Why keep on trucking?

By Dave Sweetman, Land Line contributor

(Editor’s note: The flip side to asking truckers what they would change about trucking, is asking them why they still love it and choose to keep jamming gears and heading on down the road.)

Recently, I passed the milestone of having accumulated 5 million safe miles in a commercial truck without a boo-boo. I owe most of that to good driving practices like safe following distance, well-maintained equipment, and knowing when to park it. As a one-truck owner/driver, it is not rocket science to figure that if the truck gets damaged, no work means the bills don’t get paid.

In the early ’70s, I learned early on that OOIDA was, and still is, our true voice with our lawmakers and legislators.

I fondly remember the oil embargoes and truck shutdowns that caused many headaches across the country. I remember trucks blockaded in the 76 Truck Stop in Elkton, Md., when anyone trying to leave got their air lines cut.

I stood around the fire barrel at Peggy’s Truck Stop on Route 40, Bear, Del., in protest, carrying a sign looking for justice for the American truck driver. I did an interview with a friend, Sean Mullin, who was a journalist for the Philadelphia newspaper. I was quoted fairly and hoped that my words, even then, would fall on listening ears.

There was an innocent truck driver in southern Delaware, Claudie Nix, who was shot and killed during the shutdown protests. It was later found that Mr. Nix was killed by a creep with a gun not related to the shutdown. Rocks were being thrown at trucks from overpasses. Convoys of trucks were led by state police on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. Guys with bedsheets on the back doors of the trailers that stated, “Don’t Shoot. Going Home.” I was there.

I remember truckers making up a huge convoy of big rigs to Washington, D.C., to show solidarity and to get the attention of the Capitol insiders. It was then that I first heard the name Jim Johnston. Soon after, I joined OOIDA for the first time, even though I was a company driver. I believed then, as I do now, that OOIDA would become a force, benefiting everyone who drove a truck.

Even though I was not an owner-operator, I did feel as though I was independent. Not because I owned the truck, but because I valued, treasured my newfound independence. I was quite sure of what direction I wanted to go and worked very hard, sacrificed much to make it happen.

Since the mid ’70s, the industry has changed. The trucks have gotten more comfortable, safer and more efficient. The 21st century of trucking is far more technologically advanced and very different from when I started. Some of it good, some not so good.

We can’t go back, and all things considered I would not care to. I miss some things about the old days but not all of the old ways. I miss the brotherhood and camaraderie, but perhaps that is me getting older.

At a time when I hear others say they are getting out, retiring, or moving in a different direction, I choose to continue this crazy gig. I recently built and bought a new truck, so I have another four years or more. I am now officially old, having turned 65 with a Medicare card and a Denny’s discount card to prove it.

I honestly don’t feel old. I still love what I do very much, still like chasing mile markers, stopping at the Triple T for breakfast or the Wagon Wheel for lunch. I still like the feeling at the end of the day that I have accomplished something, offered a good service, and seen something new on a Blue Highway. LL