Sometimes the stars align in the universe and people and things are brought together when they are supposed to be. One of my passions in life has been to preserve the thousands of photos taken by my dear friend Bette Garber, documenting trucking history, from the late 1970s till she passed on November 13, 2008. Since then, her boxes of slides have put on some miles, traveling from Pennsylvania to Mexico to Wisconsin to Florida to Wisconsin, then back to near where Bette lived in Pennsylvania, then one more trip to Wisconsin, as I have tried to find a way (and a person) to help accomplish this task. Well, I am happy to say, I think it will finally happen.
The perfect alignment happened when our friends Chuck Kemner and Dave Sweetman told us about a young man named Mark Harter who helped them with the NAST calendars. They believed he would be able to help with Bette’s slides, too. Our goal is to get them out of the boxes and preserved, so the next generation, who probably doesn’t even know who Bette was, can enjoy them and learn from her work. Mark is friends with 10-4’s very own monthly poem author, Trevor Hardwick, and these two refer to each other as “brothers from another mother” – and both are walking encyclopedias of trucking information, be it trucks or people in the trucking industry.
Growing up, Mark never deviated from wanting to be a truck driver. No one in his family was in trucking, but Mark’s inspiration came from the show BJ and the Bear. He fell in love with that red and white K100 Aerodyne and Greg Evigan’s character on the show. Later, at a truck show, he actually got to meet Greg and get pictures with him. Mark remembers his kindergarten teacher asking, “What do you want to do when you grow up?” And his answer was, “Be a truck driver.” His dad would take him to truck shows when he was still in school, even letting him “play hooky” in high school to go to the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, KY.
Calvin Cochran, one of Mark’s friends, taught him how to drive while still in high school. He learned in a 1959 B Model Mack with a 300 Maxidyne and a Quadruplex transmission. While he waited to turn 21, he worked at Central Indiana Mack in Indianapolis. After he turned 21, he took his driving test and got his CDL, then started driving for PGT Trucking out of Monaca, PA.
Fast forward six months and Mark was at a truck show hanging out with driving legend Dave Sweetman and Frank Malatesta, the owner of Horseless Carriage. Frank took a liking to Mark and offered him his dream job. Dave was very influential and helped Mark a lot with some “on the job” training. Mark loved his years hauling those awesome cars, but hauling steel was his favorite, so in 2001 he went back to PGT.
Life was going great for Mark, and he had a job that he loved. Then, on August 16, 2005, his life came crashing down when he got into a motorcycle accident. Mark has no memory of the accident and there were no witnesses. Officer’s think it was a hit and run. Mark was in a coma for about a month. His driving career ended that night, as the accident left him legally blind, with only 20/400 vision in one eye.
It’s been a tough road, but Mark has had good friends help him during the most difficult times. Duncan Putman was one friend who he met in 1990 through the ATHS. Duncan is his own story, but we will save that for another day. Oddly enough, it was in 1990 at the Walcott Truckers Jamboree that I met Bette Garber for the first time, and that is when Mark met Duncan. Others who helped Mark included Tim Begle, David Dudo, RJ Taylor, Dave Sweetman and Chuck Kemner.
Even with his very limited vision, Mark can do some amazing things. He has a big computer screen, and he can still take some great pictures, like he did in Walcott, IA this year. He has helped put together the NAST calendars and has a lot of knowledge about how to use his computer and several programs.
With the help of our friend Su Schmerheim, all of Bette’s boxes of slides were loaded up in her trailer and taken to Mark’s house. He so generously offered to scan, categorize, and organize her entire body of work. This project will take years, as there are likely over 100,000 slides. But Mark has the love, passion, and time it will take to complete this monumental task. He also knew Bette and understands how important it is to preserve her body of work for the future generations in trucking.
Those of us who knew Bette all loved her and her passion for capturing not only the trucks but the people who loved them and made them so beautiful. She would shoot and talk to a company driver the same as she would the owner operator – just ask “The Boston Trucker” Mike Gaffin. Her famous saying was, “I can’t make you rich, but I can make you famous.” That statement proved to be true, for many drivers like Mike, who are still out there driving today.
I can’t believe she has been gone for almost 13 years. Her work is timeless and needs to be preserved and shared, and Mark is going to make sure that happens. His plan is to scan each slide and put together folders, organized into various categories. Some of her favorite pictures were the ones she called “artsy fartsy” shots, so there will be a category for those, for sure. Mark will enlist the help of people who knew Bette and her work to help identify as many images as possible so the collection will be as complete as possible – and live on.
We often wonder why some things happen the way they do. If Mark’s tragic accident didn’t happen, like the rest of us, he wouldn’t have the time to do this and get it done right. God has a way of making good things happen, even from a tragedy. When this project is finally finished, Mark Harter will be responsible for preserving some amazing photos and important information, and leave his own “mark” in trucking history.