On December 5th, 2017, the trucking industry lost one of its true icons, and we at 10-4 Magazine lost a contributor and friend, when RJ Taylor passed away at 75 years old. Famous and well-known for many things, RJ was a true old-school trucker back in the day, who later became a champion for truck safety. He ran the same rig – a custom 1951 Kenworth named “Ol’ Blue” – for over 50 years, which graced many magazine covers and hauled a bevy of unique loads, as well.
Born on February 18, 1942, as soon as he was old enough, RJ became an owner operator. In 1964, RJ won a lawsuit, but the guy had no money to pay his restitution, so he gave RJ his 1951 Kenworth, instead. Although RJ did not want the tired truck, it was the beginning of what would become a life-long partnership. This “junky old rig” went on to grace magazine covers and become a popular sight at truck shows for years to come. His company, T&S Truck Lines, which was based in Van Nuys, CA, specialized in overweight and oversize loads.
Trucking hard throughout the 1960s and 1970s, RJ had the privilege and honor of moving the Apollo 14 command module several times, and hauled one of the longest loads in California’s history at the time (a 165-foot long steel roof truss) without a steerable trailer. His total length for that load was 185 feet, with a rear overhang of 52 feet! But, as the years went by, RJ found himself getting more involved in safety issues, education, and improving relations between the motoring public, law enforcement and commercial drivers, prompting him to form Ol’ Blue, USA – a nonprofit organization – in 1986.
In the beginning, Ol’ Blue, USA hosted truck safety contests, where drivers would enter their rig and be judged on how safe it was, not how pretty it looked. RJ also took his rig to various schools and educated young people about being safe around large vehicles. Later, RJ teamed-up with several law enforcement agencies and began attending truck shows across the country. Setting up the Ol’ Blue, USA “Safety Center” with his KW as its centerpiece, the officers would answer safety and compliance questions asked by drivers. This eventually led to radio programs and printed articles – including “Ask The Law” in 10-4 Magazine, which made its debut in 2006.
As the editor of 10-4 Magazine, I had the privilege of working with RJ for over ten years. We talked at least twice a month on the phone, and these conversations were never brief, covering every topic under the sun, regarding both business and personal matters. I sometimes dreaded these calls because they could be long, and because RJ could be a stubborn and ornery old man. He was a stickler for detail, he always did things by the book (and then some), and he put trademarks on everything to protect himself – he even fought Kenworth on a trademark issue once – and won! But, now that he is gone, I will surely miss these calls and the special friendship we had.
On September 20, 2017, RJ went into the hospital for a fairly simple surgery. While there, he contracted an infection, which he never recovered from. Bouncing between hospitals and rehab centers three or four times over the next few months, his body finally gave out and he passed away on December 5, 2017, at 75 years old. Following a small but intimate traditional Jewish service, RJ was laid to rest on December 11, 2017 at Eden Memorial Park in Mission Hills, CA.
RJ is survived by one son and his longtime companion, Pam Hagen, who has been quietly by his side for over 30 years. Being a bit dyslexic, Pam helped RJ prepare his article each month, and with most of his other dealings, as well – especially the ones that involved any writing. With very little formal education, RJ always jokingly said, “I’ve got an elementary school education with a kindergarten influence.” He sure liked his one-liners, and he had a lot of them!
At this writing, the future of his organization, his monthly article, and his Kenworth are uncertain. We do hope someone can pick up the torch and continue these noble efforts, as they are worthy, and they were RJ’s life’s work. A true American legend, for sure, RJ Taylor has earned a prominent parking spot in trucking history, and this silver-haired man won’t soon be forgotten. RJ pushed on doors that said “pull” for his entire life, and we are sure he is still doing that in his new heavenly home. Take care, my friend – you will be missed.
EDITOR’S NOTE: We published an extensive 2-part feature about RJ Taylor and Ol’ Blue, USA back in March and April of 2015. If you want to read the entire story and see more pictures, and you should, because it’s a great story, I encourage you to check them out in the archives of our “Editor’s Choice” column.