Drivers back in the day never let a little thing like the pavement missing slow them down. When they couldn’t drive around it, they flat-out jumped the rig right over it. Smokey bear couldn’t catch them no matter how hard he tried. If only that super trooper had a car as fast as the old V-8 Cat with twin sticks… and nerve enough to run them down.
It seems that’s how most stories go, except for the ones that start out with, “Hey bud, you ain’t gonna believe this!” Every time the story gets told it grows a little more, until it’s so outrageous, that anyone could tell it is a yarn. Now that’s not to discredit the storyteller, because there is always a seed of truth in every tale, and they may be using it to teach someone else a valuable lesson.
The best thing about a really good story is if you can get yourself into it. Did you notice most of these tales revolve around a friend of a friend who used to work for this company out there in the hither lands and they had this truck “fill in the blank” and… well, so goes the story, or should we call it for what it really is – a myth!
If a story gets told enough times it turns into a legend, along with the characters in it, as well. Drivers hear so much nonsense on the road today that when a real live legend is among us, we don’t even notice. The title Legend is used way too much these days to describe people I would call ordinary. What is a legend? The Webster defines two varieties: the first is “a traditional story that is sometimes regarded as historical but is unauthenticated,” while the second is more to my liking, which says, “an extremely famous or notorious person, especially in a particular field.”
Remember, there is a big difference between “Facebook famous” and a truly legendary driver. Just driving a nice ride or working for the right company doesn’t make you a legend. To be considered “legendary” requires more than a few 100 thousand miles and a couple trips to the coast. Having a fast rig and driving it to the limits of your abilities still doesn’t add up to legend status.
I remember the early days of trucking for me back in the 70s and even in the 80s. There were some tough old birds driving those cabovers. Trust me when I tell you they were tough! For the most part, air ride suspensions were not that common on most trucks, and power steering was something new to a lot of us, too. Big wheelbase? Well, that didn’t come along for a few more years either. I’m hearing some rumblings from my readers out west. Yes, I realize many of you were riding around with hoods and plenty of wheelbase, but that was a luxury few of us could afford with the length laws at the time. It wasn’t until after deregulation that we started to see conventional tractors, and most of them belonged to owner operators.
I spent most of my early driving years running east of the Mississippi River, running in and out of Detroit, Michigan, to New York and points east. The names of my heroes will be no different than any others. North, south, east or west, drivers are all the same. They spend their days drinking diesel and their nights eating concrete. The equipment may have been different, but it still needed to be driven. That’s how it was then – no one looked for special treatment, they just looked for the next good paying load.
If this was one of those stories that was larger-than-life, it would have started out with once upon a time, but it didn’t, because the drivers are real, the miles were hard, and they left a mark on those who drove them. These legends are old, bent and weathered from time. Some are still adding to their story – men like Big Stick, a.k.a. Jim Sercombe, the one man who did more to make the 425 Caterpillar famous than anyone else I know. He is cut from hard, solid stock, and he is a man who will leave a legacy chiseled in blacktop. Jimmy’s two-tone Freightliners were known from coast to coast, and his company still has a bunch of them rolling yet today.
If ever you were to meet Mr. Jim Sercombe, you might think to yourself, “What a cool old gentleman.” That is until he climbs up in his office space, the cab. He may look just like everyone else until you look at his hands, and then you catch that “I got this” look in his eyes. It takes years of good deeds to build a reputation no one can question.
I once read that reputation is what others think about you, while integrity is what you know to be true about yourself. When the snow is up to the belly of your fuel tanks and there’s a swift breeze blowing from the north, this is not the time to be worrying about reputation. That’s when a steady hand on the wheel and even pressure on the throttle will deliver the load – and that’s what real legends are made of.
The last of my three are highway heroes. Now, these folks come in all sizes, shapes and ages. These people may drive trucks or work around fuel stops, but some just love trucks. I know lots of my friends who qualify as “hero” material. Ask yourself, “Do you know anyone who lives their life to see or hear trucks roll by?” I know on Facebook there are people who would love to be someone else. What you haven’t noticed is that they follow all the big rides and the drivers who operate them. But, I’m more interested in shedding some light on the ones who spend part of their day making others happy!
Chicken lights and chrome are the recipe for a successful truck parade. Gather up a few of your friends and start blowing the train horns till every child in town hears you. Then, slowly start down the streets of town, spilling your bright lights over the cobblestone and casting reflections off the shop-front windows. If you have ever done this, then you know the pleasure displayed on the faces of the audience.
I’ve had the pleasure of not only watching these spectacles, but to also take part in them. People of all ages love a good show. The best light parade in America is held annually on the “Mighty Mac” – the Mackinaw Bridge – held in tandem with the truck show in St. Ignace, Michigan. With as many as 225 trucks lining up single file to roll through the town of Mackinaw City, spectators come every year from hundreds of miles away to see the largest, brightest and loudest spectacle in transportation.
Among these parade goers is a friend of mine – a special person in his own right. His name is not important, so we will call him Andy. This man will never drive a truck, not even a car, for Andy is an adult with special needs and limited communication abilities. But no words are needed to understand his pure excitement when he sees a big rig. Andy has become a rising star in our world of trucking. He is the best example of my highway hero. Andy has a faithful caregiver, his mom, let’s call her Pam. The reason I mentioned Andy’s mom is because she introduced me (and all the Streetpetes Convoy participants) to an experience in Roscommon, Michigan last year that blew us away.
On our way to the truck show in St. Ignace last year, a group of us were invited to parade past the school where Andy and his friends attend day classes. We agreed and set the time to pass by, expecting to see a couple people in the parking lot – maybe just Andy and Pam. But, when we turned the corner to pass by the schools, we first came across the elementary school. Then, what to my wondering eyes should appear? Not old Saint Nick and his eight tiny reindeer, but the entire driveway and sidewalk lined with little folks. The school was let out to watch us go by, and kids were waving and pumping their arms for us to blow our horns. But wait, there’s more.
We weren’t even to our destination yet, which was still another mile up the road, but when we turned the corner, WOW (that’s all I can say to describe the scene that greeted us). Keep in mind we were in a small town out in the wooded lands of northern Michigan, but there must have been more than a hundred people standing with these special needs adults that were jumping, shouting and trying to make us blow the horns.
We thought we were going to give them a gift of our time and maybe lighten their day, but golly gee gosh we were wrong. Every driver who went on our little side trip through this town came away felling different (better) than before. The gift was given to us – America’s Truck Drivers – by those highway heroes. In the weeks that followed, I got a package of thank you notes in the mail from both the schools. The kids were overjoyed to be recognized by us and wished us happy travels and a safe trip.
In life, we will encounter all types of people, but some will be just a flash in the pan, never amounting to anything. For all their claims to fame, they will have nothing to show for it and they will fade into the fog of time, like a mythical unicorn. Then, there are those rock-solid drivers who will be there this time and every time, and anytime you need them, because it’s what they do. And when the tablet of time is written, you can locate them under the letter “L” for LEGEND. Last, but certainly not least, are the folks who look up to you and, if given the ghost of a chance, would love to be you – a truck driver. Never forget to watch out for those less fortunate and remember to blow that horn and wave a big hand to them. Until next time, I am but a myth, following a legend, in the wake of many highway heroes!