the highway home….

montana highway-and ice

Originally uploaded by jayfherron.

I first saw the road as a trucker from the cab of a U model Mack-those odd looking Macks where the cab looks like its offset to the frame. The slowest truck in the industry which is why they are primarily used as sraight dump trucks instead of highway trucks. But-the outfit I went to work for first was a fleet of U model Macks…all day cabs,no sleepers-no air-conditioners ( it was the old two by fifty…two windows and fifty miles an hour ) and so slow you could walk up hill faster than these things would go.
But I was in heaven and thought I’d hit the big time,although I was way far from that.
To sleep the drivers all had a wooden board with a chunk of carpet wrapped around it and usually duct taped to secure the carpet. The board was the length to span the open space between the two seats to make a padded spot for the guy to get some sleep. Some of the U’s did’nt come with a riders seat-so it was a more open space to be able to lay out on the floor and grab some sleep.
Sleep? Thats questionable-because the trucks were so slow and the shorter distances were even further,often times to get to the shippers it was almost time to back up to the loading dock and let them pack the trailer.
My first job was hauling ‘Sea Land’ containers-the type that get shipped across to Europe and elsewhere by sea. The trailers were heavier which made getting any hope for speed out of the ‘U’ impossable. I was getting 11cents a mile and was glad when I found my second job with a company that had some real trucks that had motors and rear ends and transmissions that were meant for long distant running.
They were all crooks-and I trusted them too much and lost everything and thats how I ended up in these woods 30 years ago-homeless,and living in a tent.
I ended up as a fill in driver for a company that builds water tanks-ten million gallon water tanks. We ran all across the southeast-and ran and ran,and when the truck was’nt rolling they’d pop you out of the cab and put you to work in the field-helping to build this huge water tank. It was an out fit that I worked with on and off for years. It was one of those kind of jobs where everybody was rough and had to be rough to keep up. An amazing place to work. You’d drive all night and all the next day you’d be busting ass and then back all night hauling stuff to another jobsite in another state-all to be busting ass on that job too. And boy did they scream and yell when you arrived late-or if you got there too early….it did’nt matter-the entire time someone was yelling at you for something. But-it was the nature of the job. And the best part was learning to pull the huge bulldozers and other equipment….all money in the bank because you can move with that experience and get into better working situations.
Because the water tank out fit was a private carrier…we were’nt regulated like the D.O.T. drivers are. No logs-no requirements,and we got paid by the hour 24 hours a day. That varied-so much for driving,so much for working on the construction-and even paid to sleep…but that was’nt much.
I was intimidated by all the yelling-so it made me a good worker,too scared to talk back-and so I fit in in a certain way. That is why I spent many different times on this companies payroll-it was kind of an open door for derilect guys to get a job there,because the work was so crappy.
Because I knew how to work a truck made it easy to come and go at jobs because it was so hard to find people that could stand the life-it was always a life of pressure and risk…and bad attitudes-queers,hookers and being cussed at so much you could turn it off in your mind and ignore it.
But on the other hand-it was so thrilling…every second of every minute of every mile I drove. And-the places I saw as we went-and the places I saw as we stayed put for the night.
I can say for certain I’ve hauled everything from cows to Cadillacs-and I can tell you that even as diverse as it all can be-it was all equally thrilling,and always a surprise.
I learned to haul produce-hated it…oh was it not for me. But the same thing applies here-the thrill. Hunts Point Market in New York City provided that energy to produce the thrill I’d love to be able to describe. The yelling and screaming of the various market operations all going full blast and the bartering over ‘lumper’ fee’s (lumpers are guys you often times have to hire-and often times want to hire-and most all of the time hate to hire…they unload trucks by hand at these huge markets across the country) and the smells of all the fresh groceries hauled in from all around-Florida or California,it did’nt matter. And then the cattle-you’d arrive at a loading point where a corral and lading chute was built and there’d be ten,sometimes twenty-sometimes many more-depending on the ranch. And the cowboys and all the horses and the smells and the adrenilene coming off of the cattle and getting into your spirit because they are’nt wanting to go into that trailer as much as you are wanting them to-and every driver herds his cows aboard…that is where the rancher see’s if you have his faith in you to haul his ‘money’ across the country and get it the alive and standing. Its a crazy job-the craziest I do believe. But let me tell you what its like to crank a Peterbilt out full blast across the Arizona deserts at noght-running a max of 130 mph to beat the heat from the sunshine that’ll come out and catch you the following day. So its all night at it moveing as fast as you can go. The driver owns all the ‘deads’,as they are called. One heck of a job incentive to keep them all standing for the entire 3000 miles.
Wide loads…they were the best. You’d get a shipping order with a serial number and a machine description and head out somewhere to find it. Often it was sitting on the side of a road and you took it somewhere else and dropped it on the side of a road-never seeing a living soul the entire move. Sometimes we’d haul a crane that would require several…often many trucks to haul the sections. I was on a crane move that required 17 trucks to haul the broken down crane to go to where a crane they brought down from Alaska that required fifty five trucks to haul it in sections…and a crane was required to put our sections together so they could put those sections together. Crane loads were always interesting.
I miss it-no doubt. Look at that vista in my photo. Thats what I saw every moment I was on the roll-all of it changeing every mile to introduce another view of another view. This was in Montana-a mountain passd all sanded to soak up the slick of the ice. You can still see patches of it-but it is not so bad on this side…its the sunny side,it would look worse going back the othe way into the shade where the ice stays cooler longer and the slick is still a threat.
I miss this life I had. It paid good…and it was a good life. It was much more facinating in the old days when I first started to drive-the roads were’nt as busy and truckers seemed more like the original cowboy than they do any more. But,I still long to get out on the road so the old Cadillac and I are going to venture out in a week to see some places-visit a few of my old favorite truck stops.
My idea for a vacation!

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