desert Storm for the Air Force and Air Force Reserve, said he likely logged somewhere close to 5 million miles in his time as a truck driver.

About six months ago, Hoffman accepted a position as a safety director. The role allows Hoffman to pass on his decades of experience to young drivers.

"When I talk to guys at orientation, I introduce myself and tell them my history to let them know that I’ve been out there, and I know what it is like," he said. "I also let them know that I still learn something new every day, and I don’t know it all.

"This position also helps me to take it to the upper management when they’re having a problem with the driver and give them a perspective on what he’s going through."

Hoffman said he believes a speed limiter mandate would decrease safety on the highways.

"Cars are going to back up and get mad," he said. "They’re going to do something stupid like try to pass them on the shoulder. It’s an accident waiting for a place to happen."

That’s why, Hoffman says, supporting the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association is so important.

"Trucking is a profession to be proud of. Join OOIDA, because we need somebody where these goofballs are at in Washington. Now that I’m at this desk and see the games that are played, I can see the industry doesn’t have a chance if someone isn’t there fighting for it."