As Truck News officially comes of age and celebrates its 21st birthday this year, we decided it would be appropriate to take a look back at how the industry has evolved since we first hit the street.F...
As Truck News officially comes of age and celebrates its 21st birthday this year, we decided it would be appropriate to take a look back at how the industry has evolved since we first hit the street.
Focusing on three key areas of concern – maintenance, fleet operation and turning the wheels for a living – Truck News presents a three-part series on how the business has grown and evolved over the past two-plus decades.
This third vignette examines how life as a driver has transformed since 1981 as seen through the eyes of several trucking veterans who have been around long enough to see it all…
Part 3: Trucking’s glory days are history
TRURO, N.S. – When looking back on your career, generally improvements in the workplace stand out significantly. For women and minorities, equal opportunity shines at the forefront. For office workers, the computer has changed a large portion of what they do. These changes are reflected positively. As a truck driver, looking to the bright side can be hard when reflecting on a long career. Changes in rates, quality of life, and the workplace – Canada’s highways – seem to have taken a turn for the worse. Gone are the days of the road cavalry, now is the time of struggle.
Pride is gone
O/O Sandy Gillis, 59, of Glendale, N.S., has been driving truck since the late 1950s – a time he says drivers had more of a sense of pride about the important jobs they did.
“You drove and you were proud to do it,” says Gillis. “It created a living for you.”
With time and rate changes, one-truck owners are seeing that pride dissolving from their ranks.
“If I was a young man today, I couldn’t feed a family from the profits of a long truck operation. I could not do it,” says Gillis who could once work a four day week and make the same amount of money he does working a full week today.
Harry Bush, 43, of Millbrook, Ont., has been an O/O for the past 17 years and now drives part-time hauling LTL for Cathcart Trucking Inc. out of Peterborough.
“There is still some pride in being a driver, but I don’t have any,” he says. “When somebody asks me what I do, (truck driving is) the last thing I want to tell them.”
Both men remember times, as in the 50s to the mid-70s, when driving a truck brought honor.
This has changed considerably.
Although four-wheel bandits will be quick to blame a truck for having “cowboy tactics,” Gillis says once truck drivers were well-respected on the highways across the continent.
A lot of this can be attributed to drivers’ willingness to stop and help broken down motorists.
“There were drivers that if (they saw) a car broke down on the side of the highway, Lord, they would stop and help that person. Or if it was another truck, drivers would stop and offer as much assistance as possible. Today, it seems a lot of drivers just can’t get by a troubled situation fast enough,” says Gillis.
“They can’t be bothered with the little person broke down on the side of the road. That’s what I see. Except for a few of the old fellows who always stop and help.”
Gillis attributes this to new people on the block and the low rates.
“The low rates changed people’s attitudes. It didn’t seem to phase the old timers much but it has made a difference for the younger people. They have to keep running to try and make a buck.”
Depending on who you ask, the general feeling on low rates is that they’ve changed the industry for the worse.
“You might as well take a minimum wage job and work 100 hours a week because all you’re making is basically the same as trucking. You just make a wage. There is no career in it, no benefits; there is no future unless you want to live in a truck. You pay for your family to live separate from yourself,” says Bush.
Gillis’ beliefs somewhat mirror those of Bush’s as he spoke of times prior to deregulation, when he had the opportunity to buy his own truck. He bought several and leased them out to brokers. In fact, he says his trucks were among the few running into Mexico at the time.
“That brought our rates down and consequently our fuel went up in price,” he says.
Gillis would like to see the early days of trucking carried over to now. As a father of three, he was getting seven cents a mile running old trucks that only ran 40mph, but still made a good living.
Most times, when entering a new career, one has to “do the time” and work their way up to a good living. In the trucking industry, as an O/O, sometimes this doesn’t work out to be true.
O/O Terry McNamara, 50, of Lindsay, who hauls tanker for T.D. Smith out of Mount Forest, says the operating costs have increased significantly compared to what they used to be when he started driving almost 30 years ago but the wages have stayed the same and in a lot of cases are less.
In the late 70s, Gillis says his rate was comparable to $2/mile (for line haul) compared to today’s approximately $1.06/mile. He was one of many drivers who would travel to the U.S. to buy fuel for 61 cents a gallon.
“I use to buy my fuel at Bordentown, N.J., for 61 cents a gallon. Now I think it’s about $2.70 a gallon U.S,” says Gillis.
When Bush started driving 17 years ago, he says he made almost $3/hour more than what he pulls in now.
“It sucks don’t it? Everybody else gets a raise in life but the trucking industry starts cutting each others throats by gouging the rates and taking money out of the drivers’ pockets,” he says.
According to Bush, the “load pimps” (brokers) are the ones making the money now. The amount of carriers sitting in one particular spot is what determines the rate.
But money isn’t the only topic to get the virtual kick in the shin as traffic also gets its own round in the ring of dissatisfaction.
Anyone travelling today’s highways can attest to a massive increase in cars.
Bush says the amount of ignorant drivers is on the constant rise. But he doesn’t only point the finger to those numerous four-wheelers.
“There are just as many ignorant truck drivers out there as there are car drivers,” he assures. “People just don’t have any patience.”
Some changes made in the industry have reflected goodness – even through the eyes of oft-pessimistic drivers. For instance, the introduction of in-cab computers has made it easier to keep in contact with dispatch. When broken down in good ol’ Northern Ontario, an in-cab computer can act as a great means of communication.
Also the introduction of drug testing may be a bit of a pain in the “you know what” and is generally viewed as an infringement on one’s rights, but many drivers sleep better knowing the riff raff is being weeded out.
Trucks have also made technological leaps and bounds when it comes to amenities including engine life, fuel consumption and safety, but the benefits are reflected in the costs.
If any young person were to approach Bush and mention they wanted to get their AZ licence, words of encouragement would not be found.
“I would do everything in my power to discourage them,” he says. “Go back to school and find something better to do in life.”