Once, on a beautiful fall day about 2,000 ft. over Modesto, CA, the vintage Cessna “tail-dragger” airplane in which I was flying ran out of fuel. The cheerful, steady hum of the engine quit and the single propeller fluttered to a stop.

“Switch over to the other fuel tank,” said the pilot. I flipped the metal lever on the floor between our seats from left to right, but nothing happened because the second tank was empty, too.

“Well, now we get to try our hands at an emergency, power-off landing. It's a good thing this little airplane just loves to glide,” he said. “Look for a field without too many deep ruts or fence posts where we can land into the wind.”

I have never felt quite so busy or so focused. “How about that one? If those Herefords will stay out of the way, it looks pretty good.”

This adventure taught me something that has been of use ever since — in a pinch, working can be a reasonable substitute for courage. For an ordinary person, this has been valuable information indeed.

I think of it now watching people in the trucking industry doing extraordinary things, even heroic things every day. If you haven't been out to the FLEET OWNER web site (www.fleetowner.com) to read about the trucking industry's response to the events of September 11, for example, have a look. Story after story documents the efforts of individual drivers like John MacLane of Brooklyn-based Tri-State Dismantling Corp. working on the cleanup at Ground Zero, and of fleets like Stevens Transport and Carlisle Carrier donating their equipment and their services.

All sorts of companies are finding new ways to help. Guardian Industries Corp., FWD Seagrave, and Omni Glass and Paint Co., for instance, offered to donate the replacement windshields ordered by the New York Fire Dept. AB Volvo's president offered Volvo and Mack trucks and construction equipment to New York City, while the people at Con-Way Transportation Services presented a check for $300,000 to the Red Cross Disaster Relief fund — employee contributions matched dollar for dollar by the corporation.

There are other stories, too, where the lonely challenges and the corresponding moments of personal courage have to be imagined between the lines of the news stories of companies struggling to retain their employees, fill factories and serve customers in the toughest economic climate in decades.

Now every one of these sung and unsung heroes are probably more courageous than I, but bravery is not a necessary prerequisite to making a contribution. With sleeves rolled up, hard at work, it is tough to sort the timid hearts from the brave, and in the trucking industry today there is plenty of work to do.

Hard times are times for courage and action, observes one CEO. We have to think bigger, not smaller. Reach out to your best customers and overwhelm them with kindness. Do everything you can to make their lives easier. This doesn't mean giving away the store, but it may mean easing payment terms or adjusting offers. It may also mean sitting down together and looking for new ways to help them meet their own customers' needs. Tough times can actually be a catalyst to longer-term growth if you are willing to make the commitments now.

This is risky, of course, but in an economy that seems to have run out of fuel high over an increasingly hostile landscape, it may also be the only course of action. Like my pilot friend might say, it's a good thing this industry loves to glide, because by working hard together we will land safely at last, braver than we thought we were and more successful than we dreamed.