One Step Forward and Two Steps Back
(the truckers Waltz)

Chapter 5

RELIVING THE PAST

After Jeanne and Bill got home that night, after having a very pleasant evening of good food, good wine and pleasant conversation, Jeanne asked Bill, “Well dear, now that you have finished your little project with Steve, what are you going to do?”

“I think I’ll go down to my basement shop and work on that new coffee table I’ve been working on for you, I’d like to finish it for you. You know Sweetheart; I feel that helping Steve and Rose has given me a purpose in life. You know, I was starting to feel useless, but now I feel pretty good, maybe I can finish your table now.”

“Well it’s to late to start it tonight, so lets go to bed,” said Jeanne as she turned and headed for the bedroom. Bill sat at the kitchen table thinking, ‘I wonder if I would want to be starting out in the trucking business, if I were a young man in this day and age.’

‘Every thing seemed so much simpler in those days; we didn’t have the hurry up and go like hell, like they have to day. I don’t ever remember ever worrying about what was happening at the scales, if you were legal and had every thing tied down, no one ever bothered you. As a matter of fact if you had the time, you could even stop and have a coffee with the guys at the scales.’ ‘I can’t remember the last time a driver in a four wheeler waved to me, except with his middle finger.’

He was thinking to him self; I guess the good old days weren’t always as good as the old truck drivers remembered. The trucks then were brutes to drive, the cabs were small with vary little insulation in them; they were cold in the winter, with only a small heater in them and hot in the summer.

He remembered going to a new doctor for a check up. He was sitting in the examination room in his shorts, when the doctor walked in, he stood up and shook the doctors hand. The doctor looked at him and said, “I see you are a truck driver?”

“How did you know that?” Bill asked.

“The big arms and shoulders and the spindly little legs,” answered the doctor.

‘No power steering in those days,’ thought Bill.

They were noisy to the point that if some one was ridding with you, you had to holler at each other to hear. They were underpowered and rode like a farm wagon. The seats were vinyl, cold in the winter and hot in the summer and they were hard, just about every truck driver had hemorrhoids and a bad back. They didn’t have lockers in the differentials, so you were chaining up all the time.

Why then do us old truckers still look back on them as the good old days? I think that just maybe, if I were young again, I just might not want to be a truck driver.’

“Billy, will you get your ragged old butt in here and get to bed, what are you doing, living in the past again?” Bill laughed to him self, as he got up and headed towards the bedroom thinking, ‘she can read me like a cheap novel.’

Bill slept like a baby that night, he didn’t even recall waking up and rolling over, but as it happens with age and old habits he was up at 5:30. He made a pot of coffee and after having one with his cigarette he filled his cup again and headed down stairs to the basement, to his shop.

Bill loved his shop, it was his retreat, his chapel and he could come down here, forget everything else that was happening around him. He could take some rough lumber, cut and plane it, measure it and build what ever he desired. He loved the smell of wood, he loved to run his hand over it after he had planed it to velvet smoothness and then create a beautiful piece of furniture with it. The only thing was, Bill was a wanderer, a truck drive and after a while he would get restless.

About 9:30 Bill put down his tools and went upstairs to the kitchen, Jeanne wash washing up some dishes. They always seemed to accumulate, even if she hadn’t been cooking. Bill had often accused her of taking clean ones out of the cupboard, just so she could have something to wash.

“Well Sir Knight, what deed of kindness do you think you will be doing to-day?”

“I don’t know, but last night I was thinking, I wouldn’t mind starting out trucking in this day and age, if I were young again.”

“Well I can tell you two things for sure, you are never going to be young again and if you were, you would have to find another woman, because I sure as hell wouldn’t go through that again,” and as she said it, Bill knew by the set of her chin, she was dead serious.

Later, that afternoon, after he had taken Jeanne shopping and had lunch, Bill went down to his shop, but he didn’t work on Jeanne’s new coffee table, he went to the back of the shop and started digging around in some boxes that contained old pictures. He sat down in an old Lazy boy chair that he had saved from a trip to the swap shop, at the dump, when Jeanne was up dating the furniture in the living room. This comfortable old chair was his old thinking chair and it fit him like a glove.

He thumbed through the pictures, he reminisced. He would look at one and say to him self, ‘I remember this day, lets see, the summer of 1968 I believe.’

‘When did things start to change in the industry, around the ‘80’s’ I think, when they deregulated the industry. Up to that point the province was broken up into districts and the trucking companies were licensed in their district. A company could only haul what was on their authority; some hauled logging equipment, some lumber or both. Other companies could haul general freight into and out of their district to other districts either full loads or less then a truckload. The LTL companies could pick up and deliver freight along their designated routes. Logging trucks were restricted to their district, as were dump trucks.

This was a complicated system and was tightly controlled with the use of carrier plates that were attached with the license plate on the front of the tractor and you had to carry your copy of you company’s authority in the truck. These authorities were hard to come by, and if a company wanted to expand it virtually imposable unless they could prove to the Public Utilities t, they needed it or they bought an existing authority.

When a company was looking to buy another company, it was their authority that carried the price; it wasn’t the financial statement or the equipment. When you went out of province you simply permitted into the other province.

Most of the companies with good authority’s, were long standing companies with good histories, so when you went to work for them you felt safe in the fact that you wouldn’t be jacked around. No one ever signed a contract, it was a matter of a hand shake.’

“Bill--- Bill, are you alright?” Bill woke up to see Jeanne standing over him. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and said as he stood up.

“Yes, of coarse I’m all right, I guess I fell asleep going through these old pictures.”

“Well clean up this mess and come up for tea. You gave me a fright when I never heard anything happening and came down and seen you sitting there with your head back and your mouth open.”

Bill picked up the pictures, put them in the box and put them backing the corner, then went up stairs to the kitchen for his tea.

“I know you think that I’m trying to live in the past, dear, but this thing about trucking and when it started to go to hell as I knew it, is really starting to get under my skin.”

“Come on now Bill, the past is the past and there is nothing you can do about it.”

“I know that, but with out a past how can we judge if we, as a society, have been gaining or going back wards, how do we know that as a society we are advancing? The only thing I really know about is trucking and I think, although I’m defiantly not a historian or a scholar, I think I would like to take the time and time is something I now have lots of. I would just like to look into it, for my own personal satisfaction. There are still enough old guys around that remember, I could talk to.”

“Well if makes you happy and keeps you busy, why not, just remember you promised me you would paint the kids old rooms, the bathroom and the fence.”

“Yes dear, I will get it all done next summer and anything else you can come up with.”

In the two days that followed, Bill made a lot of phone calls and talk to a lot of the guys he had run with in the past and just about every one of them, with out exception, agreed that it had been better in the past.

“You know Bill, towards the end before I retire. I was almost ashamed to tell people I was a truck driver, the way some of these new people were driving. I use to be proud that I was a driver and when I pulled into a restaurant, I would walk around my outfit checking this and that, but it got so that at the end, I would try to sneak in so no one would associate me with my truck. I know there are probably a lot of good Skinners on the way up, but there are a lot of then that shouldn’t be allowed to drive a wheelbarrow,” One of them told him.

Then another one would say, “They don’t have any courtesy out there anymore, if you get behind one that might be a little heaver than you they will fight to keep you behind them, even if they know there is a good pull a head. They are getting worse than tourists.”

One day Bill said to Jeanne, as they were having tea, “I wonder if its just because we are all getting older we don’t remember the bad times, only the good ones.”

“You know Billy, you can’t live in the past and you are remembering the things you want to remember, the good things. Things change, life changes, nothing stays the same. I will agree that things were a lot simpler in those days, but as life goes on and tecknowegy changes, so do our lives. I know there are some bad drivers out there, but when you consider the amount of traffic on the road, there has to be thousands of good young drivers to and if its so bad how come you stayed at it for all these years and how come I’m have such a hard time keeping you out of a truck at your age.”

“I guess your right dear, as always,” he said with an impish grin on his face, “Some of the equipment we had to drive in those days was terrible. I sure as hell wouldn’t drive it today.”

“I remember you coming home late, lots of times complaining about some driver doing something stupid, back then. Maybe you’re just an old complainer.”

“It goes with the territory dear, all truck drivers are complainers, or so I’m told. I guess your right dear, again.”

Go to Chapter 6