Saddle up boys and girls – it’s time to go west. Not really, but I did want to address a topic that once was a big part of a truckers’ code – LOYALTIES. That is not a typo, it’s all in caps because I want you to realize how important your actions are. I was working on a project today and it required me to call an old friend. During our talk, we touched on what it meant to drive for someone back in the day and the true seriousness of representing the owner and taking care of business for them. This is what spurned me to pen this month’s article.
When I say “business” that covers a lot of territory. Ed is from the old school – his graduate class was a long time ago, and he attended the school of hard knocks, where he finished with honors. None of us back then received certificates or had graduation parties. What we got after “graduation” were jobs that (hopefully) began our careers.
Back then, not everybody had a tattoo or was tagged, like today. Back then, you gave long and hard thought to what you marked yourself with. Ed is tattooed with one of the favorites of mine – its design makes a firm statement as to where he stands. The red, white and blue American flag stands out, along with a bald eagle in all its glory, landing with spread wings and talons extended, and banners under it that read “Trucker Country” and “Truckers Only” (I always wanted to add “American by Birth, Trucker by Choice” to it). My friend may be an old hand now, but I will still go to hell and back with him.
Drivers today have a relatively-soft job, riding around in the lap of luxury. Let’s be honest, running coast-to-coast with a 70-inch condo and covering ground at 70+ mph is easy compared to the days of yesteryear. I remember a time when climbing a 4% grade at 35 mph was really doing something. And as for Jake brakes, well, they were few and far between.
There was a time when you wore your “handle” as a badge of honor. They were normally one word or maybe a short phase – I used to go by the handle “Copenhagen Kid” back then. Later, I changed to “Mr. Copenhagen” then, after I no longer used the product, I dropped it all together, however many people still call me by that moniker. Today, most people recognize me as Steve’s dad from the Streetpetes shop. They holler across the highway and I can’t help but smile. Given my age, most of the drivers from my time are retiring or giving up the concrete jungle. I’m gonna try to keep blowing black smoke as long as I’m able to. Nowadays, I go by “Old Man” and don’t feel that’s disrespectful, since I
am an old man.
Growing up during the 1960s, I was a great John Wayne fan and loved the westerns on TV and at the movies. I had the pleasure of meeting John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart in Los Angeles when I was serving in the Marines. Both these men impressed me as believing they had a true responsibility to their fans. And believe me, I was a fan. That was one of the few times in my life when I couldn’t find words to say.
I’m sure you are wondering what this has to do with riding for the brand. Everything! The brand is your outfit’s logo or that signage that makes them recognized. “Riding” is an old-school phrase meaning to work for or represent. Now the younger drivers know what it means to represent, and that’s what I’m trying to get across here. It’s not just how you do your job, it’s everything you do that reflects on the company – be it your own or one you drive for.
Picture a herd of cattle milling around in a large pasture. Some of those cows are yours and a few are your neighbors, but how do you tell which are which? That’s easy – the brand. The brand is the marking burned into their hide. They are kinda like tattoos, only instead of using ink and a needle, they use fire and red-hot steel to leave their mark. The whole process of marking these cows is so everyone can see who they belong to. This usually happened during round-up time. Again, what’s this have to do with trucking? Everything!
A round-up was often a social event, a time when cowboys gathered to work together for the benefit of more people than just themselves. This is a great analogy to use since so many of the catch-phrases we use in our daily lives originated from the western culture. Terms like “Driver” and “Teamster” both come from the stagecoach business. We measure our engines with “horsepower” and the company logo is our “brand” or marketing name. Did you notice where you sleep? You guessed it, the “bunk” (short for bunk house). So, let’s go back to the round-up. Branding cows wasn’t the only thing they did at these events. They held contests to match their skills with each other. Well, ever hear of a rodeo? There’s another thing truckers do – we compete with each other at truck shows and/or driver rodeos.
Riding for the brand can mean stepping up to defend a fellow driver. I don’t just mean on Facebook, I’m talking about being there when they need you. Riding for the brand isn’t like taking one for the team – it’s not optional – your partners need to know they can count on you. In the rough and ready days of the old west, when one hand got in a bar fight, they all got into it. When I served with the Marines, that was standard operating procedure. Sometimes you gave a whoopen and sometimes you got a licken, but you did it together. When we took on the Navy, we were against each other, but if some outside party bothered either group, we were all in it together. I don’t see much of that attitude on the road today. Drivers are robbed, beaten and disrespected all over America, and few will step-up or even speak out.
Trucking is a lot like a family. There’s the head of the household, A.K.A. mom or dad, then there are the managers (brothers and sisters). Next, we move on to department heads, more commonly called cousins, aunts and uncles, and the whole organization is under the watchful eyes of the CEO (Chief Executive Officer) and CFO (Chief Financial Officer), grandfather and/or grandmother. There is no need for me to explain what will happen if your sister is dissed at the school bus stop and you do nothing. If someone rats you out and tells Auntie Flo, pray big that Grams never finds out that you were there and did not step in. In this case, we’re not talking about just your company, we are covering all our extended family, as well. Transportation is our extended family, and that includes drivers, managers and trucking company executives, too.
I made mention of the western movies earlier. Think about this: we, as truckers, have our own movie genre. Ever heard of Smokey and the Bandit, or Convoy, or even Black Dog? There are more movies about trucks than I have room to tell. The point is, they all have the same message – that drivers stand with one another in time of crisis. I think my favorite is in the movie Convoy with Kris Kristofferson. The scene when Spider Mike is jailed in a small town somewhere in Texas and word gets back to the group gathered in another state. It only takes one to start a movement, and that one should be you.
In the film, Spider Mike is having a real rough go of things with that small-town law man. Things look bad for him, since he is trying to get home. Not that much different than what we face every day, except he has peoples – really good peoples… the kind that make a real difference in your life. Brothers of the Highway and/or Sisters of the Wind, those folks who take charge and defend honor, property and the American way of life. I don’t recommend running down a complete town with your trucks just to prove the point, but man there have been times when it crossed my mind.
I have a small group of drivers I am certain I could count on if ever I was in need. I hope I don’t have to call in that marker, but if I do, there will be trouble in paradise. When I was in the Marines, it was common to hear people say, “They are the last ones you want to meet, but the first ones you want to call.” Just because you don’t drive for the same company doesn’t mean you are sworn enemies – you are still family.
I don’t care if you wear flip-flops and short pants when you drive, but the motoring public may perceive you in a light that is unbecoming of a driver. I may wear pearl snap shirts and pressed blue jeans with polished western boots, but that doesn’t make me a better driver than anyone else. My driving skills will determine that. Kinda like that rodeo thing, only instead of wrestling steers, I wrangle trailers. I’m still competing for the opportunity to represent our customer base, those people who pay the freight rates. They not only see my truck and the condition it is in, but they see me, the driver, who also represents the brand.
I don’t just fight for the company, I fight for our industry. I make a point of helping new drivers (and some old farts like me when they have senior moments). I look at those flatbed loads when they pass and, if need be, I contact the driver and comment on it. I don’t mind giving a driver an extra hand tarping or re-stacking freight if he needs it, but the next time a tanker driver loses a load lock, you are on your own.
A good example, I think, is TMC out of Des Moines, Iowa – they must be the best tarped loads in America. I can’t remember the last time one passed that wasn’t tight and covered. The same goes for those reefer runners. Have any of you noticed a door ajar or a yellow light on instead of green. What? You didn’t know that yellow light on the driver’s side means there is something wrong with the reefer! Don’t feel bad, a lot of company drivers didn’t know that either (at least not until they tried to deliver a load that was rejected).
That’s something, as drivers, we can help one another with by sorting out those cull cattle at the round-up. Just make sure you aren’t the one who is sorted out, because you may be willing to take one for the team, but you can’t be counted on to ride for the brand! Well, I need to kick out my campfire and lay these tired bones down. Tomorrow is a new day, and I want to be ready to see where it takes me. I’ve got my lights on low and I’m lookin’ up at the stars. Till next time our trails cross, I’m wavin’ a big hand at ya, 10-4!