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I was hanging out in the driver’s room at a distribution center waiting for my rig to be unloaded. I decided to shoot the breeze with some of the more veteran truckers there.
The discussions turned out to be a very interesting trip down memory lane.
Surprisingly, one of the truckers said he missed driving trucks without power steering. “It helped me keep in shape, having to work the wheel hard when maneuvering in tight spaces,” Bob told me. “So did all that bouncing. There was no air ride back then — not on trucks, cabs or seats.”
Others said they were glad to have all the amenities and comforts of today’s sophisticated trucks. “I remember feeling like a big shot when I got into a truck that had three fans,” said Lloyd. “Now you’ve got truckers who complain if the air conditioning isn’t blowing cold enough for them.”
“I like how the sleeper compartments have evolved from the ‘suicide boxes’ and ‘pajama boxes’ to the roomy, comfortable environments of today,” Mitchell interjected. “I wonder what ever happened to Naugahyde?”
For those of you not old enough to know, or who don’t know their trucking history, a “suicide box” was the nickname for a sleeper box attached to the rear of a conventional tractor. It was entered by crawling through a small area where the tractor’s rear window would normally be. A “pajama box” was trucker slang for a sleeper box that was entered through a side door. Roll-and-tuck Naugahyde was the padding used for the interior of “high-end” sleepers.
“Wasn’t that long ago that a trucker had to plan his routes and his company trusted him to get to where he had to be on time without spying on him,” quipped Bob. “Nowadays, a trucker doesn’t have to do a lot of thinking, what with all the navigation aids and onboard communication and tracking devices.”
All of these longtime truckers admitted that today’s rigs are considerably more comfortable than those from the 1970s, but they don’t have as much personality. The trucks back then looked like trucks and portrayed a tough image, they agreed.
“They had distinct personalities,” Lloyd said. “We’d give our trucks nicknames and customize them with all kinds of lights and chrome and paint jobs to fit our personality and our truck’s.
“There was a close relationship between trucker and truck,” he continued. “Not like today, where some truckers don’t even know the model of the truck they’re driving, and could care less.”
Mitchell noted that some independents today are carrying on the tradition of yesteryear by customizing their rigs and taking great pride in maintaining the appearance and performance of their equipment. “It’s amazing what can be done to dress up rigs these days.”
“When I first got into trucking in 1970, it was lot different,” remarked Steve. “Back then, truckers were instant friends and always ready to lend a hand.”
“You could tell a trucker by his appearance,” Lloyd added. “There was a feeling of shared experiences. It was a chosen lifestyle, and one to be proud of.”
“You drove for the love of the road and for trucks,” said Steve. “That’s not the case today. You’ve got lots of people trucking because it’s the only job they can get.
“There’s no attraction for them or for trucking’s rich history,” he continued. “The trucker brotherhood, for the most part, is gone.”
Then a younger driver approached our table.
“Excuse the interruption,” he said. “You’re wrong about that. There are plenty of us who’ve gotten into trucking because we’ve always wanted to be a part of this noble profession. It would be nice if you veterans shared trucking’s heritage with us so we can continue on with its traditions.”
Hearing my name called, meaning I was unloaded, I thanked the truckers for their time, thoughts and candor.
It was fun reminiscing about my early days of trucking (never you mind when that was). It also got me to thinking about how much I miss cabovers. But that’s another story.