In Europe, children dream of driving the classic-styled conventional
February 1, 2011
Many years ago as a small boy, I used to push my toy trucks around the floor, dreaming of the day I would become a trucker myself. Model trucks were my only toys, I wasn't interested in anything else and there was one truck in particular that...
Many years ago as a small boy, I used to push my toy trucks around the floor, dreaming of the day I would become a trucker myself. Model trucks were my only toys, I wasn’t interested in anything else and there was one truck in particular that was my favourite.
It took me almost 30 years before I had the chance to drive my dream truck, but I never let the grass grow under my feet in the meantime.
Originally from England, I spent the first 20 years of my career trucking throughout Europe and Scandinavia with a couple of trips to Asia and North Africa.
Dealing with border crossings and Customs formalities was difficult as everyone spoke different languages and used different currencies – and they all drive on the wrong side of the road too.
As well as being a driver, I also ran a fleet of 200-plus trucks, had five of my own and spent a couple of years as a road tester/staff writer for a magazine called TRUCK. I continue to write for a sister publication and now write about my experiences over here in Canada, where I’ve been long-haul trucking for the past three years.
So, back to the 1970s and wearing the knees out on my pants as I racked up big miles pushing my favourite truck around the floor.
The truck in question was a 359 Peterbilt. It was unlike all the cabovers we have in Europe, I had plenty of those, but they were real, I could see those anytime I rode in the truck with my Dad. The long-nose Pete was unlike anything I’d ever seen or was likely to see in real life, until I made the move to Canada.
I now drive that dream, except mine is a 379. It has all the lights and chrome and I keep it as nice as possible, but how long will I be able to carry on living the dream? Fuel costs and impending legislation are making the classic large car a dinosaur, it won’t be very long until they’re extinct. I’m deeply saddened by this. Thirty years of dreams have finally come true for me and soon my prize will be taken away to a junkyard.
I understand that times change, technology moves on in a never-ending quest for perfection, new truck models have a wealth of fancy gadgets, air-ride this and that, one-touch switches, much more space and visibility, they make the driver’s life far more comfortable – but is that really progress?
After all, we’re truck drivers – we’re supposed to be tough. We moan that the newer drivers are a bunch of wimps, that they couldn’t have done the job back in the days when we had twin sticks or no power steering, no A/C or APUs.
At the rate things are going, driving truck will be as difficult as playing a computer game. In five or 10 years there will be drivers who have never shifted a stick, never had a map open on the jump seat looking for that short cut through the bush – they will just push a few buttons and follow the instructions given to them by a computer. Is that really trucking?
We call ourselves truckers, that is short for truck drivers, because that’s what we do, we drive trucks. If the classic truck dies out, we die with it, to be replaced by machine operators who push buttons in computers with 18 wheels. My grandson will be able to take the wings off a model plane and push that around the carpet, apart from the windows in the side it will look exactly the same as the trucks of the future.
Speaking of youngsters, give a five-year-old a piece of paper and some crayons and ask them to draw a truck. You can guarantee that the end result will look like a 379 or a W9, with a big long hood and a set of fat pipes. It’s the way trucks have always looked and it’s the way they should always look.
Remember, I’ve driven in Europe for most of my career. Over there, everything is a square box and half of the time the only way you can tell one truck from another is by reading the name on the badge.
A bit extreme, you may think, but look at the shadow of a ProStar or a Volvo VNL, or a Cascadia, or a T700 – they’re all the same.
Now imagine the shadow of a 379, or a W9, or a Western Star – each has it’s own distinct shape. They’re not called a classic for nothing, the shape of that shadow says ‘proper truck,’ unlike the new trucks that just block out the sunlight in a shape that signifies that they’re a method of moving freight from A to B.
Like I said, I understand why things have to change, but we cannot allow the classic to disappear. If we do, what will the truckers of tomorrow have to dream about?
I’ve driven one of the newer aerodynamic trucks over here before I got my Pete. It never got a second glance, even though it was a pretty striking colour and was always clean and shiny.
Yet in my Pete, I’m always getting waved at by young kids in four-wheelers, I’ve had a group of architects from overseas take pictures of my truck as they said it was an example of classic North American design, I’ve even had a young lady remove her shirt alongside of me.
None of that ever happened in my modern truck. That’s the appeal of the classic and long may it continue.