“I can’t make you rich, but I can make you famous!” That was Bette Garber’s signature phrase when she met someone she was going to write about. Bette was a photojournalist who took great pride in the pictures she took and the stories she wrote about the men and women who drove the trucks she shot and moved our nation. I can’t believe it’s been 10 years since I lost my best friend and the trucking industry lost a great cheerleader.
Many of you remember Bette, but as the years go by, new drivers have no idea who she was or the contributions she made to our industry. Bette would do all kinds of crazy things to get a picture she could see in her mind. She would shoot from bridges, hang out the passenger side window of my truck (door was locked), or lay on the upper bunk and shoot out the sleeper window with her wide-angle lens, to get two trucks running down the interstate. I even have a picture of her standing on top of the T-600 KW I was driving in the Virgin River Canyon.
Today, there are so many great truck pictures being taken and shared by drivers with their cell phones all over social media. This year, instead of the typical annual photo contest we have had in the past, I would like to feature a few of these drivers who also take some pretty amazing pictures in their travels. Some use only cell phones, but some have sophisticated cameras, too.
My friend Cathy Sherman and Bette met at the Walcott Truckers Jamboree in the mid-80s. Cathy’s 1984 Peterbilt 359 was featured in the 1984 Shell SuperRigs Calendar. Bette had seen the calendar, so she knew who Cathy was, and Cathy knew who Bette was from her writing. Cathy remembers standing next to Bette’s van talking, and it was there they started a lifelong friendship. Over the years, Bette shot Cathy’s signature Concord Blue Peterbilts and the International she won so many awards with.
At an accident scene that closed the Interstate near Redding, CA, Bette and Cynthia Tobin met while walking their dogs and taking pictures of the sunset. They became friends over the next six hours, trying to catch a photo of snow falling through a smokestack exhaust. Cynthia is from Canada and doesn’t run in the states now, but she still takes and shares amazing pictures!
Shannon Royce has a style that caught my eye a few years ago and we became Facebook friends. One day, while going east on I-70 in Indiana, Shannon messaged me, “I see you!” I saw the message after I saw this nice camera out the passenger window, and I told John, “That’s a nice camera, and they have a polarizer on the lens, too.” We stopped in Richmond at the Petro and actually met, and, of course, took a few pictures, as well.
Shannon did what some people said she could not do when she got her CDL five years ago and began running team with her husband Greg. She shoots some amazing pictures rolling down the road with her GoPro. Because she can shoot when Greg is driving, she gets a lot of pictures like Bette used to shoot when she rode with me all those years ago.
For Tommy Sierras, while growing up, trucks were a passion, and his hero was a truck driver – his grandfather, Wayne Townsend. He had always planned to go with him but, sadly, a week after Tommy got his CDL, his hero passed away. When he was younger, Tommy used to draw and paint a little, but after he got his CDL 20 years ago, there was little time for that hobby. So, about 10 years ago, he turned towards photography. Sometimes taking his perspective in art into his photography, as you can see in some of his photos, they are edited a bit to enhance the photo to make it look more like a painting.
Some people say that Bette was ahead of her time, but I think she was right on time – and she had a style all her own. She started shooting long before Photoshop came along, and the only way you got the right picture was to get up early for the sunrise and hope the clouds cooperated with you for the shot. Those beautiful scenic shots depended on if a pretty truck might come by while you were standing there along the road, as well. She used filters to turn what might have been a bland picture into one with drama and punch, and her star filter to create the twinkling lights she loved so much. After a long trip on the road, it was like Christmas when you got home, getting the film developed and seeing what you thought was a great shot didn’t turn out or a shot you forgot about ended up being spectacular.
After Bette passed away, I was fortunate to get most of her pictures, which were primarily slides. Randy Kaylor who owns Pro-Fab Associates in Manheim, PA offered to help me with getting Bette’s work digitized (scanning the slides), but we quickly found that it was going to be a very time-consuming and possibly costly process. Last year, at the Keystone Diesel Nationals, Joseph Graham was in attendance and very interested in the loop of Bette’s pictures that Randy was playing in a tent. Joseph talked with Randy and eventually offered to help us with this project. He is a man of nostalgia and feels it’s very important to remember the pioneers of trucking photography. Being a driver himself, he got into photography, as well, about three years ago.
With the knowledge to get the slides converted, off to work he went. The slides he’s done so far, he is putting into albums, if he knows when and where they were taken. It’s going to be a huge undertaking to get as much of her work together with as much information about the photos as possible, but it’s a very important step of the process (and of trucking history).
There is a Facebook page we set up called “Highway Images A Tribute to Bette Garber” after her death. It’s a page where drivers can post scenic pictures that they take now to share the love Bette had of her time on the road and all the drivers she met. Right now, the focus is to get as many albums as we can posted to the page. I would like to invite everyone to look through the albums and, if you have information about any of the photos, please share. Check back often, as it’s going to take a long time for this project to be complete – but when it is, it will be amazing!
Joseph is planning on creating a vault for Bette’s work on his website, where he can put together articles about the pictures, as he goes. Joseph owns and operates Hillbilly Express Media, which is a full-service video production company. You can visit his website at www.hbxmedia.com. He does the video work, as well as taking some pretty amazing photos, too. I would like to thank Joseph for his help. Bette, you are truly missed by your family and friends, but rest assured, my old friend, you will always be remembered.