This story starts like so many other ones, but this one is true. It happens every day and all over this great land. Dad is getting ready for work and mom is helping him find all the things that make his trip a little easier to bear. That’s where the story gets real. “Daddy sang bass, mama sang tenor, and us little kids just joined right in there.” Some of you may remember that song – it’s from way back in the past, around 1965 or so. Our house resembled those lyrics.
Anytime I was home, my son Steve (AKA Too Tall, to all you left-lane highway heroes) followed me around and mimicked most of what I did, which included making Jake brake sounds when he slowed down and beeping sounds to turn corners. He could tell the difference between truck engines when they went past the house just by their sound, and he knew every model of tractor on the road. He used to call them out when we were on the road – and not just the brand, but the year, and often the engine, too.
Just like that Johnny Cash song mentioned before implies, when we do things around here it’s done as a family. We are a hardcore trucking FAMILY. Notice I put more emphasis on family than on trucking. The reason is simple: if you don’t have the solid backing of your kin folks it will be much more difficult to succeed in this profession. Don’t get me wrong, you can make it out here alone, but if you do, who will benefit from that when you are gone?
All of us have had a childhood, and some of us learned most of life’s valuable lessons at an early age. A lot of mine were learned at the kitchen table and reinforced by a stern hand. Nothing reinforces a child’s ability to remember life’s lessons like the sound of leather being removed from seven belt loops in your dad’s Wrangler jeans. If that didn’t get the job done, my mother had a whip in the corner of our kitchen, next to the boot box by the door, and she was pretty good with it, too (when she grabbed for it, I made tracks out that door).
Where is this crazy old driver taking us this month? Really, I’m not having a senior moment, I’m setting the table for the future. You see, someday I will be gone from the road and someone will be needed to take my place, unless I get replaced by one of those driverless units delivering beer to Denver (you know that would make Bert Reynolds and Jerry Reed roll over in their graves). Rest in Peace Snowman and Bandit – we got your back. There will be a next generation of drivers just like there was one before us that drove those big rigs. The only question is where will we get them from and who is going to train them? They have always said, “If you want a job done right, you will need to do it yourself!” There’s the answer.
I am encouraged when someone passes me with their children in the cab. Yes, I know, that’s not politically correct, but it’s true. When your kids see what their dad or mom do to earn their living, they learn to appreciate more of what they have. Over the past few years, every child was told they needed to get a college education and then they would be successful. Let’s be honest – not everyone is intended for or interested in studying four years (or more) of “fluff n stuff” at some fancy university.
I’m of the belief that for every 100 people (I won’t call them kids because they are young adults who need to be responsible for themselves), only maybe 10 are college material, 40 need to attend technical training, and the rest just need to go out and get full-time jobs. Yes, I realize I’m being harsh on them, but nobody said life would be a cake-walk! The problem too many young people face today is they have not experienced enough challenging events to have their own opinions. If we continue to coddle them all through their youth, they will never decide what they don’t want to do, and therefore not have any idea of what they are capable of.
I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family that understood the value of hard work and dedication to one’s own self. Sometimes that meant putting my needs and my life first. When some of my friends were partying on Friday night, I was washing dishes in a local restaurant because I had a job, because I needed the money to buy gas, so I could continue to go to school. That’s the difference between wanting an education and needing an education. You see, I did all three options – I got a job, then I learned a trade, and finally I attended higher education. Just for the record, all of these were done on my dime. I paid the full price, except for my GI Bill.
What does all of this have to do with kids and trucking families? Well, everything! First, where did I learn to work? At home, as a child, alongside both my mother and my father, and my other siblings. Back then, I pulled a lot of weeds in the family garden, mowed the lawn, and later learned to drive one of dad’s tractors to work in the fields, just like my cousins and big brother were. When I was old enough to get a job away from that farm, I took it (I never did like pulling weeds). As long as Walmart has a produce section, we will not be planting a garden around here. That was one of those lessons in life where I learned what didn’t excite me at all. I knew when I got older that farming was not in my future, even when my grandfather offered me the chance. When I got the chance to leave the farm and see what was out there past the end of our dirt road, I took it.
Traveling this great land of ours has become a passion of mine and one, thankfully, I was able to turn into a viable career. Ben Franklin once said, “If you can turn your vacation into a vocation you will never have to work another day in your life.” Well, I guess that worked out pretty good for me. I first learned what I didn’t want to do and then figured out what was left. I know I love to eat, and every square meal has veggies in it, so if I don’t want to pull weeds or harvest crops, maybe I should settle for delivering the produce.
All that time spent working in the family garden taught me a lot about vegetables, and that has helped me by allowing the customer to take advantage of my experience. Sometimes, just being able to tell the difference between a ripe watermelon and one that is too green can mean the difference between delivering a load and having it rejected at the other end. That can prove to be a costly error, both in time and money. This may sound trivial, but had I not spent that time as a lad following my folks around the yard, I would never have learned the basics of produce farming.
As I grew older and “bigger” (as children like to say it), my tasks became more complex and were given greater importance. I learned to operate dad’s old tractor, and along with the job was the responsibility of maintaining it, as well. As a junior high school kid, I understood that if I broke a piece of machinery not only was I going to be held responsible, but the whole family would pay the price if we lost a crop or someone else had to be hired to finish my job. Part of that responsibility was to fix things, most of which were above my pay grade, but I learned to try with the help of my father and his brother. The skills I witnessed back then could not be learned in school, because there weren’t schools to teach life’s lessons.
I continue to give young people the chance to learn “things” today. My son, Too Tall (Steve), from StreetPetes Custom Rides and Accessories, grew up at my elbow learning about trucks, trucking and the world of transportation. He even tried his hand at it, only to learn it wasn’t his thing. Much the same as my experience in the family garden, he learned the difference between a nice truck and a cool ride. These skills are not something you can learn in a classroom, because you will not find the passion for the subject there – only the passion to teach.
Having grown up during the fast times of the 60s and reaching adulthood in the 70s, there was a terrific amount of pressure to make money back then. More money meant more power, and hence, a greater measure of success. I don’t know if I ever reached the level some would call a successful life or not, but I can say with certainty I have lived out an eventful (and at times) fun-filled one. Most of those fun-filled days were spent with my family, some place in North America, riding in or driving a truck. Now, as my driving career is adjusting to accommodate my age, I find there is more time to watch, listen and instruct others, and I like that.
I am but one driver on the road today. There are millions of good drivers out there, and if we want this profession to continue it is up to us to make sure the next generation has the basics to build on. I can’t tell you what to do or how to do it, all I can say is take your sons and daughters to work with you, if you can, and teach them how to be productive working adults for when their time comes. Hey, I have to go now – the neighborhood kids are here and they want to help change the oil in “Just Steppin” – my old truck. Till we meet again, speed safely, and I’m waving a big hand to ya, 10-4!