For the past five decades, lifelong trucker RJ Taylor and ‘Ol’ Blue’TM, his unique 1951 (or 1952) Kenworth, have been a dynamic duo, hauling freight and educating the motoring public about safety, through the non-profit organization Ol’ Blue, USA, which Taylor formed in 1986 and still sits on the board today.
Last month, we began this special feature by highlighting the ups and downs of the first few decades of ‘Ol’ Blue’TM and its eccentric and ornery owner, RJ Taylor of T&S Truck Lines in Van Nuys, California. This month, we will pick up where we left off, and continue running down this road that will bring us to the present – not the end, by any means – but the present!
In January of 1989, ‘Ol’ Blue’TM went through some major changes to keep up with the times and be more productive in hauling oversize loads. This project, which took two months in two shops, included replacing the previously-broken and sleeved aluminum frame rails with new steel rails and new Peterbilt cross-members. Starting with brand new blank rails, the mechanics were able to drill only the necessary holes, giving the truck a cleaner look. Also, the rear of the rails were cut at a special angle so the trailer would not hang-up going over rough terrain (which was a regular occurrence for this rig). The new rails were one foot longer, increasing the wheelbase of ‘Ol’ Blue’TM to 276 inches.
Some other improvements that were made at this time included replacing the 12 hard-riding front “stacked” springs with a specially-designed GMC “taper-leaf” suspension with four soft-riding springs, and switching out the original “manual” (with air-assist added later) steering gear box, steering column and wheel with a redesigned Peterbilt power steering gear box with a custom, one-of-a-kind, Autotech telescopic-tilt steering wheel and column.
The old Eaton 1919 single-drive rear-end was replaced with an Eaton 23105C single-drive “controlled-traction” rear end, and then the old Page & Page spring suspension was replaced with a Neway air-ride system with a “spring-lift” tag axle. Having the controlled-traction and a spring-lift tag axle made the “twin-drive” rear ends 1,500 pounds lighter and, with the axle lifted, the tractor could turn sharper, with no drag from the rear axle.
By locking in the controlled-traction, this rig could go just about anywhere a “twin-drive” could. To finish the job, the entire drivetrain and suspensions were painted white and accented in powder blue. The new frame rails were painted metallic blue, while the new cross-members on the frame were sprayed white.
In 1991, the Spicer 14-speed transmission bearings and case failed because of too much torque from the Big Cam 400. This transmission was replaced with the latest Eaton 18-speed, which is still serving ‘Ol’ Blue’TM today.
In 1996, Taylor decided it was time to replace the rig’s Big Cam 400. Thinking ahead, he had the Cummins dealership in Santa Fe Springs, California, build him a Recon Big Cam 460 to his specs so that the engine could (and would) pass the U.S. EPA’s upcoming requirements for smog testing. The Big Cam 460 was the last of the non-computerized engines, and this motor, which RJ painted white, along with the transmission, has served ‘Ol’ Blue’TM well for almost 20 years now – and it still runs great.
‘Ol’ Blue’TM has hauled a lot of loads, and most of them were oversized and/or very heavy. Throughout the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s, RJ and his trusty steed moved freight for companies like Symons Screens and Ross-Carter Corp., which were both located in North Hollywood, California, as well as Fontaine Truck Equipment Company, which was in Santa Fe Springs, California.
Symons specialized in a wide variety of rugged, reliable screening equipment for the aggregate, coal, mineral and asphalt industries. These “awkward” loads ranged anywhere from 6-ft. to 10-ft. wide and 16-ft. to 40-ft. long. Ross-Carter not only made, but invented, the manufactured steel roof truss. Many of the long loads ‘Ol’ Blue’TM hauled were girders and trusses from Ross-Carter. Fontaine specialized in making custom military trucks, and ‘Ol’ Blue’TM moved a bunch of them over the years, as well.
But, as the years went by, Taylor found himself getting more interested and involved in safety issues, education, and improving relations between the motoring public, law enforcement, and commercial drivers.
BACK TO SCHOOL
In addition to hauling loads, ‘Ol’ Blue’TM also became an 80,000-pound teacher’s aide. The School Program was incorporated into the Ol’ Blue, USA agenda in 1986, however the truck and driver, RJ Taylor, had already been visiting local schools in California for 15 years.
What began as more of a “show and tell” about ‘Ol’ Blue’TM, Taylor quickly realized that safety was more important, so he changed-up the theme and focus of his visits to safety around large vehicles – and not just big rigs, all large vehicles, including cars with trailers, RVs, school buses, and others. Utilizing ‘Ol’ Blue’TM as a learning tool, Taylor would teach the kids about traffic safety by demonstrating visual limitations and handling difficulties associated with the size and weight of large vehicles, like his.
Ms. Bobbi Farrell came up with the name “Big Wheels Little Kids” in 1988. Ol’ Blue, USA also created a short story and coloring book in January 2002 to help teach the kids about bicycle safety around large vehicles. Special thanks go out to “Officer Brown,” played by Officer Ken Wallace, and “Officer Blue,” played by Officer Dan Francisco, both from California Highway Patrol, with additional help from Don Rector, Bill Hudgins, Stan Holtzman, Gary Bricken, Pam Hagen and Kathy Harders. This coloring and story book, which is still today available for download online (www.olblueusa.org), was a huge success and a fantastic teaching tool.
Beginning in 1995, in addition to attending several truck shows a year, Ol’ Blue, USA began conducting an annual cross-country National Safety Tour. For three months of the year, RJ and ‘Ol’ Blue’TM would leave their California base to visit schools, truck stops, rest areas, trucking shows and various trucking-related events in some 15 states with much success. When visiting schools, the focus was always about safety, but it was geared toward children.
At the truck stops and trucking shows, the focus was also safety, but more driver-oriented, with an emphasis on proper vehicle maintenance, inspection procedures, and understanding the ever-changing rules (especially the confusing Hours of Service regulations).
At the trucking shows, the Ol’ Blue, USA “Safety CenterTM” combined the resources of the Ol’ Blue, USA team with state and local law enforcement, U.S. DOT, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), sponsors, and others to further promote large vehicle safety. At the Safety CenterTM, show attendees and exhibitors could ask questions and voice their concerns about highway safety.
In addition, attendees had the opportunity to interact with a variety of safety, maintenance, government and law enforcement personnel in one central location. They could participate in large vehicle safety, maintenance, pre-trip and roadside inspection demonstrations, and attend question and answer sessions. Ol’ Blue, USA was the only organization of its kind to provide these types of demonstrations at the truck shows.
Over the years, ‘Ol’ Blue’TM went to a lot of shows. At first, it was to compete in the truck beauty contests, but eventually, after forming Ol’ Blue, USA, Taylor began promoting safety. In the beginning, it was the International Trucking Show (ITS) in Anaheim, California, and the Mid-America Trucking Show (MATS) in Louisville, Kentucky. Ol’ Blue, USA began attending these events in 1986, and then added others, later, including the North American Truck Show in Boston, Massachusetts (1996-2005), the Great American Trucking Show (GATS) in Dallas, Texas (1999-2002 and then 2006-present), the Truck Show Latino in Pomona, California (2005-2009), the Golden State Trucking Expo in Pomona, California (2010 and 2011), and many others.
Taylor always had a great relationship with the show producers, who willingly donated space for ‘Ol’ Blue’TM to park so Taylor could host his safety demonstrations. Gary Sherrard, who produced the ITS show from the 1960s until his retirement in 2001, at which point his son Roger took over, was always a great friend and big supporter of Ol’ Blue, USA. Taylor and his team attended that show every year from 1986 until 2006, when it was sold to Randall-Reilly (magazine publishers and producers of the GATS show in Dallas, Texas). Under this new ownership, Taylor and his team continued to get support from the folks at Randall-Reilly, so they continued to attend the now Great West Trucking Show (GWTS)in Las Vegas, Nevada, from 2007-2013, at which point the event ceased to exist.
SPONSORS & SUCH
Taylor was fortunate to secure several dedicated sponsors to help support Ol’ Blue, USA and its various programs over the years. Some of these sponsors included Shell Oil, Michelin Tire, Alcoa Wheel, Webb Wheel Products, Wilshire Insurance Company, Neway Suspensions, Gabriel Shocks, Valeo Clutches, DuPont Finishes and more. Most of these companies provided both product and money, but Taylor would never accept a sponsorship from a company he did not feel comfortable endorsing – all of his sponsors were companies that he was familiar with and products he trusted and used (even before they became sponsors).
As part of their deal, each sponsor got their logo on the side of the 53-foot trailer ‘Ol’ Blue’TM pulled to the trucking shows and across the country on the annual Safety Tour trips. Also, on the sides of this rolling billboard, were the logos of supporting truck shows that donated space at their events and law enforcement agencies that participated in and endorsed Ol’ Blue, USA’s various safety programs.
Most of these sponsors got on board in the early to mid-1990s and stuck around until times got tough when Ol’ Blue, USA lost its sponsorship from the Mid-America Trucking Show, along with their donated space for the team, when the show producers broke their contract with Ol’ Blue, USA in 2006. This marked the beginning of the end for the National Safety Tour.
Whenever ‘Ol’ Blue’TM was at a truck show, local reporters and national radio personalities often interviewed RJ at the event to get the “low down” as to what Ol’ Blue, USA was up to in its booth. Not one to draw attention to himself, Taylor started talking about safety during these interviews, and, eventually, started handing off the mic to law enforcement personnel in the Safety CenterTM. Pretty soon, people started calling in and asking the officers questions and the “Ask The LawTM” radio program was born.
Starting in 1997, Taylor and various law enforcement personnel graced the airwaves of several radio networks across the country, on a regular basis, taking questions from listeners (drivers and the general public) about all sorts of commercial vehicle safety issues and regulatory guidance. Some of the stations/shows included the Midnight Trucking Radio Network, Open Road Café, Road Gang Radio Network, The Loading Dock, Truckin’ Bozo and many more. Some of the notable hosts of these programs included personalities such as Bill Mack, Dave Nemo, Eric Harley, Dale Sommers, Gary McNamara, Kevin Rutherford and others.
Around September 2000, the folks at the Midnight Trucking Radio Network approached Ol’ Blue, USA and pitched the idea of doing brief 60-second recorded clips featuring safety tips to run on their network. Taylor liked the idea, but did not want to write or record the messages himself, so he turned to his longtime friend, veteran trucker and trucking journalist David “Cabover” Kolman, for some help.
David Kolman loved the idea and ended up recording a total of 48 “A Safety MinuteTM” clips for Ol’ Blue, USA. These clips, which featured practical tips for enhancing highway safety, were run throughout the month for several years and, like the Ask The LawTM radio programs, were a tremendous success.
On route to the Mid-America Trucking Show in 2001, Taylor and ‘Ol’ Blue’TM were stopped at a scale in Kentucky – the officers there had recognized the rig and wanted to “have some coffee” with Taylor. Stepping out of his rig, Taylor’s foot came down hard on some uneven concrete, causing him severe pain. At the time, he had no idea of the severity of the injury, so, after spending some time with the officers, he pressed on to Louisville and then began getting ‘Ol’ Blue’TM ready for the show.
While prepping the rig, people noticed Taylor hobbling around so they offered to help, and, eventually, someone took RJ to the hospital where it was determined that the foot was broken and he was fitted with a cast. Needless to say, that was not an easy show, but Taylor got through it and the Safety CenterTM ran as planned without any problems. RJ Taylor has always been a man of his word, and this is a perfect example.
By this time, RJ was in his late fifties and that foot never completely healed, making it hard for him to perform all of the necessary labor that comes naturally with heavy-haul work, so Taylor retired from full-time trucking in 2003.
HOT OFF THE PRESSES
Several print publications began regularly calling the folks at Ol’ Blue, USA to get their opinion about hot topics and/or current events of the day. Not allowed to give their “opinion” for legal and practical reasons, law enforcement personnel would simply define and interpret the regulation or rules in question. This relationship with the trucking publications eventually led to a monthly Ask The LawTM print column in three publications – 10-4 Magazine, The Trucker and Movin’ Out – which began in April 2006. Later, Through The Gears was added to the list.
All of these publications ran the same column each month (no “exclusive” agreements were allowed). Being a non-profit organization, Ol’ Blue, USA has always played by the rules, which are strict and specific. So, whenever one of these publications was found “not playing by the rules” they were dropped. As of May 2009, 10-4 Magazine has been the only publication where you can still find these Ask The LawTM print columns each and every month!
Like the printed Ask The LawTM programs, the radio programs had their problems, too. Stations and/or networks that featured Ask The LawTM radio programs also had a strict set of rules to follow, like no paid sponsors and no repeating of the “live” programs.
As the popularity of the programs soared, so did the wants and desires of the stations, looking to bolster profits (and who could blame them?) by “bending” the rules. This, along with some politics and station buyouts, eventually led to the end of the radio gigs in 2012.
Ol’ Blue, USA has seven members on their Board: William Bigelson (Treasurer), a CPA from Northridge, California; Sam Eichenberger, a retired trucker and owner-operator from North Hills, California; Cliff McHenry, a retired insurance broker from La Mirada, California; Monty Dial of Garland, Texas, a retired Senior Trooper from Texas Highway Patrol, Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division; David Kolman of Baltimore, Maryland, a veteran trucker, trucking journalist and a founder of the Truck Writers of North America (TWNA) and the Used Truck Association (UTA); Donald W. Rector (Secretary) of Glendale, California, a retired supervisor from the School, Traffic and Safety Education Section of the Los Angeles Unified School District; and RJ Taylor (President) of Van Nuys, California, a retired owner-operator.
In addition to the Board of Directors, Ol’ Blue, USA has a dedicated group of active, retired and previous law enforcement officers from across the country that participate and help. Some of these officers include Sr. Trooper Monty Dial, retired from the Texas Highway Patrol, Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division; Jim Brokaw, formerly a Staff Sergeant with Nebraska State Patrol, Carrier Enforcement Division;
Sergeant Pete Camm, retired from the California Highway Patrol, Commercial Vehicle Section; Officer Jaime Nunez of the California Highway Patrol, Commercial Vehicle Section; Lieutenant James Portilla of the California Highway Patrol, Commercial Vehicle Section; and Lieutenant Monty Kea of Texas Highway Patrol, Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division. Throughout the years, there have been a host of other involved law enforcement personnel from agencies in Indiana, Kentucky, Ohio, Nevada and other states, but there are just too many to list them all.
Ol’ Blue, USA has also received a lot of help from Brian Christman (he has been its webmaster almost since the beginning), Pam Hagen and Ken “Bosco” Cope, who was a pilot-car operator for ‘Ol’ Blue’TM for years. Special thanks also go out to Greg Hardin of Kentucky Vehicle Enforcement and Beverly Steele with Warren County, Kentucky, for their help in arranging the school programs, as well as Maury Hannigan and D.O. “Spike” Helmick, both retired commissioners of the California Highway Patrol, for their help in securing Ol’ Blue, USA’s association with the CHP. Another helpful supporter was Sue Fena, who worked with the management of the ITS show – Sue has “gone to bat” for Ol’ Blue, USA since 1986!
But, more than anyone, David “Cabover” Kolman has been a tireless advocate and helper of Ol’ Blue, USA since its inception in the 1980s. David is not only on the Board, but he is also the editor of the Ask The LawTM print column and Taylor’s “go-to guy” for everything Ol’ Blue, USA does – and he has never accepted a dime!
PATS ON THE BACK
RJ Taylor and Ol’ Blue, USA have received many awards, proclamations, resolutions and commendations from prominent law enforcement associations, school districts, cities, counties and states, signed by various supervisors, mayors, governors, and even a U.S. senator.
Ol’ Blue, USA has proudly received many communication awards from TWNA for their Ask The LawTM print and radio programs (2005, 2006, 2007 and 2008), and in 2005, RJ Taylor himself received a Lifetime Achievement Award from TWNA for his outstanding contributions to the improvement of communications in the trucking industry. TWNA is an organization of professionals who are involved in gathering, writing and reporting news and information about the commercial vehicle industry.
For a complete list of all the accolades Ol’ Blue, USA has received over the years, visit their website at www.olblueusa.org.
THE END – FOR NOW
Today, Ol’ Blue, USA is alive and well – but without sponsors. Starting to show her age, ‘Ol’ Blue’TM mostly “sits in the barn” while Taylor and his team continue to run the Safety CenterTM at just a handful of events now. 10-4 Magazine continues to run the only Ask The LawTM print column, and it has been quite some time since ‘Ol’ Blue’TM has visited a school.
Still pushing on doors that say pull, Taylor continues to move forward, all in the name of safety. Hoping someone might be interested in rebuilding and/or restoring ‘Ol’ Blue’TM one more time (maybe someone with a television show) is RJ’s hope, these days.
With 2-3 million miles on her and even more stories to tell, ‘Ol’ Blue’TM and its infamous silver-haired owner, RJ Taylor, have each earned a prominent parking spot in trucking history, but put them together, and this dynamic duo is a certified “American Legend” for sure.