Sometimes life takes us down all different types of roads. Some of these roads are dirt that turn to mud when it rains, others are narrow city streets, some are country back roads, and some, of course, are interstates, where you can really get out and stretch your legs. Our friend Dave Sweetman has been down many of them and then some, during his driving career, while living a colorful and interesting life on the road.
Growing up north of Newark, on a farm in the country, at 7 or 8 years old, Dave remembers sitting under the oldest oak tree in Delaware, along with his grandfather, and waving at the traffic as it passed. Dave would arm pump the trucks that passed for them to blow their air horn. There was a Chrysler plant down the road, so there were plenty of trucks passing by every day.
Taking a ride with his uncle Dick one day, who hauled steel, Dave got to go with him to Pennsylvania to deliver a load, and then they reloaded bags going back to Delaware. At the start of the trip, he had Dave put a tomato in the glove box. Uncle Dick told him just to leave it in there loose. At the end of the day, when they got back to Delaware, he had Dave get the tomato out. What had been a nice tomato was now bruised, split, and inedible. The lesson that day: this is what your body will look like on the inside if you drive trucks long enough. But that lesson didn’t stop Dave from pursuing his dream of going places and using a truck as his means to go.
In August 1969, Dave and four friends had tickets for Woodstock. On their way there, going up Route 17 in New York, Dave’s 1964 Falcon station wagon was fast on the downhill, but not so much on the uphill. They had been following a truck, and when the semi pulled off, they continued. Going down a good-sized grade with a fair amount of speed, a trooper was hiding behind a bridge, and he pulled out with his lights on. Dave was waiting for the “fun” to begin when he got out of the car.
Telling the trooper that they were on their way to Woodstock, the officer told them they should just turn around and go home, because the roads were backed up with traffic and the Thruway was closed. Dave insisted that they had tickets and were going. Getting out his briefcase, the officer got out a New York state map and penciled out a route for them to take. Yes, Dave got his very first speeding ticket, but he also got a map and route to Woodstock along Yasgur Road. Looking back, this was probably money well spent, because this route put them just 200 yards behind the stage.
The three friends that came with Dave – Mike, Bob and Eric – took off when they got parked and said, “We’ll see you inside.” He didn’t see his friends for the entire three days, and on Monday, after the event, the three friends rode a Greyhound bus back home. Dave and his “then high school girlfriend Lee” enjoyed the show and all the activities. It rained on Saturday, so a friend farther down the hillside trimmed branches off a tree and put a parachute over it, making a huge tent, that kept them all dry.
Coming to the event prepared, they brought coolers, camping gear, food, and drinks. On the second day, an Army helicopter flew in food to feed the music lovers. Lee was working with commune members of the Hog Farm where people were helping to feed the people. They made homemade granola and handed it out. Dave and Lee stayed until Monday, for the Grand Finale, which was when Jimmy Hendrix played the Star-Spangled Banner. I can’t imagine how cool it had to be just to be there, but what’s even crazier is that it all happened over 52 years ago! Dave, his Lady Karen, and Lee are still all friends to this day.
On November 22, 1969, Dave joined the Army. He was only 17 years old, so his dad had to sign for him to be accepted. He served for three years, learned to drive big trucks and heavy equipment, and got to travel the world. Dave got to do some cool (and some not so cool) things during those years. Thank you for your service, Dave!
When Dave’s enlistment was up and he got home, he wanted to drive truck, but was still too young to drive across state lines. He started working for JC Penney as a local delivery and install guy. His next job was with Hudson Farms in Avondale, PA. He thought he was going to be hauling fresh mushrooms to the markets, but what he really had to do was go to horse racetracks to load hay, straw, and horse manure in wire mesh basket trailers for the mushroom farm. On dry days, they stacked it a little higher, because it was lighter and would settle.
One sunny day in May Dave loaded in Monmouth, NJ. After throwing a mesh cover over his load and hitting the road, he exited onto Rt. 41 at Newport. The old bridge was 13’-2” high, and the road went from four lanes down to three, then down to just two lanes. There was a little Triumph sports car with his top down that tried to get around Dave before the bridge. He didn’t make it, so he ducked in behind Dave’s trailer. Stacked a little too high, his load hit the bridge and peeled part of his load back and filled that sports car with hay, straw, and manure, stopping the guy in his tracks. When he got home, Dave’s parents said they had seen him on TV. Ah, the glamorous life of trucking.
Staying with Hudson Farms for about a year and a half, Dave then went to work with a local freight company called Scari’s in New Castle, DE. Later, he helped form Metro Express and was there for eight years, where he hauled a lot of Dupont pigments around New York City and New Jersey. The first truck Dave bought was a GMC Astro, which was leased to a local agent for North American Van Lines in Ft. Wayne, IN. Owning his own truck was a real learning experience for Dave. However, from there, Dave took what he learned about managing money and taking care of his truck and has used that knowledge throughout his entire trucking career.
In 1981, Dave bought a Kenworth Aerodyne and began doing meat and produce routes with Bullet Express out of Brooklyn, NY for three years. When Dave leased on to Horseless Carriage of Paterson, NJ in 1984, it opened up a new world of opportunities to haul cool cars that he never could have imagined. During his over 34 years with Horseless Carriage, Dave met lots of famous people and hauled plenty of exotic cars – but one stands out more than the rest.
When Dave was a kid, he had a picture of a neat old car, and he knew all the history. What he didn’t know was that one day he would be entrusted to haul, display, and drive the one-of-a-kind 1907 Silver Ghost Rolls Royce, valued at $40 million. During its history, this car never lost a race, rally, or challenge it was entered in between 1907 and 1908. It climbed “Rest and be Thankful” in England (a famous mountain road) and beat a White Motor car, which later became White Trucks.
For six months, the Silver Ghost was on tour in the US to help raise money for Paul Newman’s Hole in the Wall Gang Camp. Dave hauled the car to nearly every Rolls Royce dealership in the country. The car would be at each dealership for several days, and at each place there were special guests who would have the honor of riding in the car. At the end of the ride, they received a certificate that said they had been duly chauffeured, signed by Dave. Dave had to wear an authentic chauffeur outfit when he was on duty.
Before they left San Francisco, the people at Rolls Royce wanted to get pictures of the car and the bridge. They asked Dave if he could drive the car to the top of Mount Tamalpais on the north side of the Golden Gate Bridge. He thought that would be hard on the car, so Dave told them he could take the car to the top of the mountain in his trailer, and he did just that. Afterward, he had just enough room to get turned around and slowly creep back down the mountain, and the Silver Ghost remained safe.
Leaving Horseless Carriage about five years ago, Dave has been leased to Bennett Transport out of McDonough, Georgia for the past three years. Doing power only moves, he hauls a lot of shows, stage event equipment, delivers new trailers to their owners, does van line moves, and more. Dave recently did a Bruno Mars Tour, ending in Las Vegas, a stage production equipment move for a Sondheim play called Passion, and several WWE tours. He typically gets to haul some pretty interesting stuff, much like his tenure at Horseless Carriage.
After leaving Horseless Carriage, he kept his truck green but added his own graphics, which were inspired by the swoosh design on a Prevost tour bus he saw. After modifying it and adding a carbon fiber look, Dave now feels that it looks like “his” truck and not theirs. He likes to be different from everyone else, and this truck certainly fits the bill – and he was able to do it without dropping $10K on a full repaint. He is pondering doing a new, full wrap, but hasn’t found anything he likes just yet.
Many of you might know Dave Sweetman from the adventures he has shared over the years, starting back in 1995, when he began writing for RPM, RPM Extra and RPM Canada. He wrote for Trucker’s News and then Road Star for nine years, with a few of his stories in Heavy Duty Trucking, as well. He has been writing for OOIDA’s Landline Magazine since the February 2008 issue, and you can still read his “Dashboard Confidential” column in the magazine each month. Dave has been an OOIDA member since 1979 and tries to give back to the industry he loves.
Dave and I share the same mentor, Bette Garber. Chatting for this story we couldn’t help but share some of the great memories we have of our dear friend. She gave much to the trucking industry, and her work is timeless. Where it is now is a story for another day. Dave has been hitting the road for 50 years and has logged over 5 million safe miles with no accidents. He told me he’s still that little boy under the oak tree, with his grandfather, wanting to go places. He still has the love for the road, and John and I both understand. After you have been out for a while, you want to go home, but after you are home for a while, it’s time to go!
I want to thank our friend for the honor of telling some stories that he hasn’t shared over the years. I always say, “You can put the trucks in museums, but when the drivers are gone, the stories are gone.” Truckers need to keep telling their old stories, and we need to keep documenting them, so future generations will know what trucking was like before their time. And with storytellers like Dave Sweetman, there are bound to be some great ones. Keep on trucking and sharing your adventures, Dave… the truckers of tomorrow need them!