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The good old days

by Punjabi Trucking

Today’s professional drivers are much different than the guys I knew when I started working in the trucking industry.  Yes, I wrote, “guys,” as I didn’t know any female drivers in the seventies.  There were a few women out there, but the steel fabricating plant where I worked used flatbed trailers to haul in the raw steel and the steel products.  Not a lot of women were pulling flatbeds in those days.

Before deregulation, every common carrier load cost the same regardless of the name on the side of the truck because the rates were determined by tariffs.  That meant the trucking company had to provide the best service in the area they were allowed to run based on their Interstate Commerce Commission authority.  The competition was truly different then. 

Without the technology we enjoy today, a typical dispatcher’s office included a United States map with the highways marked by brightly colored pins where shippers were located.  Loads were recorded on an index card taped to the wall and assigned by pickup date and driver.   

The safety department, if it wasn’t the dispatcher’s job, involved files full of driver qualification folders, drug testing results, and logbooks from the past seven days.  Most interactions were negative, as missed logs or violations were often the topic instead of praise for a job well done.  

Drivers were also less regulated, although the hours of service were in place, the method of recording was in a paper logbook.  It was common for drivers to use two or three logbooks, as enforcement didn’t have the technology to match the days and times to tolls, scales, or even carrier records.  Shutting down within three hours of home was not an option!

Trucks had designated areas for professional drivers to get them served and on their way faster.  Except, of course, the drivers who were waiting to use one of the many pay phones along a back wall to check in with the dispatcher to get their next load.  You were lucky to find a booth with a payphone included so you could eat and wait at the same time.  

Before the Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) was mandated in 1986, many drivers had numerous chauffeur’s licenses from various states.  That way, if a speeding ticket was received in Ohio, the other states didn’t have access to the information.  Of course, drivers were expected to report violations annually to their carriers, but it was more of an honor system at the time.  

To obtain a chauffeur’s license, someone might take a written test in one state, or they may have used a pickup truck for a driving test in another state.  There wasn’t a minimum standard for training and more than one driver has told me they learned to shift and to back the trailer AFTER they were hired.  

Many drivers entered the industry because their dad or grandpa was a truck driver.  In the past, drivers were considered the knights of the road and a stranded four-wheeler welcomed a tractor-trailer slowing down to help them change a flat tire or give them a ride to the next truck stop for a few gallons of gas.  Every trucker kept a toolbox in his side compartment and could rig a tractor or trailer with a roll of duct tape and a few lengths of binder twine.

The ideal driver was a farm kid, as they learned how to drive heavy equipment at an early age and usually had a better work ethic.  Carriers loved those hardworking farm boys!  They didn’t require much training other than the paperwork, and they were used to long days and hard work. 

The early trucks didn’t have the amenities we enjoy today.  The steering wheel was huge to allow the driver leverage to turn the steers without power steering.  Air conditioning wasn’t standard and safety features were not common.  Double clutching and thirteen-speed transmissions took some time to master.

The trucking industry has changed since I started my career in the traffic department of a steel fabricating plant.  I had a diploma in Traffic & Transportation Management on my wall amid the maps, the shelves full of tariffs, and the index cards. Deregulation changed the industry into a MORE regulated one as technology has been mandated through the years.  

More technology means more monitoring and less autonomy, which is what attracted most drivers to the career in the past.  As any seasoned driver about the “good old days,” and they’ll tell you how things have changed.  These drivers are leaving the industry to a new generation that will never appreciate how things have changed so quickly.

Will new drivers look back in a few decades and consider these, “the good old days?”

Ellen Voie, CAE


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