Posted: August 1, 2014 Today’s Trucking
By David K. Henry
I was an eagle swooping down from the mountain top, the wind rustling my feathers as I flew lower. Truth be told, I was in a Jimmy cabover with a full load of eggs in my reefer and what my eagle eyes saw was a light at the bottom of the Pennsylvania hill that was probably going to change, and not for the better. As I flew downhill I realized it was going to be hard to stop in time…
That was 25 years ago. You’ll have to read on to find out how that episode ends but a: At least I’m here to talk about it; and b: Experiences like that have given me pause; time to reflect on ways trucking is a far better place to work now than it was in 1987. The list was easier to compile than you might think.
25. Quieter Cabs
The few times I ran team, by the end of the trip my wife thought I had a bad throat infection. Just trying to talk to your partner required shouting. Especially when you had a 2/50 air conditioner (two open windows and 50 mph). All radios had to have high output or you had to guess at what you were listening to. Today I can actually hear what a passenger is saying.
Early in my working life on the farm, in fact even before I had a truck license, we had stacks of tires. That was important because you never made it very far before you had to change one. In the late ’80s my goal was to make it a whole week without tire trouble. Now if I get a flat before I have 300,000 kms on my rubber shoes I’m very unhappy. Today, many tires last the tread life and beyond with no trouble.
23. Air Conditioning that Actually Cools, and Heat that Actually Heats.
The seasons were always upside down in trucks. The trucks pumped hot air in summer and frigid air in winter. Today I have climate control that adjusts without my help.
22. Air Ride
My back can tell you stories, none of them good. Originally dismissed as not being up to the task, air bags are everywhere now. “Can’t feel the road” was a common snort by some. Last I checked… no road feels good.
21. Cleaner-burning Engines for a Better Environmental Future
In the old days, many times you knew there was a truck ahead, you just couldn’t see it. Drivers would turn up their fuel pumps which produced immense clouds of black smoke and shortened the lives of their engines. Insects died in a four-mile radius and people ran for cover, thinking an explosion was about to happen. Today we only see steam when it’s lower than minus 15C and yet they still keep putting more restrictions on our engines. Truck exhaust today is cleaner than California air. Maybe we need to cut back on the number of politicians…
20. PARS/ACE/FAST Border Clearances
Anyone who did the trek in winter from Canada Customs to the broker buildings at Emerson, MB., loves this improvement. Years later I think I’m just now getting feeling back in my toes and cheeks.
19. The Comforts of Home
Not only bigger sleepers but comfortable, well-appointed areas built with drivers in mind. After years of crawl-in “coffin” bunks I wanted a bigger opening so when I finally got a truck with a large opening and six inches of floor space I was ecstatic. I need to slap myself sometimes when I start to complain as I’m watching TV, eating microwave-heated food from my fridge, as I put my table away.
These days, with GPS I can quickly get into a really bad spot. I trust my GPS and so without watching signs, I effortlessly manage to find truck-unfriendly places while being oblivious until it is too late. On the other hand, with GPS, I can see my total miles and know exactly if I am going to be late and by how many minutes.
17. Cell Phones, Skype, Twitter, Facebook, Texting
Today I get notifications on my phone regarding weather and traffic problems or road closures. I used to rely on the CB. The problem is what is good for one driver is not always good for another. Or a dispatcher; “Radar shows that the snow is ending just past you.” Yeah, like 500 kms ahead.
16. Budd Wheels
It used to drive me nuts when a tire man didn’t care how your Dayton wheels were installed. I’m sure it was hard on your tires to wobble down the road, but some were convinced it wasn’t.
15. More Horsepower
It was flat out embarrassing to be passed by a hippie in a VW bus going up a hill. Meantime, we were doing zero to 60 in six miles.
14. Auto Slack Adjusters
They don’t solve all braking issues but they help.
13. Single-stick Transmissions
Two-stick transmissions took skill to shift smoothly. Done right it was good, but lose your spot and accidentally put both sticks in neutral and you were forced to stop and try again.
12. Improved and Clearer Log-book Rules
Some will not agree, but how often did we hear… “We really need you to get that load there by tomorrow morning”? What was STRONGLY implied was “Use logbooks B and C, sleep tomorrow… maybe… and don’t be a wuss. You slept at least four hours last night.”
11. Satellite Radio
In the back of my mileage book I used to list all my favorite radio station frequencies for as many cities as possible. With the old dial radios, finding a station was an art. Some places didn’t have my kind of music and so I resorted to cassettes. Today, I still carry some CDs but now I can listen to whatever music I want on the satellite radio and when I tire of that, I plug in the MP3/iPod player.
10. More Four-lane Highways
But why do we still have some two-lane Trans Canada? Never made sense to me. Nothing like getting behind a Saskatchewan farmer on a two-laner with nothing but time on his hands as he runs 60-70 kph looking at his neighbor’s crops on the way to the coffee shop. Today, you have many more passing lanes and four-lane roads.
9. Fully Automated Manual Transmissions
I have really no idea how many gear changes I’ve made over 25-plus years in farm trucks and highway tractors, but two million changes is not unbelievable. Probably even more if you ask my right wrist. I even considered going to drive in England or Australia to give my right wrist a breather. There are quirks to the new transmissions but I’m sure they’ll get much better. Mine is an early generation and most days I really like it.
8. Larger Adjustable Mirrors
Makes blind-side backing not quite so blind. I admit that on occasion I forget to adjust them back so next time I look in the mirror I scare myself, wondering why the truck 4 four lanes over looks like it is beside me.
7. Truck-stop Restaurants with Healthier Choices and Better Food
In some of those old greasy spoons, they had to keep the music cranked up loud to drown out the sound of your arteries hardening and closing up.
6. Newer Warehouses with Easier truck Access
Fortunately for us, people don’t want 53-ft rigs running downtown all the time so the trend has been to site warehouse developments closer to suburbs and four-lane roads. Yes!
5. Satellite Dispatch that Provides all the Information a Driver Needs
In the past, we were expected to know what the dispatcher was thinking as we called in on pay phones from beside a busy highway. “Go to… crackle… Great… sczzz… Company in Elksczzz and pickup sczzz….”. “WHAT????”. “Why aren’t you listening!!!! D@#* drivers!!!” (that last part always came through clearly).
4. Female Trailers
A female trailer is one with side skirts. It’s no surprise I like this. I get better fuel economy and a nice clean skirt looks cute!
3. Better Truckstops, Cleaner Showers, More Efficient Pumps
In Canada we still haven’t mastered the art of having both sides pumping at the same time and don’t give me the BS about our weather. North Dakota does it and it works fine. But all-in-all, our truckstops are much nicer. Showers get cleaned. (I know they do… I actually saw a cleaner once.) Sometimes you can see the pavement and if your day ends at 3:00 p.m., you may be able to find a parking spot.
2. Auxiliary Power Units
They just make sense. Ask any mechanic and he or she will tell you most damage happens during idling. I never made any money idling in a truckstop. Still baffles me why some idle their trucks when the weather is so nice. I guess they have more money to waste than me.
Number-ONE Reason I say Trucking is Better Now Than it Used to Be was That First Incident in Pennsylvania
I’m still around and trucking. The only thing that happened was a cop saw me blow the light with brakes smoking.
Over the years, I had good veteran drivers who took me under their wings to show me what it meant to be a trucker. I try to pass that wisdom on to rookies today.
Trucking is constantly undergoing changes that would be too big a challenge for other industries. While we are often quite unhappy with what we need to change, we continue to adapt and then thrive while doing so.
I am optimistic that as an industry we will continue improving what we haul, what we do it with, and for whom we do it.
Since I am ‘just’ a trucker I can’t always count so here are other things that have improved our trucking careers:
Drivers get better training today. They’re not just given a key, a pair of cowboy boots and told to “have at ‘er son!”
Improved brake drums and shoes mean better stopping. Disc brakes, well as engine brakes that work, help. Sensors prevent most major engine failures. Customers understand logistics. Improved fuel and oil improve fuel economy. Heaters and refers keep product at the required temperature. Other big improvements include nitrogen in tubeless tires, better recaps that stay capped, low-rolling-resistance tires, LED lights, brighter, whiter headlights and last but certainly not least – companies, like the one I drive for , that have the willingness to run legal.
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