Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Imagine all the people

The journey for truckers through 2009 was a bumpy one to say the least. Just as the year wound down and Arrow Transportation slammed its doors shut and stranded 1,400 some odd drivers around the country – it felt like we were careening down the mountain.

That was until a small effort started on Facebook to coordinate offers for help with the Arrow drivers needing the help. Sure, we launched it here from OOIDA and babied it through its infancy, but that’s just a minute piece of the miracle that unfolded.

Volunteers first came by the hundreds. Overnight, more than 1,000 had signed on. A week later more than 6,500 people were rooting for these Arrow drivers.

A well-organized group of volunteers emerged – some former Arrow employees, truckers, affiliates to the industry and simply good Samaritans who had no direct connect to trucking –who labored over the calls for need and matched them with offers to help.

Social media, which seems to be riddled with more infighting and backstabbing than outright good, gave a wonderful group of people the avenue they needed to meet the needs of hundreds of stranded Arrow drivers.

The success stories of drivers making it home, the tearful calls of thanks received here at OOIDA made it worth the exhaustion and frustration that many felt in accomplishing what Arrow chose not to do – take care of the truckers.

We knew the goodwill of the trucking industry would rise to the need and were not proven wrong. It makes us proud to work for the men and women of the highways.

As the number of Arrow drivers in need becomes smaller and smaller, many of the good Samaritans will return to their former walks of life. They will go back to their families and their jobs as computer programmers, real estate agents, waitresses, etc.

But, we have to remember, they too were part of a miracle that unfolded and that gave the trucking industry a softer place to land here at the end of 2009. As the days go on, and they drive down the highways and see a truck along the way, they will have a better understanding of the men and women they share the road with and who provide them with the essentials for their everyday life.

The end of 2009 gave the trucking industry a gift that was completely unexpected – a lot of support and a new understanding and compassion for those behind the wheel.

Here’s to 2010 – and a wish that the understanding will only grow.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

You can’t make this stuff up

What started out Tuesday as a script-ready sequel to “The Nightmare Before Christmas” was quickly rewritten to something closer to “Miracle on Interstate 40.”

Arrow Trucking left its drivers in a lurch all around the country when it ceased operations early Tuesday – with no warning.

Loyal drivers were left holding the bag. Some had fueled, but the company’s card wouldn’t pay the bill – leaving the drivers criminally on the hook for the bill. Other drivers were on fumes with no way to get home.

The insanity of the inhuman treatment left everyone connected to the industry outraged.

That lasted only minutes, though.

The offers for support, rides, meals, etc., began to flood into OOIDA HQ. The Land Line Magazine Facebook Fan Page started getting offers to help posted to it. The Twitter accounts of OOIDA, Land Line Magazine and Land Line Now employees were receiving offers.

In an effort to centralize these offers of generosity, we created the Support for Stranded Arrow Trucking Drivers - Coordinate Efforts Here page on Facebook.

That’s when the miracle started.

In less than 20 hours, more than 1,000 people had joined the page. The offers for everything from warm blankets to a ride home poured in. Drivers’ families jumped in. Dispatchers, mechanics, other companies – the list of people wanting to help is without end.

One stranded Arrow driver put up a request for help early Wednesday morning.

“im an arrow driver and dont know what to do im about 100mi in checotah,ok but dont know if ill have the fuel to get home any help would be great,” Joseph Marfia posted.

In less than an hour, Louis Long responded that he was only an hour away from Joseph and would be happy to pick him up.

The former Arrow trucker, who is now with Maverick, gave Joseph his phone number and that’s all it took.

“He was only 70 miles away from me. I wouldn’t have been a good person if I didn’t help him,” Louis said. “He put in that he needed help and he got help.”

That help came in the form of a ride, a hot breakfast, help cleaning out the truck and a ride to the bus terminal.

And that’s just one of literally thousands of examples of the giving, generous nature of the trucking industry.

In the days and hours that followed the announcement that these drivers were left high and dry, truckers, their families and pretty much anyone with a soul were combing the ends of the country looking for any Arrow driver in need.

What started out as a tragic situation has turned and given us all a sense pride and happiness to be a part of such an amazing bunch of people who refused to let Arrow trucking do this to our own.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Christmas Letter

Christmas 2009

Dear All:

Well, there’s no use not coming right out and saying it: This was one lean year. I guess that if this trucking thing was easy, anyone could do it. We had to run as hard as we could and watch every penny like a cat eyes a mouse just to stay even. We were lucky that the price of diesel didn’t do a rerun of last year, but still shake our head at the idea that $2.50 seems like a good deal. Maybe they should bring back the Georgia overdrive?

It was a good thing, too, that we’ve always been careful and tried to put money back when the freight was flowing and times were better. So we had some reserves and didn’t have to go to the bank for money when the transmission went wacky. Whoever said banks were built to lock up the money was right. I don’t think a single one of those trillions of dollars they kept tossing around in Washington came our way. It sure doesn’t look like it went into fixing any potholes!

In some ways, 2009 seemed like a rerun of 1999. We’re still fighting over on-board recorders, Mexican truck safety, hours of service, fatigue, more and safer places to sleep, letting trucks be longer and heavier, idling and CARB regs. Still, I guess I am glad we’re still arguing about those things, because it shows that we can stop some of the bad and get some of the good when we run together and push for a place at the table instead of fighting over scraps.

There’s a lot more talk about toll roads, too – though why that is puzzles me. Seems like the politicians now are anything but shy about voting new taxes, and if people haven’t figured out that a toll is a tax, then maybe we should have an intelligence test for voting. Say, that’s not a bad idea!

We had to run around Orlando for the first time in a long time the other day, and got on that SR 528, the one due east that goes to the beach? I don’t know what we were paying for – it wasn’t the view, because most of the countryside was half swamp and scrub. What a Mickey Mouse road.

But, though of course you know I’m gonna complain, still we’ve got some things to be thankful for. The kids are doing OK, and I think the youngest may decide to spend some years behind the wheel when she’s old enough. Our friends have got some cute grandbabies, and they always have new photos whenever we meet up on the road. Our little dog rides with us and is he ever one good watch-puppy!

We’ve been watching our health, and trying to eat better and get some exercise. It’s helped get the old blood pressure down and the sugar, too. Less snoring and we sleep better. I sure hope they figure out this health care mess without breaking the bank; us truckers need it.

Mostly, we’ve just tried to enjoy what we do a little more. We’re not getting rich, but we didn’t ever expect to. All we’ve ever really asked for is to be treated fairly, to make a decent living, and to run our road the way we’d like to, with as little bossing as possible. You might not know it from the bottom line this year, but I think we’re getting better at it as we get older. Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment, you know!

Though I wish sometimes that these rookies’ heads were like a radiator – I’d like to unscrew their caps and pour in some sense! Still in some ways they aren’t entirely to blame. They get rushed through those so-called schools and shoved out on the road thinking they just got it all figured out in three weeks. The smart ones soon learn how ignorant they are, and actually begin to learn something useful.

Well, I’m going to have to wrap this up. I know you’re busy and berth time is over, so it’s back to the job. Hope all of you are well and that 2010 is a better year for all of us. As that fella who writes for Land Line says, Be safe, make money and get home often.

Yours for a better 2010,

Ima Truckin

Monday, December 21, 2009

More cracked Christmas carols

I recently encountered a toll road – first time in a long while. It being Christmas and all, I immediately grabbed my guitar, set the cruise control, got my knees under the wheel, and started composing another one of my Cracked Christmas Carols (More of them are in the current issue of Land Line, and on the Web here.)

This one’s to the tune of “Sleigh Ride,” and is dedicated to all those states and cities thinking they can slap some toll booths over the red ink leaking out of their coffers and balance their budgets on the tandems of truckers.

***

Just hear those toll booths jingling, ching-ching-chingling away. Come on, let’s put more tolls on those big rig truckers to pay. The economy sucks and taxes are falling away. Come on, let's put more tolls on those big rig truckers to pay.

Ante-up, ante-up, ante-up, your dough You pay as you go. You’re losing more every mile you go. Ante-up, ante-up, ante-up, that’s fine On our bottom line. We’re taking the bucks earned by your big trucks – it’s a veritable silver mine!

Our debts are briefly covered by money from far away. We’ve convinced the citizens a tax called a toll would be OK. Let’s toll more roads before they catch on at the end of the day. Come on, let’s put more tolls on those big rig truckers to pay.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Coming up 17s

If you hadn’t heard, Jasmine Jordan, the now 17-year-old daughter of OOIDA Members Lee and Paulette Jordan, is back on track.

Jasmine, who also goes by Jazzy, is running coast to coast in order to bring awareness to the lack of affordable medical coverage for truck drivers.

For her 17th birthday, which happens to be today, Dec. 17, Jasmine is asking supporters to donate $17 to the St. Christopher Fund, a nonprofit fund used to help truckers obtain expensive medical procedures and equipment.

Jazzy, of course, is running 17 miles today (Thursday).

“We're trying to encourage everyone following her to donate $17 to the St. Christopher Fund,” Lee Jordan told me. “She’s got over 700 friends on Facebook.com now. Since she’s not at home getting gifts at a birthday party, she said ‘if everybody donated $17, one family that really needs it might get a better Christmas.”

Jazzy is now running through West Texas, just east of Sierra Blanca.

This week, she was joined on one run by the Sierra Blanca High School basketball team, who escorted her through the city.

“It probably pushed her, having some similar-age athletes with her,” Lee said. “Only one of them made it all the way through town.”

Recently, Jazzy was joined on a run by several U.S. Army soldiers from Fort Bliss, TX. A sergeant even took the wheel for a few miles so Lee could run with his daughter.

“I got out there to run with her, and that was the highlight of my day,” Lee said.

OOIDA Member Tim Pope called the Land Line Now comment line Wednesday and said he’d be chipping in to help the cause, and one 55-year-old trucker donated a dollar for every year of his age.

Lee wanted to thank the KOA Campground in Van Horn, TX, which has rolled out the red carpet for Jasmine and him.

The campground donated an RV spot for the Jordans to use as they run in West Texas, and even cleaned their pool out so Jazzy could take her post-run cool water bath.

A group of other campers there joined together to have a supper in Jasmine’s honor Wednesday night, Lee said.

“Some of them went out and got a birthday banner, and are making a cake today for her,” Lee said.

To donate to the St. Christopher Truckers Development & Relief Fund, click here and follow the “make a donation” button.

For more information on Jasmine Jordan’s run across America, click here.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Letter from a Marine

In the spirit of our Truckers for Troops campaign, I can’t resist again sharing this much-circulated letter from a soldier to the folks home on the farm. A trucker e-mailed it to me and had no idea of the origin. I googled around for a source, and I see that it’s been posted on a number of sites. Although the name and military branch seems to change, the letter is basically the same. Suffice to say, it’s been around the Internet a while and we still find it a delightful read.

Dear Ma and Pa,

I am well. Hope you are. Tell brother Walt and brother Elmer the Marine Corps beats working for old man Minch by a mile. Tell them to join up quick before all of the places are filled. I was restless at first because you got to stay in bed till nearly 6 a.m., but am getting so I like to sleep late.

Tell Walt and Elmer all you do before breakfast is smooth up your cot and shine some things. No hogs to slop, feed to pitch, mash to mix, wood to split, fire to lay. Practically nothing. Men got to shave but it is not so bad; there’s warm water.

Breakfast is strong on trimmings like fruit juice, cereal, eggs, bacon, etc., but kind of weak on chops, potatoes, ham, steak, fried eggplant, pie and other regular food. But tell Walt and Elmer you can always sit by the city boys that just about live on coffee. Their food plus yours holds you till noon when you get fed again. It’s no wonder these city boys can’t walk much.

We go on “route” marches, which the platoon sergeant says are long walks to harden us. If he thinks so, it is not my place to tell him different. A route march is about as far as out to our mailbox. Then the city guys get sore feet and we all ride back in trucks. This country is nice, but awful flat.

The sergeant is like a schoolteacher. He nags some. Majors and colonels just ride around and frown. They don’t bother you none. This next one will kill Walt and Elmer with laughing. I keep getting medals for shooting. I don’t know why. The bull’s-eye is near as big as a chipmunk head and it don’t move. And it ain’t shooting at you. All you got to do is lie there all comfortable and hit it. You don’t even load your own cartridges. They come in boxes.

Then we have what they call hand-to-hand combat training. You get to wrestle with them city boys. I have to be real careful, though; they break real easy. It ain’t like fighting with that ol’ bull at home. I’m about the best they got in this except for Tug Jordan from over in Silver Creek. He joined up the same time as me. But I’m only 5’6” and 130 pounds, and if you remember he’s 6’8’ and weighs near 300 pounds dry.

Be sure to tell Walt and Elmer to hurry and join before other fellers get onto this setup and come stampeding in.

Your loving daughter,

Emily

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

What’s $6-$10 billion among friends?

For the last week, the California Air Resources Board has taken several very public shots, some by its own board members.

It seems CARB’s researcher for its Truck and Bus Regulation, aka the retrofit rule, faked having a doctorate and lied to his own employers while trying to cover up his lack of a Ph.D. The Truck and Bus Rule will begin to be officially enforced in 2012, though most small-business owner-operators won’t have to replace trucks until 2014.

CARB’s own estimates have placed the rule’s cost impact on the transportation industry at between $6 billion and $10 billion.

Hien Tran is still employed by CARB as a researcher, even after it was proven that his Ph.D. came through the mail.

At least two CARB board members have come out and criticized CARB Chairman Mary Nichols for not revealing the matter to most of the board, although some of the board was informed before it voted to approve the regulation in December 2008.

For Land Line’s account, click here.

Nichols has argued that Tran’s transgressions don’t change the science supporting CARB’s rules.

It’s the research, however, that some are discrediting more than Tran himself.

Lois Henry, a columnist with the Bakersfield Californian, points out in a recent column that Tran’s “slap dashery” may conceal a weak link between particulate matter and deaths attributed to diesel exhaust – the linch pin behind many of CARB’s diesel truck emissions rules.

OOIDA President Jim Johnston has asked CARB to suspend its pending enforcement emissions regulations for port drayage trucks and reefer units. A complete account of that story is available here.

The controversy has even sparked an apparent feud between two major California newspapers, as evidenced here.

In the California Assembly, there is a reported third effort to suspend the 2006 law California Assembly Bill 32 – which gave CARB authority to regulate greenhouse gases and form regs such as the port drayage rule.

In November, former California Gov. and current Attorney General Jerry Brown told Legal Newsline that over-regulation is threatening California, particularly as it relates to environmental and workplace laws and regulations.

“The whole framework of law is crucial for the operations of business enterprises,” Brown said. “But when over prescriptive, it creates a huge and growing amount of overhead, and it does seem that we’re reaching the point of counter-productivity.”

On Wednesday, CARB is scheduled to hold its monthly meeting. An agency spokesman told Land Line Now’s Reed Black last week that CARB will likely revisit its Truck and Bus rule, and may delay or alter the rule as it stands today.

The agency also will likely approve doling out about $10 million in research project funding – the kind of research that CARB will use to justify regulations and millions in enforcement fines over the next several years.

Time will tell if Tran’s name will be associated with any of the research, or if peer review of evidence reported will be conducted properly and differing opinions will be seriously considered.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Trucker Buddy

Land Line gets visits from several truckers and OOIDA members each week.

This week, we were pleased to meet James Malone, an OOIDA Member and longtime trucker from Killeen, TX (pictured above with OOIDA's Nikki Johnson). James stopped by OOIDA headquarters on Monday on his way west on I-70 to Denver.

James toured the building, met Land Line staffers and sat down for an interview with Land Line Now’s Reed Black.

James has participated in Trucker Buddy – the nonprofit pen-pal program that connects elementary school classes and professional truck drivers – off and on since the early 1990s.

Though he took a few years off during the late 1990s, he started back up with the program in 2000, becoming more involved every year.

In addition to the 23 different Trucker Buddy classes he corresponds with, James is now a board member with the organization.

James has several Trucker Buddy classes in Waldron, AR, where his daughter Chaynee is a fourth grader. Besides Arkansas, James has classes in Florida, North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, West Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin and Missouri.

With 23 different Trucker Buddy classes and a full-time job, I asked James how he finds time for everything.

“The thing that takes the most time is getting the postcards,” James told me.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Odds in favor of Mexican drug cartels

One of the biggest buzzwords in business today is “efficiency.” Everybody wants to get things done faster with less work.

The U.S. Border and Customs Patrol program on the Mexican border is no exception. A recent Associated Press article called into question the program’s effectiveness on security.

Years ago, the agency launched its C-TPAT program – Customs Trade Partnership Against Terrorism. The premise was to speed border crossings for companies who shared their security programs and established a record of trust with the Border Patrol.

The upside for the companies was fewer delays at the border. The program was lauded as a huge success by some of the participating companies.

Take for example this ringing endorsement by Confab Laboratories Inc.

“Our transporters, which are all C-TPAT accredited, can use at the U.S. border the ‘FAST Lane’ which minimizes the time to cross the border. Only two of our transporters were inspected since our accreditation in November 2007.”

Wow, only twice?

According to Customs’ own numbers, the program has indicated from its inception that C-TPAT importers are “four to six times less likely to incur a security or compliance examination.”

The flip side, according to the Border Patrol, is that non-trusted companies would have their shipments inspected more often.

It doesn’t take high level math, or even a “Jimmy the Greek” level oddsmaker, to figure this one out. If you’re the Mexican drug cartel, you’re going to put your money – and dope – on those C-TPAT shipments.

Leaning on some poor dock worker at a preferred carrier’s shipping operation could land massive amounts of illegal drugs on a trailer that’s going to sail through the border in less than 20 seconds by some estimations.

We won’t even go there on accusations of corruption at the border. That concern has been documented and beat around in publications, on news stations and even in Congress.

Streamlining the border has obvious unintended consequences. The illegal criminal element will always circumvent the law and programs designed with good intentions.

The C-TPAT program is an obvious example of that. It’s a system that, if the criminal element hasn’t already broken it, is in the process of breaking.

Before we start opening up any more lanes, or “trusting” any more Mexican motor carriers or shippers – like in a long-haul cross-border program with the U.S. – it’s time for some tough decisions on the border.

Even though some would like you to believe we have no choice but to grant access to freight from Mexico because of NAFTA. That’s just not true.

The U.S. is under no more obligation to open the border to Mexico and risk harm to our citizens, than good parents are obligated to let the troublemaker down the street into their home.

Sure, we’d like to play nice with Mexico, but with its out-of-control drug problems – it’s kind of like the next-door neighbor kid who brings pot in your house.

“We’d love to welcome you here. But, until you clean up your act, you’re just not allowed to come over.”

Simple, but sometimes solutions are.

Monday, November 23, 2009

It’s called an off switch

If more people knew where the off switch was on their cell phones and other personal devices, perhaps we wouldn’t be having this discussion about distracted driving.

That might be a bit of an exaggeration. Even without cell phones, driver distraction would still make for a worthy topic. Nonetheless, the phones and other communications devices are near and dear to us, and they are here to stay.

Let’s talk about some of the work being done to combat distracted driving.

You likely already know about the legislative efforts on Capitol Hill to assist or force states to enact new or tougher distracted-driving laws. If not, do some research and read up on Senate bills S1938 and S1536 and House bill HR3535. OOIDA supports the approach taken in S1938.

Public service campaigns in the form of TV ads, Internet videos and general media awareness are gaining traction. Sometimes, they take the extreme approach, but if it hits home with young drivers, the job is getting done.

Next up are the technology vendors, who are clamoring to bring technologies to market to reduce driver distractions.

A handful of vendors presented their products and concepts on Friday, Nov. 20, during a workshop held by the Federal Communications Commission.

One thing is certain (keeping in mind that technology shares blame in this mess): The competition in the technological arena is sure to be fierce.

Some technologies could be downloaded or used to disable or lock a driver’s phone while a vehicle is in motion. We already know about Bluetooth and others that allow hands-free.

OK. Here’s one that made me curious. If you were driving and your phone started ringing or alerting you to a text, the cell provider or an application could “answer” it for you and tell the person on the other end that you’re busy driving and will return the call or text later.

Exceptions would obviously be made so drivers can call 9-1-1 or navigate safely on a route.

Obviously, some kinks would need to be worked out including the issue of privacy.

I don’t believe there’s a one-size-fits-all application out there yet that’s going to solve these problems outright. The off switch still sounds like a frontrunner to me.

Last but not least – and I like this one for any type of distraction –is the concept of driver education and training. Teach people what is safe behind the wheel and what is not, and this becomes a lot easier than trying to get spilled milk back into the glass.

Friday, November 20, 2009

New York shortchanged by elected officials

By now you may have heard about a recent report that showed roads and bridges in New York state are getting only one-third of the money they should be receiving.

That’s right. And while it’s no revelation that states raid one fund to help plug leaks elsewhere, it doesn’t make it any easier for the public – in this case, residents of the Empire State – to stomach such ghastly figures.

According to a report from New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli, nearly $12 billion in highway and motor vehicle tax revenues the state has generated over the past two decades is siphoned off for other purposes.

In a report appropriately titled “Highway Robbery,” DiNapoli said the trend will continue to worsen unless changes are made.

It’s a grim outlook for road and bridge funding in New York. More money must be found. And it appears the desperate times are causing some state officials to crack under the weight of the burden.

That leads us to another point of contention in New York. The state is requiring drivers to buy new license plates this spring. Added to the current budget, the new $25 fee on plates – up from $15 – for car and truck drivers wasn’t scheduled to take effect until 2011, but it was pushed up a year to provide a $129 million shot in the arm for the state’s suffering economy.

Not only would the state budget get a jolt, but the Paterson administration said it was also a matter of safety. Apparently, the current plates’ reflectivity is fading, and the new $25 license plates – with dark blue and gold colors – were just what the doctor ordered to make the roadways safer.

Well, this is where things really started to get sticky for the administration. According to media reports, county clerks submitted more than 100,000 signatures earlier this week asking the state to abandon its pursuit of the fee.

The unrest couldn’t be ignored, and within a couple of days Gov. Paterson told an audience listening to WWRL-AM in New York City that the new fee on license plates was nothing more than a “revenue grab.” He said people don’t need new plates early.

Of course, there is no storybook ending to this tale. Paterson said the state still needs $129 million to make up for that revenue they were anticipating during this budget year.

It’s a travesty that taxpayers have to put up with these practices from their elected officials. No wonder they have lost our trust.

When it comes to rerouting revenues and fudging the facts to get what they want, lawmakers have long since crossed over the line in the sand. Who can blame us for being fed up with it all?

Friday, November 13, 2009

A refreshing change: TV tackles real trucking issues

All too often, it’s the fiery crash that grabs up media headlines and leaves audiences with an irrational fear or dislike for heavy trucks that share their roadways.

While crashes and fatalities do occur and are tragic, the viewer rarely gets to hear stories about other trucking issues or from the men and women behind the wheel.

Every so often, someone gets it right. Recently, that someone was Dan Rather, who dedicated two recent episodes of “Dan Rather Reports” on HDNet to trucking issues with an emphasis on driver training. Even though he did cover safety and crashes in his reports, he also asked truckers about training, experience and other topics such as the economy, driver pay and competition.

The latest was Episode 436, titled “Truck talk,” which aired Tuesday, Nov. 10. It was based on a trucking roundtable discussion that featured OOIDA Executive Vice President Todd Spencer and OOIDA Life Member Miles Verhoef.

Rather’s team invited the panelists to Willie’s Place Theater at Carl’s Corner, TX, to break new ground in addition to revisiting topics covered in a previous show (Episode 433, “Queen of the Road”) featuring OOIDA Member Desiree Wood.

Rather demonstrated his reporting experience by researching the issues and asking tough but fair questions of the panelists. Many of the subjects were ones that OOIDA and its trucking constituency have long been concerned with.

It was refreshing to see an established newsman like Rather asking the right questions and allowing the panelists time to answer without a lot of editing.

Spencer is no stranger to TV cameras, having appeared on CNN, Fox, C-SPAN and other networks through the years. Time constraints on many news or talk shows leave little time for much more than a sound bite or a brief discussion of a single issue. Not so with the Rather report.

So what made this latest report so darned good?

For one thing, the topics did not magically appear out of thin air, thanks to OOIDA Media Spokesperson Norita Taylor who fielded numerous calls from Rather’s producers during the months leading up to the taping. The time Rather and his staff put into the research paid off.

While we at Land Line Magazine and Land Line Now report on many of these topics extensively, it was quite refreshing to see Rather bring the dialogue into America’s living room.

He is not going to stop there. Rather said he will continue to pursue trucking stories for future episodes of his news program. On behalf of all highway users, let’s hope for a big audience.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

In lieu of flowers

Trucker Larry Works, a longtime OOIDA member with a larger-than-life personality, died earlier this week.

Larry’s widow, Chris Works, told me that truckers and friends were welcome to make a donation to the American Lung Association in lieu of flowers.

I got to know Larry two years ago, when he called Land Line to talk about his 2006 arrest at a Joplin, MO truck stop.

As Land Line detailed in this news story, Larry was tasered multiple times, and both he and his wife were pepper sprayed while inside their truck cab after an argument with an apparently off-duty sheriff’s deputy from Newton County, MO.

With a booming voice and occasionally colorful language, Larry enjoyed talking about his work and all the friends he made. In fact, he had contact information for several witnesses he said backed up his side of the taser incident story.

Larry died from an apparent heart attack on Monday, something his family said stems from the 2006 tasing incident.

Like many truck drivers and OOIDA members, Larry was a military veteran and a self-made businessman. Larry didn’t mind telling me he had no problem sticking up for himself and his wife after what he termed an encounter with a “rogue, off-duty” cop that July day in south Missouri.

Unfortunately, the Works family was forever changed by the incident, and we’ve all now lost a good driver and a great character.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Sniper stalked truckers in 1953

In 1953, a roving sniper was on the loose terrorizing communities, shooting people to death at random. All the shots allegedly were fired from the same weapon. Detectives frantically pursued the killer, questioned suspects, analyzed clues, and followed countless leads.

The story dominated the national media, which called the shootings “an unprecedented wave of fear.” The story sounds a lot like the DC sniper story, but it happened about 56 years ago in Pennsylvania.

On July 25, 1953, trucker Lester Woodward, 30, was fatally shot while sleeping in his truck’s cab near the Irwin Interchange of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in Western Pennsylvania.

Three days later and 30 miles farther east on the turnpike, near Donegal, trucker Harry Pitts, 28, was slain by the same “phantom killer.”

Three days after that, trucker John Shepherd, 36, was shot and wounded as he slept in his truck’s cab near Lisbon, OH – 18 miles from the western end of the turnpike.

Truck driver and OOIDA Life Member John Taylor, of Cross Junction, VA, vividly remembered those events. He told me about it during the 2002 Beltway shooting spree prior to the arrests of John Allen Muhammed and Lee Boyd Malvo. I wrote it up for Land Line in November 2002.

“It was a scary time,” said Taylor. In the summer of 1953, he said he was running the Pennsylvania Turnpike hauling apples out of Winchester, VA, into Pittsburgh. “Everybody was concerned. Most truckers, including myself, were carrying a firearm for protection.”

Drivers began bunching at service plazas and taking turns sleeping and standing guard. “The police discouraged us from sleeping along the turnpike so a lot of us began parking at Howard Johnsons,” said Taylor.

Suspects were questioned in Ohio, Michigan and Indiana, as well as a gang from St. Louis.

A week after the third shooting, a 24-year-old farmhand from Fayette County, PA, was arrested on a minor assault charge in Uniontown, PA. John Wesley Wable told police he was the “Turnpike Phantom,” but they dismissed him as a “screwball” and let him go.

A week later, however, the wounded trucker’s stolen pocket watch turned up in a Cleveland pawnshop. Police traced it to a nearby rooming house where they found the .32-caliber German pistol used in the three shootings – and a woman who said she was Wabel’s girlfriend.

After a nationwide manhunt, Wable was arrested Oct. 13 near Albuquerque, NM.

Wable later was convicted in the shootings. He was executed by electrocution on Sept. 26, 1955.

“The police never said why he did it,” Taylor recalled, “but it must have been because the turnpike was in his area, and it just was easy access for him.”

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Pass me a grape Nehi …

Truck writers are a nutty bunch. I got an e-mail today from Rufus Sideswipe, the gearjammin’ imaginary pal of Land Line columnist Bill Hudgins. This e-mail was a copy of a note sent to another Land Line columnist, Dave Sweetman.

Rufus, it seems, read Sweetman’s column in the October Land Line and liked it a lot. If you haven’t read it, it’s called “Blue Highways,” and I agree it’s one of Sweetman’s best. Good enough to bring a fictional character like Rufus “to life,” I guess.

Allow me to share this exchange. The fictional Rufus writes to Dave:

That was one fine journey back down the backroads in Land Line. That other writer fella, Bill Hudgins, what quotes me all the time – he says he read “Blue Highways” and “Travels With Charley” and “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” and did some roaming, too. But then he got sidetracked and stuck in one place with that Wilma of his. Thanks for the trip! – RS

Now considering that Bill wrote this in the guise of Rufus, I really like the “Wilma” touch – seeing as how Bill’s wife is WILDA, not Wilma.

In fact, I couldn’t resist shooting off a totally fictitious note to Rufus myself, claiming to have run into Hudge back before we were truck editors. I said I thought I saw him once, standing on the corner in Winslow, AZ.

I copied Sweetman, who was quick with a reply to Rufus, copying me back, of course.

Awww, shucks! To get a word or three of kind encouragement from the well traveled Rufus, is plum flatterin’ alright. Guess that means I have nine readers now, including my dear old Mom.

And I always did like that Hudge feller’s writing. Met him a time or two, but not in Winslow, or Show Low or Tupelo. We talked once about sharing a couple pulls on some Lem Motlow, till we found out it costs more than the GNP of BearWhizBeckistan. When the subject of who was buying came about, the subject pert near changed fast as greased lightnin’. A bottle of grape Nehi was affordable and had the same effect.

Again, many thanks for the kind words and for being a Land Line reader.

That Dave feller

This Rufus Sideswipe stuff is all in fun, of course. Hudge says he invented the character years ago. Did you know that many readers actually DO think he is real?

OOIDA Member Bob “Cowpoke” Martin of Lafayette, IN, is one guy who doesn’t buy it, though. In fact, Hudgins’ literary leaping back and forth in and out of the Rufus character once prompted CP to e-mail me with the question “does Land Line have a random drug testing policy in place?”

Monday, November 2, 2009

SCR comes to cars in ‘Oz’

With all the hammering the diesel engine industry – which in the U.S. means trucking – has taken over emissions, it’s nice to see that attention is turning toward four-wheeled emitters. At least, it is in Australia (aka Oztralia or Oz), where Mazda is testing a car that uses SCR to reduce greenhouse gases in exhaust.

Selective catalyst reduction – SCR – is emerging as a popular choice for diesel engine makers to meet 2010 EPA emission requirements. Being Australian, The Age web site naturally reports on this with tongue in cheek (I’m surprised they didn't make some kind of pun about it running on pee-trol), but the intent is serious.

Trucks have taken the blame for being “the cause” of pollution too long.

It’s time for the rest of the driving population to shoulder some of the burden. Who knows – that might inspire better systems that don’t rob power or reduce fuel efficiency. Dare I say that the solution could come from some Wizard in Oz?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Truckers and flu

As noted in Land Line’s daily news, the White House, DOT and Centers for Disease Control are advising drivers how to try to keep the flu out of your rig – and presumably your home, your body and your loved ones.

Here’s my advice: Do it.

Health risks aside – and these may range from mild to serious, depending on how healthy you are to start with and perhaps how old you are – there’s a very practical, and powerful, economic reason for wanting to keep truckers and others in the nation’s transportation industry healthy.

In “The Great Influenza,” published in 2004, historian John M. Barry notes that today’s system of just-in-time delivery means that a significant drop in the transportation system’s capacity could ripple across the entire economy.

Writing about the 1918-19 flu that killed at least 650,000 people in America and sickened or even crippled millions more, he notes that many localities ran out of coffins for the dead.

Barry said the average time in 1968 between manufacture and use for coffins was five months; now, it’s about three and a half weeks. If H1N1 were to mutate into a far more lethal strain – as the 1918 flu did from a milder strain that hit that spring – some communities could run out of coffins.

Think also about the impact on produce and fresh food shipments. Anyone who has seen a stack of produce wilting on a dock because there was no truck to carry it can well imagine what that would look like multiplied many times.

Of course, it’s not just truckers. A serious pandemic could sideline people at every level of commerce for perhaps weeks at a time.

In a white paper for MIT’s Engineering Systems Division updated this past July, Barry extends that example to other critically needed medical supplies:

“Just-in-time, of course, discourages stockpiling supplies, not only for health care – and not just antibiotics but also syringes, gowns, gloves, and so on – but also for businesses. A mild pandemic could well infect the same proportion of the population as a severe one, and some workers would stay home to care for sick family members; this could easily cause peak absenteeism in the 20 percent or higher range for a week or more.

“This could ripple through the economy and create major bottlenecks.”

We don’t know if this flu will be the one that morphs into a serious killer. Plain old flu is bad enough, killing far more people each year in America than AIDS does, according to Barry. But it’s showing some eerie similarities to the 1918 virus. So keep the hand gel handy, try to stay out of crowds, and wash your hands.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

On the scene at ‘Convoy for a Cure’

Last weekend, I traveled to Willie’s Place in Carl’s Corner, TX, to cover the first-ever U.S. “Convoy for a Cure” for OOIDA’s Land Line Magazine. And I am proud to say that I convoyed with some of the most courageous truckers you will ever meet.

Many of the women truckers I met at the “Cure” convoy are also breast cancer survivors, who have done battle with this brutal disease and won. Their survival stories would truly touch your heart. I know they did mine. For those of you who took the time to tell me your stories, I am honored to have met each one of you. Fight on!

All who were there had the same goal in mind to “drive out breast cancer one truck at a time” by raising money for research and early detection efforts.

I hitched a ride in the convoy with new OOIDA member Belinda Blacketer and her sweet dog, AJ, who now call Springfield, MO, home. She raised the second highest amount of money for the “Cure” convoy. She told me she was at the convoy to honor her sister-in-law who passed away from breast cancer at the age of 30. Thanks again for the ride!

OOIDA Life Member Cindy Stowe of Will’s Point, TX, organized the Texas convoy, which had 31 trucks and raised $13,000 for breast cancer research.

Although she was thoroughly exhausted after the convoy, I am happy to report that Cindy has already confirmed there will be a convoy next year at Willie’s Place. I think the foot rub Cindy received from one of the servers at dinner convinced her that the “show must go on” again next year.

Several bands and musicians turned out to perform for convoy attendees, including OOIDA members Leland Martin and Howard Salmon. Howard’s wife even flew in from Hawaii to attend the day’s festivities.

Representing Canada were “Cure” convoy founder Rachèle Champagne and Chantal Rheault, who has had her hands full this year wrangling the “Cure” Web sites for the convoys.

Rachèle is one ambitious lady. She is hoping that more female truckers will be inspired to host more “Cure” convoys across the U.S. and in Canada. The goal is for this “Cure” convoy idea to grow and to raise money for breast cancer research.

This year, the four convoys, three in Canada and one in the U.S., raised nearly $100,000 for breast cancer research.

“This has been an amazing experience,” Rachèle said.

And let me tell you something: OOIDA member Michele White of Rockwood, TN, is one tough cookie. She has battled cancer not once, not twice, but five times, and has beaten it back every time. She is an amazing woman. Michele also raised the most money and earned the lead truck position at the convoy.

“My philosophy now is that every day you wake up breathing is a good day,” Michele told me.

You can bet I will do my best to make it back there next year.

You can see more photos from the Texas “Convoy for a Cure” on Land Line Magazine’s Facebook Fan Page.

PHOTO: Land Line’s Clarissa Kell-Holland (left) poses with OOIDA Life Member Cindy Stowe, who organized the first-ever U.S. “Cure” convoy on Oct. 24 at Willie’s Place in Carl’s Corner, TX.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Dashing home, but only briefly

Jasmine Jordan, 16-year-old daughter of two OOIDA members, is home resting a stress fracture for the next three to four weeks. Jasmine found out last week she had a small fracture in her foot, and will take an additional three weeks off minimum.

If you follow Jasmine, also known as Jazzy, on her www.runwithjazzy.com/ Web site, or follow her on the Facebook or Twitter social networking sites, you probably already knew that.

Jazzy is running coast to coast to raise money for the St. Christopher Fund and to bring awareness to rising healthcare costs. The St. Christopher Fund helps truck drivers obtain medical procedures or equipment they couldn’t otherwise afford.

She was midway through New Mexico when the pain required her to take time off and visit a doctor.

The stress fracture wasn’t good news, but it does allow Jasmine to see her family, rest her exhausted body, and sleep in her own bed for a few weeks, said Lee Jordan, Jasmine’s dad and a truck driver.

“She’s doing good,” he said. “She wants to be running. She’s glad to be home but wishes she were still in New Mexico, running.”

Jasmine has grown a healthy following from many truck drivers who have followed her posts on Facebook, Lee said. Their messages are a welcome pick-me-up after she puts in 16-20 miles of running per day, studies, and shares a small camper with her dad.

“The support we’ve gotten from drivers on Facebook has just been incredible,” Lee said. “It is so, so nice. Everybody’s keeping up with her and wishing her the best. It’s very encouraging to her. Every time she reads more she just wants to get back out there and run.”

One runner has become friends with the Jordan family, and has lent his running experience to Jazzy.

The 44-year-old has completed a transcontinental run himself, actually running 3,200 miles in 109 days, Jordan said.

He made a video slideshow available here.

Before the Jordan family left New Mexico, they were able to meet up with Katie Visco, a 22-year-old woman running from Boston to San Diego.

Meeting Visco (pictured above with Jazzy) was very special, Lee said.

“For the first time in history, not only have two runners met during a cross-country tour, but two female runners have met,” Lee said. “It’s just unheard of.”

Friday, October 23, 2009

‘Convoy for a Cure’ – it’s personal

After I finish writing this, I am heading to Willie’s Place in Carl’s Corner, TX, to participate in the first-ever U.S. “Convoy for a Cure” on Oct. 24.

OOIDA Life Member Cindy Stowe (pictured here) of Will’s Point, TX, has been planning the “Cure” convoy for months now, and I can’t wait to see it all come together. It’s for such a great and worthy cause – to raise money for breast cancer research.

Cindy was inspired to host a convoy after reading an article I wrote for Land Line in October 2008 about the first-ever all-female convoy, which was organized by OOIDA member Rachèle Champagne. And believe me, that first story wasn’t just an assignment for me, but a way to deal with – and heal from – my family’s own breast cancer battle.

I stumbled upon Rachèle’s idea to organize the first ever “Convoy for a Cure” to raise money for breast cancer research about a year and a half ago, just a few months after my big sister, Michelle, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

And as anyone knows who has witnessed a family member or friend battle cancer, it is the most helpless feeling in the world.

During this time of helplessness, Rachèle’s idea for a “Cure” convoy gave me hope and a purpose. I could help spread the word about her event. Her initial convoy in 2008 raised more than $15,000 for breast cancer research.

In 2009, Rachèle inspired two other female truckers in Canada to organize convoys in their areas, raising more than $80,000. A total of five convoys have already been planned in Canada for next year.

And I have complete confidence in Cindy that her convoy is going to be amazing, too. After all, I can personally attest that nobody I have spoken to has been able to say no to Cindy once she’s told them what she’s doing and what the money is for. Everyone knows a family member or friend who has battled this disease.

So I will close for now, put on my pink and head out on my big journey to Texas for the convoy. So if you are in the area, come convoy with us; all truckers are welcome. And say hello to Cindy and to Rachèle, the “Cure” convoy founder.

I promise these women will inspire you. Oh, and don’t forget to wear pink!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Team Cummings

On Saturday, Oct. 24, a good friend of the trucking industry will try to walk at least a mile for a cause that is important to him and 46 million others known to be affected by arthritis. Ken Cummings is a guy many of us have known for years as a hard-working member of the Newport sales staff.

One of my favorite magazines – Editor & Publisher – once named him number one sales executive. Quite an honor.

Arthritis made it tough for him to trot around the truck shows and other industry events, but he regularly made the scene.

Ken has led a brutal battle with chronic arthritic gout, osteoarthritis-that led to a total knee replacement, as well as a type of arthritis known as ankylosing spondylitis. So walking a mile may not be a feat for most of us, but for Ken, it’s impressive.

I recently got a note from Ken about this walk, an event that will benefit the Arthritis Foundation, South Carolina chapter. Ken is 68 years old. He and his wife, Sue, live in Briarcliffe Acres, Myrtle Beach. They’ve been married 44 years and have two kids and five grandkids.

We also learned that Ken is a special honoree of this SC Arthritis Walk and his story is one that few of us really ever knew. That story was sent to us and I’ll share some of it with you here. Note: I am quoting freely from that material.

“It seems he was a hot-shot gifted athlete from Brooklyn, NY, where he attended both high school and college on basketball scholarships. He played baseball, too. His athletic dreams ended when early in the first year of college basketball, he bent down to tie a sneaker and he could not straighten up. For more than two years after the sneaker incident, Ken and his mom went from doctor to doctor in New York City with no diagnosis. After a while, it was suggested that perhaps that he was a hypochondriac. Finally, an arthritic specialist in New York City referred him to a rheumatologist who was able to make the proper diagnosis of ankylosing spondylitis.”

According to the Foundation, very little was known about AS when he was diagnosed 46 years ago. They did know that it traditionally affected the first-born male, that it was passed on genetically, and it freezes or fuses your spine from the base of the spine traveling up thru the neck. It was extremely painful, restricting and uncomfortable as the disease/inflammation progressed up the spine. As the years went on with AS, Ken has developed limited range on motion between his spine and neck.

In a small percentage of AS patients, the disease – after being in remission for years – will reactivate. Four years ago, Ken fell into that very small percentage. After finally being correctly diagnosed once more, he has been treated with various drugs that have improved Ken’s balance and leg strength and improved his quality of life. It has also allowed him to go in the ocean and pool with his grandchildren and to play some golf which he was told he would never play again.

The Arthritis Foundation provides the funds for research that may allow doctors to gain more knowledge in order to better treat the 46 million people currently known to be affected by this disease. That’s why Ken is participating in the Myrtle Beach Arthritis Walk on Saturday, Oct. 24 at Broadway at the Beach.

The walk is one and/or three miles and no one has to walk any further then they can. Ken says two or three steps helps support the cause.

Check out www.walkwithken.org and see what Team Cummings has accomplished.

On Saturday, we’ll be thinking about you, Ken!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

On the scene at Truck Show Latino

Last weekend, I was part of the OOIDA posse that left the nice 39-degree rainy weather in Grain Valley, MO, for the Truck Show Latino in balmy Pomona, CA, where it was 92.

One of the first people I ran into was OOIDA Life Member Frank Pangburn, hiking briskly down the aisle in his mango Crocs, arms full of T-shirts and paperwork. Inside the Fairplex-Pomona, the Truck Show Latino was taking shape, and Frank’s job was to make a success of the Best of the West truck competition. His wife Diana was folding “Truckin’ for Kids” T-shirts and they took a break to fill me in on what was up with the “Best of the West” truck contest. You can read about that on this Web site’s daily news.

Our OOIDA booth and our First Observer booths were in good spots and enjoyed steady traffic, which meant I could cover the show and return to that home base frequently. Joe Rajkovacz had driven the OOIDA tour truck out to the West Coast where he was joined by Bill Rode for a few days. For the truck show, Joe took the “Spirit” through the truck wash and coughed up $68 to make it look good. It was one of the few trucks inside the building with a trailer. And while others might have been more, shall we say, “lavishly” chromed – it was a favorite. Truckers, wives, kids, grandmas, they all took turns being photographed with the show trucks, and the “Spirit” was right in there.

Joe, Tom Weakley, Mike Schermoly, Doreen Weakley and I met so many people. You can read all you want about trucking in California and how confusing the regs are and how unsettling the economy is, but you really don’t realize how overwhelming that is until you get face-to-face and hear it firsthand from the drivers. The industry is awash with misinformation.

While most spoke both English and Spanish, we appreciated having the assistance of our OOIDA Member Maria Escott and her daughter, Aurora. They were an important part of our team, especially when we talked to a driver who was more comfortable speaking Spanish about a complicated topic like lease arrangements.

If you think you have questions, the truckers in California have a thousand more.

The California Air Resources Board was there and truckers lined up three deep at their booth to ask questions. Les Simonson, manager of Heavy Duty Diesel Enforcement, told me the main question was about DPFs and retrofit. Another CARB guy, Ching Chun Yang, said many questions were about the TRU program, which has an upcoming deadline.

One of the highlights for me was being there when the Carnegie Institute awarded the medal of heroism to OOIDA Member Jorge Orozco-Sanchez. As most of you know, he was the Goodyear Highway Hero 2008. He and his wife, Susie, and two children, Robert and Lorena, live in Firestone, CO. On Friday, they were guests aboard the Goodyear blimp (yes, kids, too). On Saturday at noon, the Carnegie medal was awarded in a ceremony hosted by Goodyear.

Friday, October 16, 2009

A mother’s love

On Monday, Oct. 12, Jasmine Jordan crossed into New Mexico from Arizona – the third state the 16-year-old has run through as she makes her eastward trek across the U.S.

Jordan, daughter of OOIDA members Lee and Paulette Jordan, is running 100 miles per week across the U.S. in an effort to bring awareness to rising health care expenses and to fundraise for a truckers’ medical charity called the St. Christopher Fund.

Crossing into New Mexico, Jasmine has been followed closely in a pickup by Lee Jordan, who calls out distances and calls for water breaks.

Jasmine’s other parent, however, also is with her for every step.

Paulette and employees of the family’s two businesses are manning the home front as Lee and Jasmine make their way eastward across southern highways.

Jasmine’s mother, Paulette, manages the family’s two trucking businesses and rural property while raising Jasmine’s 13-year-old brother and hosting a foreign exchange student from Germany.

Mother and daughter talk almost daily by phone, and exchange stories and encouragement with text messages on days when they can’t talk.

“She keeps telling me she misses me,” Jasmine said.

Paulette says hearing details of Jasmine’s adventure soothes the stresses of being the only parent at home, while running the businesses.

“It’s been difficult,” Paulette said Wednesday during a rare day off at home. “But when my kids have a goal – we look at it, review it, and I ask, ‘what do we need to do to get this done?’ And it’s also Jordan enterprises. If it wasn’t for my drivers, I’d also be dead in the water.”

Paulette loved hearing about Jasmine’s story from earlier this week, when a New Mexico state trooper and avid distance runner joined her.

The officer ran for more than 5 miles of Jasmine’s run that day, choosing to ride in the truck for a large portion of her 15-20 miles rather than keep up with a pace of around 7 minutes and 30 seconds per mile.

“That was really cool,” Jasmine recalled telling her mom.

Jasmine has been suffering from severe shin splint pain in recent weeks, and switched to running in the grassy median this week after finding that New Mexico’s shoulders were paved in unforgiving concrete.

Jasmine and Paulette traveled to Kansas last spring to participate in a track camp. Jasmine’s expenses were paid for by the Ann Bancroft Foundation, a nonprofit group that funds “small experiences for girls who may not recognize their own potential or have the courage to reach for possibilities,” according to the foundation’s Web site.

The camp provided valuable instruction on technique and avoiding injury, and helped fuel Jasmine’s dream to run across the country.

Paulette said she believes her daughter will complete the grueling journey in part because she prepared all spring and summer, and has received instruction and help from chiropractors along the way.

In addition to that preparation, Jasmine inherited her mother’s athletic DNA and has been influenced by Lee, a former pro wrestler, as well.

Paulette laughed when bringing up Lee’s sudden improvement in cooking, enough to the point that Jasmine would eat the meals prepared in the family’s RV.

“Jasmine said he’s doing very well,” Paulette said. “She’s impressed that he has stepped up. He’s getting her trained up, so he’ll be good when he gets home.”

From schooling on the road, sharing meals in the RV, and missing her friends and family, nothing is as difficult for Jasmine as the daily pounding of 16-20 miles.

Paulette asked that supporters send encouraging e-mails to help keep the 16-year-old’s spirits up.

E-mails may be sent to leejordan69@yahoo.com.

Last year, Jasmine won a 5K run in December when outside temperatures hovered around minus 30 degrees, driving most spectators and even some runners indoors.

“She will not falter – mentally, emotionally or physically,” Paulette said. “I know there is a lot of sweat and tears going on now, but that girl is stubborn and bullheaded like her mother. She will get it done.”

The Jordan’s hometown of Dalton, MN, is like a lot of small towns. Most neighbors have known each other since childhood, and conversations are typically blunt.

Some of Paulette’s friends have questioned whether Jazzy, even with her intense preparation and strong will, will complete the journey.

“I tell them, ‘You guys seem to forget that she’s my daughter.’” Paulette said, laughing. “I’m pretty strong-headed and a hard worker – and Jasmine has a lot of my qualities, thank God. She will prove everybody wrong. When you say something negative to that girl, she will turn around and make it a positive.”

To follow Jazzy’s run, find her on Facebook, Twitter or the www.runwithjazzy.com Web site.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

California truckin’

You would think the Mamas and the Papas classic hit, “California Dreamin’” would be on Joe Rajkovacz’ playlist since embarking on his 12-day journey from OOIDA’s HQ in Grain Valley, MO, to several scheduled stops in California.

But you would be wrong. He and OOIDA Life Member Bill Rode are going down the road in OOIDA’s “Spirit of the American Trucker” tapping their feet to the Philly-sound-inspired disco beat. My source tells me Rajkovacz packed two boxed sets of CDs containing enough disco music to last the entire trip.

Some OOIDA members from Littlerock, CA, dropped by to check on the two at the “Spirit” on Tuesday, Oct. 13, at the Petro in Wheeler Ridge, CA. One member said he was disappointed that the “Spirit” truck wasn’t equipped with a disco ball for atmosphere.

While it’s been quite an adventure for the two, there is serious business at hand. Rajkovacz and Rode are in California to visit with truckers about the First Observer program. OOIDA is a subcontractor for First Observer – the Transportation Security Administration’s trucking security program.

The two guys and the “Spirit” are now parked at the Clean Energy Fueling Station at the Port of Long Beach until Thursday; then they are off to set up for the Truck Show Latino in Pomona.

So if you are in the area, stop by, say hello and give Rajkovacz a hard time about his disco music. Just make sure you don’t insult “The Reverend” Al Green.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

‘You’ve got to stand for something’

Truckers carry on through all kinds of weather, which may help explain why a lashing rainstorm on Oct. 9 failed to keep some 1,300 people from making their way to the 2009 Tennessee Truck Show in Crossville, TN, to cheer show organizers Joey and Vicky Holiday and their special guest, country legend Aaron Tippin.

The rain began to relent just as the concert began in a cavernous service building at Fitzgerald Truck Sales. With guitarist Dave Sloas and background vocals and tambourine provided by Tippin’s wife, Thea, the creator of hits such as “Working Man’s Ph.D.” and “My Blue Angel” rocked the house. The muscular Tippin, clad in his “Sunday clothes” – tight red T-shirt and blue jeans – brought the crowd to their feet when he swung into “You’ve Got to Stand for Something.”

He also drew cheers when he said he and Sloas were returning to the Middle East battlefields to visit troops around Thanksgiving. He explained only the two of them go to these outposts of the War on Terror, and they just take guitars – “in case something happens and we have to run for it.” The concert, which was to benefit St. Jude Children’s hospital, raised $10,000. Afterward, Tippin signed autographs and posed with fans.

When the crowd departed, several of the rigs in the truck competition were lit up for the light show. Lights reflected off the wet pavement like a Hollywood car ad, seeming to double the number of lights on each combo.

The rest of the show was dedicated to raising money for the St. Christopher truckers’ fund. Saturday’s events included motorcycle stunt riding and recognition of the 62nd wedding anniversary of Roger and Eloise Spooner of Iron City, GA. Spooner, who at 87 still drives a dump truck, was a survivor of the sinking of the USS Yorktown in the WWII Battle of Midway.

At the other end of the matrimonial scale, OOIDA member William Payne of Carrollton, GA, married Karen Burnside on Holiday’s stage. Holiday’s granddaughter, Destiny, served as flower girl and ring bearer. The new couple had dated for a couple of years and heard about the show and decided to get married there.

Chad Smith of Hemlock, MI, won the Best of Show award, while the 9/11-themed “Truck of Honor” owned by Bogie’s Express of Tecumseh, MI, won People’s Choice Award. The proceeds from the show benefited The St. Christopher Truckers Development and Relief Fund (http://www.truckersfund.com/).

For more photos from the show, visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/hudge/sets/72157622554736840/.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Learning on the road

Jasmine Jordan hears the class bell.

She pays attention, readies her pen and may occasionally doodle alongside notes just like the other students at Fergus Falls Senior High School in St. Cloud, MN.

Jazzy, however, happens to be 1,200 miles away.

Jasmine, also known as Jazzy, is running cross country to raise awareness for medical expenses, particularly for truck drivers who lack health care options.

Followed in a pickup truck by her father, Lee Jordan, an OOIDA member, Jazzy is trekking 16 to 20 miles per day in her effort, which she plans to use to prepare for the 2012 Olympics. She can be followed on the runwithjazzy.com Web site, as well as on Twitter and Facebook.

“How far?” Jazzy asked Tuesday morning as she ran along U.S. Route 70.

“3.2 (miles),” Lee answered.

Jazzy has logged 100 miles per week since she began in September. Pounding highway asphalt in the Southwest hasn’t been easy on her, Lee said, but she’s gotten help from chiropractors and advice from Dr. John McElligott, a physician who specializes in treating professional truck drivers.

The excitement of her first few runs has given way to the daily mileage requirements, not that it’s dampened the runner’s spirit.

“Her muscles and legs are really, really sore,” Lee said. “She needs a day off. I’m not sure she’ll allow it, but I might force it.”

Between three hours of running and additional sleep and nutritional needs brought on by the grueling schedule, Lee told me Jasmine has to work hard to keep up with her schoolwork.

Lee has been reading Jasmine’s textbook assignments so he can help quiz his daughter.

The process has been educational for both of them, he said.

“I’m not a well-educated man,” Lee said, laughing. “I’m doing it, too, and it’s fun.”

Cooler temperatures in late September have allowed Jazzy to run later in the day, freeing up her mornings to study and participate in classes being taught back home in Minnesota.

Jasmine uses Skype telecommunications software in several classes. Skype provides two-way video conferencing services, allowing her to log on anywhere and speak with students and her teachers back home.

“She sees her class, and they see her,” Lee said. “It’s kind of neat.”

Of course, Jazzy's run wouldn't be possible without Paulette Jordan, Jazzy's mom and also an OOIDA member, running the family business back home in Minnesota.

"Not only is she running the business from home, but she's making runs herself," Lee said. "She's doing everything possible to keep this run going."

"She's missing her too. Jazzy's missing mom, mom's missing Jazzy."

Lee and Jasmine are staying at the Red Lamp RV and Mobile Home Park in Thatcher, AZ, where management has welcomed them with open arms, even allowing the family to park for free in support of Jazzy’s run.

This week, Jasmine passed through the San Carlos Apache Indian Reserve, where she was encouraged by many residents, Lee said.

“Everyone has been so respectful,” Lee said. “They’ve hung their heads out the windows, yelled and talked with her.”

Fuel, food and other expenses have made the trip’s budget somewhat tight, Jordan said, offering a tip of the hat to sponsors, though he says more sponsors are welcome.

“We need some more sponsors, and we need to get some T-shirts sold so we can keep going,” Lee said.

Also, Jordan’s business is looking for a driver capable of hauling a raised gooseneck trailer.

Lee laughed when asked if his daughter would slow the pace until deep muscle soreness would subside.

“Not even a suggestion of slowing down,” he said. “She won’t entertain it from me either.”

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Hook, line and sinker

I’m not a pushover. And I’m certainly not a nostalgic softy. Too many years of journalism have me a little jaded and a little hardened – kind of like the truckers I work for.

At least that’s what I like to claim. It’s easier to put on a tough outer shell and act like I’m hard as nails – kind of like the truckers I work for.

Well, my bluff was called this past weekend, and I’d bet more than a hard-core trucker or two felt the same way.

I laughed and teared up more in a 36-hour period than I have in the past 36 months. All courtesy of the South Dakota leg of the World’s Largest Truck Convoy for Special Olympics.

The laughter started Friday night during the kick-off activities with hugs and entertainment from Jack Kapanka during dinner and a Texas Hold ’Em tournament.

The tears started promptly at 8:45 a.m. Saturday when Grand Marshal Mason Ivers, 11, son of Bo and Marie Ivers, sang the National Anthem – really well. His pure voice and obvious passion for the song shook me to my core.

And I wasn’t the only one. Blinking away tears, I looked around after he finished and saw the armory full of truckers doing the same thing.

Yeah, he got us off to a great start.

I don’t care how rough and gruff the truckers who participated in the Convoy wanted to think they were, I saw them all turn to mush.

The athletes and their unbridled love for big trucks and the men and women who drive them kept us all laughing and smiling throughout the day’s events.

Truckers like OOIDA member Marvin Wipf and 17-year-old athlete Jordan Tschetter were fast friends. Member Mike Currier kept the athletes in stitches with his signature clown glasses and antics.

Watching the interaction throughout the day with tender moments and outright tomfoolery made me start dreading that eventually the day would end.

Culminating the event was the awards ceremony.

I was one of the folks who had the task of judging the show truck competition. In presenting the trophies at the awards ceremony, there was one award in particular for which I was very curious to see the reaction of the winner – Athlete’s Choice. I had to play it slick as I was announcing the winner, because I didn’t want to give it away by looking at him.

But as soon as I announced the Athlete’s Choice award went to OOIDA member Jerry Seaman, I turned to look at him. Sure enough, the big tough trucker was all teared up. That award meant the world to him.

The organizers of the South Dakota Convoy have a slogan of sorts for their event:

“Come for the athletes. Stay for the fun. Return for the memories.”

I’ll be back.

Monday, September 28, 2009

About those computers in the cab

On Sunday, Sept. 27, the New York Times ran a story by Matt Richtel titled “Truckers Insist on Keeping Computers in the Cab.” To read the article, click here.

Don’t just read the article. Be sure and read the comments section.

I really like the dolt from North Carolina who doesn’t need trucks. How’s that garden behind the Piggly Wiggly doing there, Bubba?

And as for the main text of the piece ... why do they always seem to find the biggest idiot in a truck stop?

Dogs on his lap along with his Qualcomm? Unkempt cab? Oh, pulllleeeeeze.

And I guess they forgot to mention that many carriers have a failsafe function on QC that if the brakes are released you cannot read or use the QC.

Dave says:

Texting and driving = very unsafe, whether the person is a police officer, trucker or Buffy on the way to the mall;

Cell phones with a Bluetooth/hands-free = safe;

Voice control dialing = safe;

GPS = safe, within limits.

One more thing. Big Brother needs to butt out.

That’s what Dave says, but who asked me? Not like that stopped me in the past.

Friday, September 25, 2009

States send confusing message to drivers

There has been a lot of discussion this year at statehouses and from safety advocates touting the need to make roadways safer. The purpose seems straightforward. But states aren’t sending a clear message about how to accomplish the task.

Massachusetts lawmakers are taking a long look at giving older drivers greater scrutiny when it comes time to get their licenses renewed.

The push for legislation regulating older drivers has intensified in recent months after several wrecks in Massachusetts involving motorists in their 80s and 90s caused injuries and death.

A legislative effort on the move there would require drivers 75 and older to pass an examination that tests their physical and cognitive skills.

Supporters say it is a step in the right direction, but impairment can begin well before age 75. Opponents say it’s unfair to focus solely on older drivers. Others acknowledge that while their response times slow with age, they aren’t the only ones behind the wheel impaired.

It’s a very good point. Anyone who gets behind the wheel for any length of time doesn’t have to look hard to find numbers of people of all ages driving along with some sort of electronic device seemingly affixed to their ear or with a gadget in-hand texting away.

Distracted driving has long been an issue for highway safety advocates. But only as technology has made it easier for people on the go to stay in touch with others have we seen elected officials take aggressive steps to intervene.

Only six states prohibit all drivers from talking on hand-held cell phones, but 21 states have outlawed all cell use for their youngest drivers. And this year, a significant push has been made to cut down on the number of people texting while at the wheel.

New York recently became the 18th state to outlaw the practice of operating a motor vehicle while texting and nine more solely prohibit novice drivers from the practice.

A study by the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute has already fueled increased interest in additional efforts to put a stop to use of the technology. Researchers found that drivers are more than 23 times as likely to be involved in a crash or near-crash while texting at the wheel.

The findings have energized lawmakers in states that include Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Kentucky and Oklahoma to pursue legislation during their 2010 sessions to adopt texting bans. More efforts are anticipated as Congress could get involved.

State officials appear to be so riled up about texting while driving it isn’t farfetched to assume that pretty soon we could see nearly 80 percent of all states with a ban on the practice.

However, the pursuit by states to keep people safe on their roadways is starting to butt heads with efforts to keep them informed. Social networking sites, which continue to grow in popularity, are being used by state transportation officials to get information out about traffic congestion, road conditions or emergencies.

About half of all states now use Web sites such as Twitter and Facebook to get the latest word out to travelers in an effort to make their drives hassle free.

But these states are sending a mixed signal. Take, for example, Arkansas where a ban on texting while driving takes effect Oct. 1. In early September the state’s Highway and Transportation Department started using Twitter to give truckers and others a heads up about highway conditions throughout the state.

“Using Twitter will allow the department another way to deliver information quickly and efficiently,” state Highway Director Dan Flowers said in a statement.

While the messages being sent out in Arkansas and many other states have good intentions, they are in direct conflict with lawmakers working to eliminate the deadly consequences of distracted driving.

So, what should we be focused on to make highways safer? Reducing distracted driving? Making sure highway users have up-to-the-minute road conditions? Making it more difficult for the eldest drivers to stay out on the road?

This much is certain: States cannot be pulling in opposite directions and expect the problem to be resolved. They need to pull in the same direction for a solution to come to fruition.

– By Keith Goble, state legislative editor

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Minnesota FUBAR

The Freedom of Information Act was signed into law in 1966. Lyndon Johnson was president back then, and I was barely out of high school. The Act mandates that information held by federal agencies must be made available through a request process, unless it’s exempt for super special reasons.

The info is not always hush-hush stuff, but filing a FOIA request frequently provides some surprising, even shocking information. An OOIDA FOIA request is what turned up an astonishing unpublished report from FMCSA that caused OOIDA to broaden its legal case against officials of the Minnesota State Patrol.

The Association’s complaint calls out an arbitrary enforcement program used to declare truckers fatigued and place them out of service.

But it seems there is more. You probably know that the federal agency gives states federal funding to help them enforce the Federal Regs, which the states are supposed to adopt (either in part or in entirety). I found on the Internet that Minnesota got $3 million in FY2008. So it makes sense that the FMCSA would from time to time review a state to make sure everything is up to speed. The FOIA request by OOIDA’s counsel snagged us a FMSCA document reviewing Minnesota’s compliance with the federal Motor Carrier Safety Assistance Program, or MCSAP.

This is the part where I recommend you sit down. This document obtained by OOIDA shoots it pretty straight. When the FMCSA reviewed Minnesota, it seems that Minnesota HAD NOT appropriately adopted the Federal Regs in any part. In the FMCSA’s April 2008 review document, FMSCA told Minnesota it had no authority to enforce the federal regs.

The state didn’t hurry too much to fix this big fat “oops,” either. According to the FMCSA, it was not until August 2009 that the state finally adopted the federal regs. Before that, the state police simply had no authority to enforce the FMCSRs.

And yes, that means exactly what you think it does. The situation in Minnesota appears to have been FUBAR, in the very descriptive words of one outraged OOIDA member. This being a respectable blog, I will let this acronym serve.

And who knew about this? Well, the FOIA’d document includes a list of the people involved in the review in the MCSAP review. Fatigue checklist inventor Capt. Ken Urquhart is right at the top of that list.

Are you putting two and two together?

Watch Land Line for more on this astonishing case. And if you missed Thursday night's Land Line Now radio show and still want an earful, tune in to OOIDA’s satellite radio show on Sunday, Sept. 27, 7-8 p.m. and 11 p.m. – 12 a.m. EST on Sirius 147 XM 171. The show will air a repeat of OOIDA’s Jim Johnston, Todd Spencer and Joe Rajkovacz discussing the case with Host Mark Reddig.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Governor Pilot?

With a little more than a year left in office for Tennessee’s two-term Democratic Gov. Phil Bredesen, the Volunteer State is already rumbling under the wheels of would-be successors. One of those is Bill Haslam, whose family started Pilot Travel Centers; he has been the corporation’s president for 18 years.

Flying the Republican standard from his aerials, Haslam has served as mayor of Knoxville for the past six years. According to his campaign Web site, www.BillHaslam.com, things haven’t been so good in Knoxville since Robert Mitchum roared to his eternal reward down Kingston Pike in “Thunder Road.”

One claim, that he “Knows when to listen and when to lead,” passed through my head in a distinctly husky, Kenny Rogers-style voice – I suppose every campaign’s a winner and every one’s a loser, and the best you can hope for is that they spell your name right.

It would be encouraging to see someone with legitimate roots in the transportation industry take over the Governor’s mansion in Nashville. I would hope one of his priorities would be to truly clean up the Tennessee Highway Patrol’s miserable record of cronyism and political patronage.

What if the state’s budget woes continue and the temptation to close rest stops arises? Despite a federal ban on commercializing state facilities, cash-strapped states like Virginia that are closing rest stops think commercializing them could be an answer. Naturally, the established truck stop industry says no way. As governor, Haslam could be facing a political and personal dilemma.

I also hope he’d aggressively pursue the “hot fuel” issue, which robs millions of truckers using Tennessee’s hundreds of miles of Interstates. That may prove to be a thornier issue, because Pilot was one of a number of truck fuel providers named in a class action lawsuit brought by truckers and highway users to address the problem.

It’s not too early to pose these questions to Candidate Haslam; in fact, this is the best time, before the primaries arrive – that way, we’ll know what kind of a pilot will be steering the Volunteer State.