It’s pretty safe to say that memories are all we have left at the end of the day. It’s funny how the smallest things can trigger the most vivid recollections of our lives – like a song, a place, a smell, and the list goes on and on. For many of us in this industry, we take pride in what we do out here on the road every day, even on the bad days! It is not uncommon for us to skip dinner and run all night to make our unload appointments by 7am the next morning, then haul ass to reload a hundred miles away, and then try like hell to stay with it all that day to hopefully get home in time to have dinner with our family. There is nothing about our industry that is 9 to 5, and that is okay with us, because we put pride in what we do. I know that sounds a little corny, but to most of us, our memories in this industry are what have helped to make us the truck nuts we are today!
One thing is sure – we all have someone, or a group of people, to thank for sparking our early interests in trucking. For some of us it was a family member or a friend, or maybe it was just one random day when a truck drove by and stopped you in your tracks, prompting you to decide right then and there that you were someday going to be that guy in that old truck. In my case, it was all the above. My mentor is a family member, and he has had his share of old trucks – some better than others! He is a proud Marine, a phenomenal trucker, and most of all, the reason that I have so many great trucking memories. And, fortunately for me, he is my dad, Bill Welsh. He will probably disown me after he discovers that I put this piece together, but I can’t imagine a better way to kick off a new series of articles focusing on the “old days” than to make our first “Fog Line Rewind” column on the man that inspired me.
As you can see here, the pictures in these articles will probably not be from the latest and greatest digital cameras, and most of them will not have been taken by a professional, but that is not what this somewhat-regular column will be about. It is more about the cool trucks of yesteryear, and the amazing memories they will undoubtedly awaken in so many of us. It is important for us to not forget where we came from, and to not forget the past – as these old trucks fade away and their drivers disappear, their stories will be lost, too. So, let’s open up the shoebox and peer inside for a look at my trucking mentor and some of the cool rides he has built and owned over the years.
Dad’s first truck was a dark blue 1973 Freightliner cabover day cab with a 318 Detroit. It didn’t have a lot of power, but it got the job done. Bill would run mostly to California and Idaho, hauling lumber products in the early 80’s with this truck, and I loved riding in it because he pulled out the passenger seat (so he could store his tie down equipment and tarps), which meant that I got to stack pillows and blankets on the doghouse and sit in the middle all day. I laugh about it now, but it used to tick him off when I’d put my hands on the rear windows in the middle of a hard hill pull just to see how hot the exhaust was making the glass. Because of that truck, every time I hear an old Detroit at a truck show, I remember my dad saying, “Hands off the glass!” – then nudging me in the arm with a good-old-boy grin.
By the time the mid 80’s rolled around, dad was hauling finished hardwood materials and laminated beams to the eastern seaboard and then returning with high-dollar veneers from Canada for the mills out west. Making at least two of these turns a month, dad knew that he needed to upgrade his rig, so in 1985 he went to the local Freightliner dealership in Coburg, Oregon and traded in his “Old Blue” Jimmy-powered day cab for a brand new silver 1985 Freight-shakin’ conventional with maroon and grey stripes, a 42” sit-down sleeper, and a 400 Big Cam Cummins. All I remember is mom and I pulling up to our house that day in the car and me jumping out of the car while it was still rolling and sprinting up our driveway in shock! The first thing I asked my dad, in my squeaky, annoying, 9-year-old voice was, “Is this OURS?” Dad opened up the passenger door and said, “Yep, better get in there.” Needless to say, I was beyond pumped! I was mostly excited because this truck had a passenger seat and a stereo! My dad and I made a lot of east coast trips in “Silver” and that was the first truck that he ever let me sit on his lap and steer.
Over the next few years, we kept doin’ the same thing, and every now and then dad and I would empty out somewhere along the east coast, park the truck somewhere safe, and then go tour some of the historical sites this cool country of ours has to offer. I’ll never forget stepping down into the lower levels of one of our most famous colonial battle ships (Ironsides) in the Boston Harbor in 1988 and touching one of the cannons, or visiting Paul Revere’s house, and the list goes on and on. On another trip, during one of our “field trips” in Boston, I can remember sitting on a bench in downtown and my dad nudging me and saying, “You know, we’re just like a couple of bums with money!” I have my dad to thank for building me into the proud American Patriot that I am today.
Peterbilts entered the Welsh house in the late 1980’s when I begged dad to purchase a yellow 1980 Pete 359 with a 36” bunk that was roached – dad thought I was crazy, but he bought it. Somebody had taken the original dark brown interior and spray-painted it black, along with a long list of other sins, but I promised him that together we could fix it up and make it sweet. After bringing “Old Yeller” home, dad went straight to the local hardware store and bought two gallons of lacquer thinner and a bag of rags, handed it all to me and said, “Time to stay true to your word and make this interior brown again.” While I went to work inside the cab, dad put on his coveralls and started “tweakin” the fuel pump. By the time the weekend was over, I had made that interior brown and brand-new looking again. Old Yeller was the first truck dad ever let me drive on my own, and for that reason (and others), it will always be one of my all-time favorites. One time, while bobtailing home from the shop when I was far too young to be driving, I had to ditch a local cop by hiding out behind a supermarket. That was a priceless memory, made possible by a great trucker.
Bill put down some pretty good miles in that old yellow 359, which was once a part of the Maks Wood Products’ fleet. In 1994, dad traded it in on the first of several 379’s he’d eventually have – this first one, painted dark cherry with black fenders, featured a Cat engine, a 265” wheelbase, a 63” standup sleeper, and Low Air suspension. With a standup bunk, this truck had some extra space to paint up above the headboard on the rear of the sleeper, and dad knew just what he wanted there – a mural of our Marines standing our country’s flag at Iwo Jima during WWII. He also had that same mural airbrushed on his 1997 Pete 379, painted white and grey, a few years later.
My dad really liked his standup sleeper trucks, but having always been an old street rodder at heart, in 1999 he ordered what would be his first “sanitary” street rod rig – a Viper Red Peterbilt 379 with a 256” wheelbase, a car-hauler front axle, a 36” bunk, and Low Low Air rear suspension. This truck had a factory stamped weight of just over 15,000 pounds, and was ordered that way to maximize dad’s payload rates for the veneer loads he was hauling out of eastern Canada (which paid by the weight). But that plan didn’t last long after the red rod was delivered because dad hooked up with a new commodity to haul – boats. After landing a new gig hauling for Tigé Competition Boats out of their plant in Abilene, Texas to various points throughout the country, Bill turned his truck into a “stinger steered” boat hauler. These big double-stacked loads kept him as busy as he wanted to be for a good handful of years, but, as things often go, not everything lasts forever. When the economy took a downturn several years ago, so did the people buying boats, which drastically reduced the amount of freight dad was used to. It only took dad and I a weekend to strip all of the boat-hauling gear off of the rig, slap a 5th wheel back on it, and get him set to go flatbed truckin’ again.
Over the last few years, dad has had a few other Peterbilts, Freightliners and flatbeds, and just keeps rollin’ along like he always has. He has been my main mentor, my main influence, and my best truckin’ buddy since the day I was born, and I’m sure lucky to have him. From the days of my early childhood, when dad installed a motorcycle battery, two toggle switches, and a whole load of chicken lights on my Radio Flyer wagon, clear through the years to taking a week off to help me get my yellow A-model Kenworth ready for the antique truck show in Pleasanton, CA a few years ago, and even still today, as dad is helping me brainstorm a plan for my new little project – a 1965 Pete butterfly hood single-axle hay hauler – dad has always been by my side, and I will never be able to pay him back enough for that – but I’ll try like hell!
We’ve all found ways over the years to deal with all of the BS and control that has taken a lot of the freedom and fun out of this industry because, unfortunately, in most cases, we have to – but not in all cases. We’ll always enjoy pulling one over on the brown shirts and finding a way to do things our way when we can, all the while remembering where we came from, and grinnin’ on down the road. Thanks for the memories, dad. I hope you know how much I appreciate everything you have done for me, and I will never forget all the great times we have had together – you are truly a noble man!