The forgotten knights

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"But all I can do, is all I can do, and I keep on trying. And all I can be, is all I can be, and I keep on trying. There‘s always a mountain in front of me. Seems I‘m always climbing and falling and climbing. But I keep on trying." --Trace Adkins


We forget so much in this country of ours. We forget the struggles our forebears went through to make this nation what it is today, the times and places where we stayed on the right road as well as those where we crashed in a ditch. But as the song says (and many MANY props to Trace Adkins for writing some of the best country western music out there today) we keep on trying to get it right. Hopefully we can draw on that particular strength imbedded in the American character to revive a dwindling ethos amongst the three million or so truck drivers serving America today: 'Knights of the road.'


Time used to be that a trucker in your rear view mirror was a good thing -- a guardian angel of sorts that, should you break down or get into a trouble out on the highway, would pull over to help you. They had CBs so could at the very least could call the state police for help. They were the cavalry, appearing at the moment you needed them most. I remember one driver at Paschall Truck Lines I interviewed many years ago that delivered a baby from a woman knocked unconcious by a car crash -- and set her husband's broken arm in the process -- all while in the middle of a violent thunderstorm. Humphrey Bogart (of all people!) played the quintessential trucker in the classic film 'They Drive By Night,' giving the trucker's image some serious cachet.


Then things started changing. The 'trucker as wild yahoo' movies started proliferating (Smokey & The Bandit, Convoy) and the advent of cell phones made the CB almost a relic overnight. The business pressures on drivers and fleets alike completely changed the nature of driving, with long hours behinf the wheel and weeks on the road away from family and freinds becoming the norm. The current debate over hours of service regulations pits 15 hour and 14 hour work days against one another -- yet both are schedules that turn off almost anyone to the prospect of being a truck driver.


While the technology and the equipment are both far better than anything in the past, the ethos of the 'knights of the road' remains faded -- almost a legend of bygone days. It's not gone completely, however -- even a cursory glance at the annual list of drivers up for the Goodyear Highway Hero award demonstrates it's still alive and breathing -- but it's not nearly as widespread as it used to be.


It won't be easy to fully recover it, either -- I have no illusions about that. With drivers struggling to get miles on the odometer to get paid, with the continuing push of 'just in time' freight running up against highways clogged by congestion and slowed by construction, with hours of service rules now in limbo, it'll be hard to get everyone in the industry to sit down together and work at it. With better pay, home time, and less hassle on the road it may come back, but only if we make it a long term goal.


But then ... we just got to keep on trying.


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Trucks at Work: Sean Kilcarr comments on trends affecting the many different strata of the trucking industry.

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