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

Chapter 9


One day Bill had dropped Jeanne off at the beauty parlor and had a couple of hours to kill, so he went over to one of the dealer ships to have a cup of coffee and see who was around. As he walked in the door to the main office and parts department he was greeted bye some of the parts guys and the receptionist, “Good morning Bill, I thought you had retired, I see more of you now than I did when you were still trucking. Can’t stay away?” the receptionist asked.

“No, I can’t Brenda, but it’s not the trucks that keep me coming back its you, I’m in love with you and all the free coffee.”

“Now that’s the biggest bunch of BS I have ever heard,” Brenda said blushing, “I can believe the part about the coffee, but I think your so much in love with your wife other women don’t even exist.”

“Now that is real BS, I’m not that old.” Bill said, laughing as he walked over to coffee machine, acknowledging some of the greetings from the parts men.

He was standing by the coffee machine taking a sip of his coffee when an owner operator, a young man that Bill had run with the odd time. The kid had a good reputation, as a good trucker and Bill like his easygoing attitude. “Hello Bill, you just hanging around are you?”

“Yeah, I’m just waiting for the old lady, I just took her to the hair dressers, you know what its like, those old women are just like old trucks. It takes a lot of paint and tender loving care to keep them working and looking good.”

Johnny the other drivers laughed, “Say Bill, you have been around for a long time, you have got a lot of miles under your belt, I want you to tell me something. If you were in the market for a new truck what make of truck would you be looking at?”

“Now that is a tough question, Johnny, off the top of my head I couldn’t tell you, there are a lot of variables. The first and I think the most important is what you are going to do with it. You don’t want to be buying a dainty, light highway tractor to be romping around the woods, low bedding or logging.”

“Yeah, I know that, but what make would you buy.”

“You know Kid I have driven or owned just about every make and model truck that has ever been built and I don’t think I can give you a straight answer to that one. I don’t think I can honestly say that I have ever driven or owned a bad truck. They all have their little idiosyncrasies, you know, maybe the switches aren’t where you like them or gauges aren’t in the place you would like to see them, but these little problems usually stem from the fact that in the truck you drove before they were in a different place and you were use to them in that place.”

‘There is a lot of truth in that, Bill, but all that aside what make of truck do you prefer. If you were going to buy a truck today, what would you buy?”

“You are really trying to put me on a spot aren’t you. Well I don’t think, except for the cabs there is a hell of a lot of difference between most of them. If you had asked me the same question 20 years ago I probably given you a different answer, or even 10 years ago, but like everything else your priorities change. Some things that were important to you then aren’t that important to you now. You have a lot more to think about now.” Bill stopped, thought awhile, taking a sip of his coffee it was almost as though he went into a trance.

“You know there are some things never change, you want an outfit that will do the job and make you some money with the least amount of cash out of your pocket. It’s like I have always said, it’s not the money you make that’s important, it’s the money you keep. The Dealer is and has always been important, you don’t want to be parked at the dealership waiting for parts while you should be out on the road creating some revenue, a good strong dealership is important.”

“Hey Bill, I just asked you what make of truck you would buy if you were going to buy one? I know all of that stuff.”

“You want to know, I can’t just tell you off the top of my hat. The one thing that old age has taught me is when you are thinking of spending 100 grand, or even 150 grand and you are going to have to pay it back in 5 years, you want to make sure you can live with your decision. It’s no different than getting married, except it’s a lot harder to walk away from a financial contract than a marriage contract or so I’m told. I have never walked away from either. Impulse buying, in this business can be very painful; there is nothing worse than having to drive a truck for five year that you have come to hate. For me to give you an honest answer I’ll have to think about it and I think you should give it a lot of thought before you make a decision.”

“Well you are probably right, I’ll tell you what, my truck is just about finished and I have to go to work, so you think about it and when you have made a decision, phone me and we’ll talk, okay.”

Bill left the dealership and went to pickup Jeanne, when she got into the truck Bill looked at her and said, “Now that was 20 dollars that was worth spending, you are gorgeous.”

“And that, Bill Ivors, is the biggest bunch of BS I have ever heard and it cost a lot more than 20 dollars” Bill faked a look of shock, but he knew that it made her feel good although he had to admit to him self, she was still a very attractive woman for her age. “Now take me home and we will have some lunch.”

As Jeanne was making lunch, Bill sat at the kitchen table thinking about the task Johnny had given him.

‘What truck would he buy if he were buying a new truck? He was brought back to reality when Jeanne said, “Bill, just where have you been, it wasn’t here, from that far a way look in you eye, If I didn’t know you and your age I would have thought you were thinking about other women.”

“You know I wouldn’t be doing that, you have that curse on me and every time I do it, my gout flares up. It’s just one of the younger guys asked me, If I were to be buying a new truck today, what make would I buy.”

“Hold on there William Ivors, don’t even think about it, it puts strange thoughts in your pointy little head.” Jeanne said shaking the butcher knife in front of his face, “you are going to have to stop talking to those young drivers; it makes you crazy. You can tell him one thing, though; if you did buy a new truck it would have to have a big, big sleeper on it because you would be living in it, because I would boot your sorry old butt out of this house so fast it would make your head spin.”

“Hold on a minute there, Kiddo and put that knife down, he was only asking me for some advice.”

“Well it’s starting to make me nervous and who appointed you the savior of the trucking industry any way. You are becoming a real know it all, aren’t you?

“Well maybe so, but if you remember I do have over 40 years in the Industry and you might say a lot of experience, so if I can help someone out, why not as long as I get my painting done.”

“I guess your right, but don’t you go getting any stupid ideas in you head that you are the Messiah of the trucking industry and it can’t do with out you.”

“Don’t worry dear; if I do I still have you and that butcher knife to bring me back to reality.”

After dinner that night, Bill sat down at the desk, in the study, after he got the computer going he started to think about building a hypothetical truck.

‘Lets see, just what would I like to do with this truck, Highway, five or six axle, I guess, that’s what Johnny’s doing and what I did for the last 6 or seven years’.

‘Now what are my priorities, I will want a truck that will give me the best economy and still look good, with a good ride and will be livable on the road. I want as short a turning radius as possible, but not with to short a wheelbase. I’m not a mathematician, but I do know that it takes a lot longer for the back end to pass you when your jackknifing on a icy road, if you are longer So what do I have so far, a setback front end and probably about a 236 inch wheel base, with an aerodynamic cab. I want this truck to be as slippery as possible through the air and at least a 60-inch sleeper with a microwave and refrigerator. A guy is going to be spending ten hours every 16 hour in the back, so it has to be comfortable and he won’t be able to afford to have all his meals in restaurants, so he will have to take some of his meals in the truck.’

Bill sat back and was reading what he had written, but he knew that there were a lot of people out there that still liked the old conventual, long nose style of truck, with the air cleaners and exhaust hang on the out side of the trucks. This made for a pretty truck, but would cost you money due to amount of air drag it created.

Johnny and a lot of other people might not agree with me, but he did ask me what I would buy. Years ago I gave up on pretty trucks, thinking that chrome and a lot of shinny stuff never made me a dime, but there is no doubt it does give a driver a lot of personal pride and all though it takes a lot of time and effort to keep them looking that good, for some people its worth the effort.

That’s another reason, with the Aerodyne shacks, Bill found they were easier to wash with all the large flat surfaces.

I think, when you are pulling through the scales and the inspector can see at a glance, that if the driver spends this much effort on his outfit, it should be in good mechanical running order. A truck can still look good with a slight hint of chrome, a good paint job and if it’s kept clean.

“Bill I think you have spent enough time at this for one night, come and have your coffee and watch the news with me.”

Bill looked at his watch and then at what he had written on the computer,”My god look at the time, I’ve hardly done a thing. I guess I shouldn’t attempt to write a book, I would probably have to live to be a hundred years old to do it.”

“You would never make it, will you look at that ash tray, you must have smoked a half a package of those filthy things and this den smells like a bar. I think you had better got outside to smoke when you are trying to write.”

Early the next morning Bill was back in the den, with his coffee and cigarettes.

The next decision would be the power, what engine would you want. Bill had his preference, he would probably stay with the Cummins, but he was use to them and over the years they had been good to him, but over the year there have been a lot good engines come on the market and for anyone else it would have to be the engine they felt most comfortable with. If you really wanted to start a good discussion in the coffee shop, just start talking about engines and you will be able to get an argument going.

Bill thought to him self, ‘you want to pick an engine that had the power you wanted while giving you economy, serviceability and longevity. The engine is the heart of any truck and like a human being if its not strong and dependable, it will keep you off the road.’

The transmission and this is where Bill stalled out, he had very mixed emotions about whether or not he would go with an automatic transmission or stay with the manual. Old truck driver historically, have not been susceptible to changes.

Bill could remember when they change from hydraulic to air brakes, there were a lot of drivers including him self, who though it might not be the way to go, they knew the old brakes and knew what to expect from them. Then came power steering and the auto slack adjusters, there was the idea that you couldn’t feel the road and could you trust them. Bill thought it was probably the idea that they weren’t in control, but now you can’t get people to drive a truck without them.

Automatic transmission have always been thought of as a means for women to drive with out getting them selves in a situation were they don’t have the experience to get rolling on a hill, not the kind of a situation a truck driver would have. This theory has been shot to hell in resent years. The one thing that an automatic transmission does do is it takes the mechanical connection out of the driveline, the clutch.

When you conceder the abuse a clutch takes over a period of it’s lifetime, you have to think it’s probably the toughest component in a truck. You can stand at an intersection on a truck route and watch some jockey pop the clutch when the light turns green with a super train load of lumber. The front left corner of the cab jumps up as he tries to drag race an empty to the next light and you wonder how many miles just came out of that clutch and drive line.

The automatic takes that mechanical connect out of the truck, it’s like putting a shock absorber in it, and you extend the life of your driveline. Bill knew a gravel truck contractor who done mostly bush roads with lots of mud, with the trucks digging and tearing. He almost eliminated his driveline problems when he switched to Allison Transmissions. The old Allison’s were too heavy and slow for the highway, but now we have a new breed of automatic and auto shift transmissions that make it possible to use them.

Bill had the opportunity, at on time to take a new truck with an automatic on a trip, to see what he thought of it. After he got use to it, he liked it; he tried just about every problem he had ever run into in his career, as a driver.

The thing that impressed him was the fact that he could stop on a steep hill, fully loaded and pick up the load as smooth as could be. This is were you see a lot of trucks, especially super train, sitting with their drive line hanging on the ground.

He sat in front his computer thinking, this little feature could probably save a guy a lot of down time and money, not mentioning the embarrassment. When you think about it, if you have a super trainload, that’s grossing around 149,000 lbs sitting on a 7 percent grade and you have to lift and getting it going, the amount of torque you need.

Your engine is developing around 18,000 ft. pounds of torque and then you multiply that by what ever your gear reduction is in low gear and you transfer all this torque through your cutch and drive line. Either you get rolling or you break some thing. But it doesn’t end there, once you get rolling and your engine is up to maximum RPM’s, you have to shift up and you can only shift so fast. By the time you complete the shift gravity has scrubbed most of the speed you have reached and you have to do the same again in first and so on up the hill, unless you want to go over the top in low, with your engine screaming at maximum RPM’s.

Bill thought a lot of drivers are probably thinking, ‘I’m too good to get myself in that situation,’ but that’s BS, sometime you don’t have any control over it and anytime anyone tells you that they don’t ever miss a shift, they are pushing your leg.

‘NO,’ Bill though ‘I think an automatic could save me a lot more than what it cost in the first place.’ and it was at this point that Bill hit the wrong key, on the key board and everything he had been working on disappeared.

“Jeanne,” he called to his wife who by that time was up and messing around in the kitchen, ‘Probably looking for something to wash,’ Bill thought, “I done something wrong with the computer and all my work has disappeared. Could you come and fix it for me?”

‘That is the only thing that scares me, the computer on the transmission, talking to the computer on the engine and me not knowing what they are saying.’

Jeanne came into the den, chased Bill away from the computer and after about two minutes, everything came back, “It’s a good thing you were a truck driver, because all you are good for on the computer is playing solitaire,” and went back to the kitchen. Bill made an obese gesture, when Jeanne was out of sight and decided he would stop for the day, before he messed anything else up.

The next morning, when Bill had mustered up enough courage to tackle the electronic monster, in the den,. He sat down and started to think, ‘All I have to do now is put the driveline under this truck.’ He knew that he wanted the maximum in economy, with a minimum of service time.

He had already decided to go with the option of extended oil change on the engine, so why not the greaseless drive line. The only thing that bothered him, about this was remembering a truck he had at one time in the 70’s that had life time greaseless tie rods on it, that had fallen apart on him. At the time he had wondered when they had said lifetime, who’s lifetime they were talking about, his or the tie rods.

Bill already knew what differentials he would be going with. He would go with a set of the new 40,000 lbs., ‘Super 40’s’, with the diff-locks. If God forbid, he had to go back pulling super trains, with the automatic transmission he would be safe. The tire size and the differential ratio would depend on the engines most economical rpm’s, the sweet spot at 100 kilometers per hour; also he would want a top speed of 120 for passing.

“There, Johnny boy, is the truck that I would buy”, he said to himself as he pushed away from the computer. “Jeanne, could you come in here and show me how to print this out?”

“For heavens sake Billy, you are worse than having the Grandchildren around, at least they can run the computer.” She said as she came in, wiping her hands on her apron with a smile on her face that told him she loved fussing around, doing things for him.

When Jeanne finished printing out what Bill had written, he looked at her and said, “Speaking of the Grand kids, why don’t we take a trip down south and see them next week?”

“Maybe if you get the Bath room finished.”

‘Will that woman ever let up,’ Bill thought and then looked over his shoulder, to make sure she hadn’t read his mind.

He phoned Dean and they arranged to meet for coffee, early that afternoon.

When Bill handed Dean the paper with the truck he had created on it, Dean looked at it with a puzzled look on his face and asked, “What make would you buy, that’s what I asked you?”

“What ever manufacture that can build me that truck for the best price that is the truck that I would buy.”

“Bill Ivors, you’re worse than a politician. You still haven’t answered my question,” He said, shaking his head as he walked away.

That next evening Bill stood back and admired his handy work in the bathroom, “There you are sweet thing, I told you I would finish it tonight. You know I’m starting to get to like this painting.”

Jeanne put her arms around him and gave him a kiss, “It beautiful Bill, just beautiful. I think we should go to the coast and see the kids.”

Go to Chapter 10