by Jan aka Red Wing
(New York state)
This is a big truck that I still admire...not the one I drove. but piloted by some lucky young driver!!
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When I was about twelve, I had a girlfriend who lived on Route #11, downstate in NY state. It was a main route of travel at that time for big trucks. Now, I-81 runs directly parallel to that road. But at that time, I-81 was only a dream called the Penn-Can highway, as planners thought it would run only from Canada to Pennsylvania.
We lived up in a little valley about two miles from my friend's house, on a small farm.
I would ride my bike to Betty's house, often carrying a cache of paper dolls in the basket to create drama with Betty with her paper dolls.
Some days we would sit on the bank of the driveway which was above the busy route 11, and watch the big trucks traveling north and south.
I announced to her one day, "Someday I am going to drive one of those truck myself!"
Betty exclaimed, "But girls don't drive trucks!"
Truthfully, I had never seen a woman in the driver's seat of one of the high cabs, but that was not an obstacle in my mind. After all, my father, in his wisdom, had often told me, "no matter what you do for a living, you can always be a lady!"
Being a lady in his eyes was my goal, no matter what turns my life gave me.
Years later , I started out by buying my first six wheeler truck and trucking livestock to local livestock sales, and often cattle shows and horse shows.
I did it alone, learning how to handle ornery cows and sometimes bulls who didn't like the idea of going up a tailgate.
Fifteen years or so later, I progressed to the high cab of a semi. I will never forget the first time I climbed up into that cab, my heart beating wildly. The thirteen speed transmission was not hard...but keeping it between the white lines was a challenge. The high cabover was centered between the lines if it looked like the center line was running directly under my left foot!! Using the mirrors, I gradually got the feel of where the big truck should be.
I loved the smell of diesel smoke, the feel of power beneath me, the stories of the other drivers in the truck stops. The warehouses fascinated me!! I never knew there were places such as these! This farm girl was ejected into a world I had never known existed!
Standing on the loading dock, waiting for a load, I could see boxes of cereal, dish soap, containers of motor oil, barrels of pickles, crates of ceramic bread boxes, skids of soup mixes, cartons of tea, all from one vantage point!!
One of the things I miss most are the drivers I came to know in those fifteen years as driver in a high cab. They will never leave my memories.
Many of them were known only by their CB handles. Names such as Flintstone Flyer, Bam-Bam (his son), Trucking Fireman, Silver Chip, Starky, Animal, Leather Stocking, Apache Kid, Deer Slayer, Duke, Shenandoah, Hot Dog, South Paw and Big Foot will always live in my heart.
I was in a truck stop in New Jersey one rainy day waiting for a load, and realized I knew nearly every driver in that crowded place. The stories came thick and fast...tales of the fastest truck, the biggest load, the meanest state troopers, the last DOT check, the latest speeding ticket, where the prettiest waitresses were.
I heard about coming down off Donner Pass in a snowstorm in July, and skidding along the edges of a narrow mountain road on ice in a blizzard. Other drivers, with wrinkled faces and eyes that seemed perpetually squinted from looking down endless roads, leaned back in their chairs, and told their own tales of hauling loads of nails that were so illegally heavy back in the late 1940's, they would have been put in prison forever if they had ever been caught on the scales.
There was a great variety of drivers who drifted through my life in those years...some were young and brash , and nothing seemed to matter to them except how fast they could make their diesled beasts go down the roads.
One driver in Pa. that drove a truck that seemed to be wired together because of its advanced age, was manned by a man so wrinkled he looked ancient in my mind. I sat beside him at the counter , and asked him how long he'd been driving truck. His short answer, "Since 1934" told me much. He had gotten so used to being alone, he had become a man of very few words, if ever he had been talkative.
I looked at him climbing stiffly back up in his dilapidated cab, and realized it was the only life he'd ever known, and that if he died, it would likely be behind the broad wheel he knew so well.
I am permanently off the road now...the years have slipped by somehow. But whenever I see a big truck, and smell the diesel smell, and hear the power of the engine under that hood, I remember....and remember...and somehow, it transports me back to those days, and I am glad I did it.
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