Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Roses in the snow

Here we go again: ’Tis the season to be jolly – that is, if you are going to make it home for Christmas. The maneuvering, scheming, begging is in full swing. Get me home!

Not a big predicament for local and most regional drivers, but it can be a real problem for the long-haul irregular route guys and gals. I’ve been there. On the last business day, things are looking bleak, waiting for that last minute phone call … when, in fact, a lot of the folks that generate the freight have already gone home early.

A lot depends on luck and a company that really makes an effort to get their people home. Although freight slows down during the Christmas season, there are people waiting on that meat and taters and someone has to be sitting at those docks the next day.

You can always tell it’s a holiday driving through towns off the interstate. It seems like every town has that gravel lot on the edge of town, or closed up shopping center, where the truckers leave their trucks or drop their trailers while home. On the holidays – especially Christmas – there are always several rigs parked on these lots as opposed to a few on a normal weekend.

The truck stop stores leading up to Christmas look more like a toy store gift shop. They don’t really have room for it, but they pack it in anyway, making it tough get around in there.

As far as getting home, you can’t throw us all in the same basket. Some don’t care one way or the other about getting home. There are some whose home isn’t the U.S. … some who don’t celebrate Christmas … some whose home is the road.

Then there are those like me. I’ve spent Christmas on the road several times – which I didn’t mind as long as I had something to run, and I almost always did. Being hung out to dry for three or four days would be a bummer.

One of my problems was I usually seemed to burn out a week or so before Christmas. I’d go home and swear I’m staying home until after New Year’s. After being home four or five days I’d call dispatch, “Hey man, what ya got?” You would be surprised at the really good loads that you’ve never seen before that turn up at this time of year.

The last 10 years or so my wife and I have operated in the “kids moved out and the dog died mode,” and we were always up for something new. One time she said, “WHAT?” pretty loud when we were in Florida in January and I told her I took a load to Montana. Well, it was a military load and I felt obligated.

Mostly, with friends and relatives scattered around the country, we took advantage of where the loads took us. One memorable visit was with friends in Vermont over Christmas. We bobtailed out to a campground where they were staying. That’s right, camping in Vermont in the winter. They like winter sports more than I do.

Anyway, we made it up to meet for dinner at an old farmhouse-turned-into-a-steakhouse. There was a long lane leading to the parking lot in the rear. Just as I got parked, here come these two grown men at a dead run. Not sure what was up – I hit the doorlock. It turned out that they just wanted to see our truck. Well, we were a “fer” piece up in the north woods, where most trucks have iron fenders and moose guards.

So, drivers, if you can’t make it home for Christmas, at least try to smell the roses even if they are in the snow.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Colorado ‘zipper’ a bad option

Travel eastbound along Interstate 70 on Sunday evenings in Colorado can be particularly troublesome for truckers. Throngs of skiers returning from a weekend on the slopes are blamed for slowdowns along a 15-mile portion of the roadway on the Front Range.

Possible solutions are plentiful, but funding for a fix is not. A stopgap solution entails the Colorado Department of Transportation getting to work on installing “zipper lanes” on the affected stretch of road.

The plan calls for temporarily converting one westbound lane into an eastbound lane from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Sunday ski weekends.

A CDOT study on the scheme came up with what should be rather obvious conclusions. It was determined that eastbound drive times would be significantly reduced along some stretches while westbound vehicles would likely experience much longer drive times, and more accidents.

This is a clear cut example of give and take. Truckers and other drivers traveling westbound would be giving up more of their drive time with the increased possibility of their vehicles taking a beating.

You may ask how likely it would be that state officials would back such a plan. It appears to be a definite possibility. During the 2010 legislative session, Colorado lawmakers backed a plan to study the zipper-lane option. The results are expected to be revealed within the next month – in time for the opening of the 2011 session.

At that time, lawmakers will be asked to decide whether the project is worthy of throwing money at to complete. CDOT estimates it would cost $24 million for the one-year pilot program, but there is no grant, or funding mechanism, in place to do the work.

To add insult to injury, Colorado has a budget shortfall tabbed at nearly $1 billion next year. That is not exactly the kind of financial situation that lends itself to getting anything done.

The reasons for the predicament the state finds itself in are numerous. Officials could do a better job of managing the revenue the state already receives. The federal government also shoulders the blame.

It is extremely frustrating that there still is no clear direction from the federal government on a long-term transportation authorization. Without a clear path forward, this is the sort of “solution” states are left to consider.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Snowstorm at Snowshoe

Last week, I read where a Chicago truck driver was ticketed for three violations in a five-vehicle collision. The guy was ticketed driving too fast for conditions, improper lane usage, and unlawful possession of a radar detector in a commercial vehicle. No one was hurt, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a mess for some people. Hey, it’s slip-slidin’ icy out there – will you slow it down?

As you’ve guessed, I have a story about the torment my wife and I went through after being involved in a snowstorm-related chain reaction wreck two miles from the Snowshoe, PA, exit.

It was just after daylight. We were running in a snow squall that we had just gotten into and were planning on getting off at Snowshoe and waiting for it to pass. I’m sure others were, too. We were all trailing along about 25 mph just trying to keep the vehicle in front of us in sight. It was one of those situations where you could see farther back in the mirrors than you could see ahead.

I looked over and told my wife Geri to watch this truck coming around. The guy had the hammer down and I bet her we’d see him down the road shortly. Well, it was quicker than I thought. This covered wagon went by me like I was painted on the wall. He put me in a total whiteout for a few seconds. When it cleared, there he was – sitting across the road blocking both lanes of I-80.

We were on a slight downgrade. If not for that, we probably all could have rolled to a stop, no harm no foul. As it was, I hit into the side of his trailer, another truck rear ended me; then still another truck and three four-wheelers piled on behind us.

The driver was the only one cited, and people were lined up at the trooper’s cruiser to confirm that. I found out later people going the other way even called in to say what they saw.

Anyway, there were some injuries and lots of damage and everyone was suing everyone and the driver’s company seemed to be in the barrel on this one. But even though their driver admitted guilt and all the evidence pointed to him, the carrier insisted on a jury trial to try to lay off some of the liability on others involved – trying to prove “contributory negligence” of other drivers like me.

The jury’s job was to determine if any of the others of us were at least partly to blame for the accident and put a percentage number on it. In other words, if the jury had found me 20 percent to blame, my company would have been in for 20 percent of the liability.

So maybe 18 months later we went to Pennsylvania, where they put it in front of a 12-person jury for a trial that lasted two days. We all had to testify and these lawyers were serious. They grilled us pretty good.

When the hammer-down driver who slid sideways was on the stand, they asked him what he did as far as work after the accident. He said something like, “I saw the light and quit trucking.” Then the lawyer asked where he was employed now. “I’m trucking again now.” Then he was asked what kind of trucking and he said “hauling air freight.” That’s when I fell out laughing, and the judge told me to shut up or get out.

In the end the jury was out about 30 minutes, came back and told us what everyone already knew. The driver who flew by us and got spun sideways in the middle of the highway was 100 percent to blame.

All in all, Geri and I got our truck fixed and in the process, got two months off in the winter. After the trial, we got a little settlement. But there was a boatload of aggravation to go with it.

I wouldn’t care to do it again.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Payback time

Some people won’t like this, but let me say that Pittsburgh, PA, is my least favorite destination except for New York City, and I’ve always refused to go there so it don’t count. I have been to Pittsburgh 15 times in my career, and of those I’ve probably been lost more than 20 times.

Now, if you have been out there trailer trucking for any time at all, it’s a given that you’ve had it stuck to you (probably many times) by shippers, consignees, etc. Maybe an unpaid load, maybe for a ticket you didn’t deserve. It’s hard to get back at them for any kind of satisfaction or out-and-out revenge.

After I became an owner-operator, I quickly made a rule for myself. If you get treated badly by a shipper or receiver, don’t ever go back and let them mess with you again.

Of course, there are exceptions to all rules. I was doing dedicated liquid tank work for a shipper in Whiting, IN … great people to work for. Everybody in the plant called you by your first name. They offered you coffee and donuts while they loaded your tank. They had a good freight rate and all accessorial charges like out of route, reconsignment, demurrage, etc., were on your next statement. No questions asked or delays. Every freight bill was prepaid, or so I thought.

One day my dispatcher – let’s call him Wayne – offered me a load to Pittsburgh.

No way, Jose.

Later on Wayne said he was in a spot and would I please take the load. Since I’m a player, I agreed to run it, as bad as I hated going to Pittsburgh.

I was sitting on their customer gate at 7 a.m. The man checked my bills and said he would get back to me. Sound familiar?

He got back to me eight hours later and said he was ready to unload me. Anyway, everything is cool except the guy wouldn’t sign my demurrage papers and he had a real nasty attitude. He says things like “you’re just a low-life trucker and should know it’s part of your job.

“That’s OK,” says I. “I’ll get my money.”

Guess what? I didn’t.

I asked Wayne (remember him?) about it, he checked it out, and it turned out to be a customer pickup and they are paying the freight. You know what’s coming next.

Through a strange set of twists and turns, that load comes up again a month later and Wayne is crying tears big as horse apples. I’m the last option, and if I don’t take it they will have to give the load back. The boss would rather eat ground glass than lose a load they have booked.

Easy me, I buckled under and took it with the stipulation that Wayne starts thinking about how he is going repay me.

Here we go again. The freight bills once more called for an a.m. delivery so this time I showed up at 11:45 a.m. The same guy who unloaded me before was standing in the middle of the street waiting for me. “Where the hell have you been? Why weren’t you here at 7?”

He is going postal on me, screaming and cussing like a wild man.

My turn: “I’m on time, it’s an a.m. delivery and it’s still a.m. Where have I been you ask? Just down the road at a diner playing video poker all morning. … Last time you kept me here 10 hours. You’ll have to work late to do it again!”

I don’t know that I’ve seen anybody any madder than this guy. I suspect he must have had something really important to get to but had to receive this load first.

The sun was shining in Pittsburgh that day, and I didn’t get lost either.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Trash talking and troop challenges

It wouldn’t be the annual OOIDA Truckers for Troops week if the challenges didn’t get tossed around. This year is certainly no exception.

One challenge that has escalated over the years is the Troop Challenge. Here’s how that came about. A couple of years ago OOIDA employees fielding calls started a tradition for veterans joining or renewing memberships with the Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association. They started keeping track of what branch of the military they belonged to.

That’s all it took. The challenge was announced on air and the trash talk started with a hash mark board collecting tally marks through the rest of the week. Army, in the end, was victorious in 2008.

In 2009, Land Line Now staffer Reed Black and I kicked it up a notch. Reed, who is an Army veteran, had proclaimed repeatedly that Army would win the challenge again. I took exception to that and challenged vets of all the other branches to “prove Reed wrong.”

Of course, that wasn’t the end of it. The challenge escalated to the point that when Army won, I had to wear a “Reed was right” T-shirt.

I am stacking the deck in my favor this year, pitting the Air Force, Navy, Marines and Coast Guard against Reed and his fellow Army vets.

Heading into the final day of OOIDA’s Truckers for Troops, it appears I have a very slim lead. Reed, however, has reminded me all day that Army is known for rallying back.

With all of the challenges, dares and competitions springing up – the troops are always first on everyone’s minds. How many care packages can we send? What cool stuff will be put in them? How many troops’ addresses do we have so far?

The 2009 effort raised enough money to provide 622 care packages. Each package weighs as much as 70 pounds and is packed with enough essentials – from warm socks to fun items like Frisbees and playing cards – to serve an entire unit. It’s estimated that more than 7,400 troops benefitted from OOIDA Truckers for Troops care packages this past year.

The OOIDA Truckers for Troops campaign raises money a couple of different ways for the care packages – through outright donations and by contributing and matching a portion of membership dues paid during the campaign. The money raised through the effort goes 100 percent toward the care packages. The Association even covers the cost of the shipping.

The weeklong campaign to raise money to provide care packages for members of the military has been met with an outpouring of support from the trucking community in its first three years, raising $158,623.60.

Anyone wanting to participate in Truckers for Troops can call in during regular business hours at 800-444-5791, especially if you're chalking one up for the Air Force, Navy, Marines or Coast Guard.

Also, throughout the week, members from OOIDA’s switchboard and membership departments – along with other volunteers from around the Association – will be on hand through the airing of Land Line Now until 7:30 p.m. CST.

You can also join or donate online through the OOIDA website.

To keep up with OOIDA’s 2010 Truckers for Troops campaign, you can tune in nightly to Land Line Now from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. CST; watch for updates on OOIDA.com, landlinemag.com and landlinenow.com; and catch updates as well as behind the scenes photos and videos on YouTube and Facebook.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

December 7

The day that Pearl Harbor was attacked, my dad was a 19-year-old air combat crewman in the U.S. Navy, stationed in San Diego. He had enlisted in May 1941 and was in training as a bombardier. On Dec. 7, 1941, the training ended. The real deal was on.

Dad grew up in Independence, MO, a town that has got plenty of national attention, thanks to Harry S. Truman. Harry would, of course, become vice-president for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and then president when FDR died in April 1945. But that’s another war story.

The boy from Independence soon found himself on the way to Kaneohe Bay, on the east coast of Oahu. Kaneohe was the site of a major Navy patrol seaplane base and home to three Patrol Squadrons. Dad was a bombardier for Patrol Squadron 102.

His attachment to the squadron ran deep. He told us how Kaneohe had been heavily damaged when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Dad said dozens of PBYs were on the ground (or in the water just offshore) when the Japanese planes came. The raid destroyed most of them.

Paging through my dad’s Navy Aviator Flight Log Book, it’s easy for me to imagine him in a PBY flying low over the waves – eyes peeled for the enemy, ready for action.

I am looking at his scribbled entry for Dec. 7, 1943, two years after the “day that would live in infamy.”

Type of machine: PB2Y3
Duration of flight: 11.0 hours
Character of flight: “J” (that meant scout-patrol-escort)
Pilot: Lt. Commander Curtis
Passengers: self

On Christmas day, 1943, he logged 12 hours in a PB2Y3, again a scout flight, with a pilot listed as Lt. Harris. By that time, Newton Myers was a 21-year-old battle-seasoned veteran.

A year later he was honorably discharged, having been a casualty of a hangar fire that left him hospitalized for more than a year in the South Pacific, and many more months at Great Lakes Naval Station in Illinois.

He was discharged on Dec. 7, 1944.

The first time I saw his logbook was when I was 19. I was a college freshman and came home on Dec. 7, for the weekend. I was mad at Dad for not giving me keys to the car to go to McDonald’s. My mom got my attention when she took me aside and showed me a flight logbook.

“Here you are, whining over car keys, worried about where your next French fry is going to come from. When your dad was about your age, here’s what he was doing on Dec. 7.”

From that day forward, all she had to do was wave the little brown book at me.

Dad died in 1994. He left his flight logbook to me.

Each year on Dec. 7, I look at it. I handle it, page through it, imagine how it was. It’s never failed, in a deeply sobering way, to get my undivided respect.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Winter driving from a straw hat driver’s point of view

It’s amazing how I’ve looked at trucking in winter conditions the past 10 years or so, as opposed to 30 or 40 years ago. I can remember times when I was home for the weekend and snowstorms moved in and I couldn’t wait till it was time to go. Just so you know, any kind of random testing hadn’t been thought of yet, but I would have passed.

One time on a union job with a private carrier, my boss said he wasn’t forcing me out, but would I please try to get an oversize load of long span trusses, 100-footers, up to our customer in Flint, MI? It was 300 miles. The company was late getting them built and delivered. Read that: “Get the load off the yard; now it’s the driver’s fault it’s late.”

The problem was, although it was dry and dusty at time, the TV and radio stations were telling people to get food, fuel and meds for four days and get home because a big one is on the way.

Me and the boss knew I had little chance of making it. The Great Blizzard of ‘78 was just 12 hours out, and I was driving right into it. Hey, I was guaranteed eight hours a day and a motel if I needed it, even though we had sleepers. Sounded like an adventure to me, and it was. That was 32 years ago. Even back then I at least had enough sense to quit early and get a motel while I could.

I look up to those who run the Northwest in the winter. They got more sand than I do or ever had. I have a now-retired friend who ran west out of Denver on I-70 (my worst nightmare in the winter). With all the storms, road shutdowns, hanging iron – maybe several times a trip – all I ever heard him complain about was the “slat rats” in their four-wheelers, coming and going to the ski resorts around Vail and Aspen, etc.

Me, I carried chains to be legal out there, but I put them on once, didn’t like the experience. So, on my last truck, they hung neatly in their racks for 14 years. I looked the part but didn’t play it, which was fairly easy as an owner-operator the last 25 years. I stayed south in the winter and loved running the Northwest in the summer.

Call me a wimp or a straw-hat driver; that’s fine. Somewhere along the line I lost my nerve. The last few years I got to the point I couldn’t stand the least little bit of snow or icy roads. Several reasons I guess. Mainly it was everyone was going faster than me, often as not, keeping me in whiteout conditions as they blew by me. Assuming everybody is following the first rule of inclement weather driving: “Only go as fast as you feel comfortable” – the gap just got too wide.

Comfortable to me means sitting back in my leather captain’s chair and taking it easy. To some others it must mean being hyped up, on the edge of your seat gassing on it and yakking on the CB about that old geezer they just passed.

If I was in charge, I would change two things. The western states seem to shut the roads down when they see it’s going to be ugly and, when it’s the right time, get the crews out to do their thing. I think the eastern states refuse to close the roads until wrecks literally force them to do so. I’d change that.

The other thing, and of course the biggie, slow down.

But don’t listen to me. I’m the guy in the straw ball cap and bowling shirt, hoping one of those Mojave sand storms don’t kick up. If it does, I’ll park, plug in a movie, and see what’s in the blizzard bag that looks good.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Have blizzard bag will travel

Winter time is here and it doesn’t take much – a slick road, a gust of wind or you or someone else doing something stupid like going too fast for conditions – to put you in the ditch. Nobody wants to pay $2,000 to get a $900 load pulled out.

Actually, that two grand number could be a best-case scenario. That’s assuming you didn’t tear up your truck, cause property damage, or take someone out with you. A simple slide-off could be a nightmare. You’ve heard the expression, “the road was so bad you had to make a reservation to get in the ditch?”

Actually, it’s like “you need a reservation to get pulled out of the ditch.”

What if they can’t get to you quickly? You’re at the mercy of the troopers to see that you get shelter somewhere. Your truck is 10 miles away in a snow bank and you are stuck in a motel if you are lucky. If it’s a company truck, you are liable to be fired, with a black mark on your record. If you are an owner-operator, you are going to be sweating bullets because that’s what o/o’s do.

I’ve been out there a lot of winters and only had one incident. That was where another driver was going 60. The rest of us were doing 25 in a snow squall, and this Billy Big Rigger took out six of us in front of a dozen witnesses. My wife, Geri, was with me. We didn’t leave the road and although our Pete was a little beat up, it was drivable. After all the paperwork the next exit was two miles away. It was Snowshoe, PA.

After breakfast the sun came out and Geri and I headed for the house – and body shop – knowing we’d be off the rest of the winter and speculating about the settlement that was coming.

I’ve been fortunate to have never had a job or lease where I “had” to get the load there as scheduled. I remember back before cell phones when conditions started getting bad and I would get in somewhere to wait it out. There would be drivers lined up in the phone rooms calling in to see if they could park it. My theory was, why call in now and argue with someone in a nice warm office? I’d wait until morning and call and tell them what I did.

I don’t ever remember catching any flack over this. On the other hand, I felt for those guys (some union drivers) with their daycabs pulling a set of joints being told “if the road ain’t closed, why are you calling?”

My method of operation was always quit early, and get in somewhere while there were parking spots left. About 95 percent of the time it would be better by morning. By then they would have cleaned up the roads, and the salt and chemicals had done their job. We got a wet road, and you could truck along at the speed limit kicking up a rooster tail of salt spray.

Only thing to slow you down is backing off while passing the wreckers that are pulling those guys out of the ditch that just had to make it through.

My advice: Always carry a “blizzard bag” and stock it with stuff you can eat, but not something you really like. That way it will be there when you need it. Quit early when you know it’s miserable conditions ahead.

With today’s technology tracking, the weather is easy. Back in the day, the CB radio was a handy tool. If you kept hearing about stuff like “road shut down ahead of you,” hey, I’m looking for a place to land. And preferably a place with a cafĂ© and bar. If not, just a safe spot. I got my blizzard bag – and these days my toys, like laptop, TV/DVD.

Cool your jets, it’ll be better in the morning, I promise. But if you see a flock of geese migrating to the south and instead of flying they are walking down the shoulder of the interstate, you may want to rethink that.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The gift of warmth

Land Line Now news anchor Reed Black has a neat story for this Thanksgiving week. It will air Nov. 24 and Nov. 28 on Sirius XM, The Road Dog Channel, 6-7 p.m. Central.

Reed says it’s the story of an Iowa couple who truck together and participate in the Trucker Buddy program. But here’s a secret, and it’s one the Trucker Buddy class doesn’t know. This husband and wife trucking team go an extra mile by personally paying for warm coats for some of the kids.

These two special people are members of OOIDA, but Reed says he isn’t using their names because they want to remain anonymous as far as the coat donations go. And for that reason, his report won’t mention where the classroom is, or who their teacher is.

The couple has been involved in their own coats-for-kids project for five years now. They told Reed that it helps that the teacher is in cahoots with them, too, and is particularly talented at finding bargain-priced coats online and persuading stores into allowing discounts.

When this trucking pair visits their first graders, they go strictly as Trucker Buddies. Reed says the kids have no idea their “buddies” have anything to do with the coats.

There’s a bit of background to why a Trucker Buddy story about warm coats caught Reed Black’s interest. Procuring warm coats for kids and others who need them is something he knows a bit about.

Before he was the news anchor and staff reporter for Land Line Now, he was a reporter for KCTV-5 here in Kansas City. Years ago, he did a series about people who had no heat because their utilities had been shut off because of non-payment.

“The policy back then was ‘tough luck,’ ” says Reed, “and utility companies had no cold weather rule.”

After he did the series, Reed’s interest didn’t diminish. He suggested to the news director that the station do something to address the situation, and a program called “Heat for Life” was born. For the first few years, the program just collected money to help people keep their utilities turned on during winter months. Then it developed into more.

Around 1983, KCTV-5 partnered with The Kansas City Star and it became “Project Warmth.”

“It became apparent from the news station’s contacts with the charitable agencies around town that there was a greater need,” says Reed. “So it got expanded.”

Since the program began, Project Warmth has collected tons of coats and blankets and more than $7.25 million. During Thanksgiving and the holidays, it’s the runaway favorite charity in KC.

“It’s the gift that keeps on giving,” Reed says.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Recollections of JFK

Sometimes in life there seems to be a thread hooking all the twists and turns together that causes a person to end up at a particular place at a given time. Maybe that’s how I ended up in a TV lounge at Naval Air Station in Brunswick, ME, on Oct 22, 1962, and in Dallas on Nov 22, 1963. If I figure it out, I’ll e-mail you.

I was about 19, in the Navy and glued to the TV along with everyone else when President Kennedy came on and gave his Cuban Missile Crisis speech. I joined the Navy to see the world. They didn’t say nothing about nuclear war. We were put on full alert (DEFCON 3 maybe), and everyone held their breath for 10 days or so.

That year I was in a Submarine Patrol Squadron and would sometimes volunteer for training flights to get out of my regular work. I wasn’t really a crew member. My job was to make coffee, pass out box lunches, and look out the window (forward observer).

On one of these flights we landed at Quonset Point, RI, and guess who else landed and parked near us? Air Force One. We ended up being part of the reception and got to see JFK walk off the plane.

Later in 1963 – after a three-month cruise on an aircraft carrier – I was discharged from the service, rambled around a bit and then got a trucking job.

It was Nov. 22, 1963. I was on my very first trucking job. I was traveling south on the Stemmons Freeway in Dallas with a load of brick going somewhere when I met all these lights, sirens, motorcycle cops and limos going the other way. I remember at the time knowing the president was in town and this must be his motorcade, but I didn’t have a clue as to what had just happened.

They were on their way to Parkland Memorial Hospital. If you think that was a dark day wherever you were, you should have been in Dallas …

Fast forward 45 years to our visit to the Pima Air Museum in Tucson, AZ, a truck friendly place about a mile from the Triple T Truck Stop. They have a few retired Air Force Ones there and one of those is open to go inside. It was one that JFK used. I wondered when I stepped out of that airplane in Tucson, was that the same plane I saw JFK walk out of in Rhode Island in 1963?

Friday, November 12, 2010

A salute to Veterans Day

Veterans Day really started for me the day before when Land Line posted their Veterans Salute in the online magazine and featured veteran members on Land Line Now on Sirius XM. Besides an online editorial, they posted a handful of OOIDA members’ experiences in the military – including yours truly. Since I was in the service during peace time, some of their stories about being in harm’s way made my duty seem like a walk in the park.

Every now and then someone will thank me for my service. I tell them I appreciate it, but I’m thinking the real “thanks” should go to those who went to places like Vietnam; the ones that paid the ultimate price, those who had arms and legs blown off; POW/MIAs. Those are the heroes.

We attended a Veterans Day ceremony at the Veterans Home here in Lafayette, IN. One thing I came away with that got my attention and made me wish I’d brought a camera. Before the ceremony started, everyone was mingling outside. I noticed this really old guy, kind of bent over, Coke bottle glasses, wearing a ragged, baggy old WWII (maybe earlier) uniform with sergeant stripes.

A Navy captain was the main speaker, and he was out with the crowd standing tall in his full dress blues. He came to where old man was, and I think he was a little embarrassed when the old gentleman stood up as straight as he could and saluted the captain and the captain returned it.

You would have had to be there; I get choked up thinking about it.

Speaking of salutes, a while back the rules were changed to where it’s not necessary to be in uniform to salute the flag, national anthem, etc.

I kind of like that. For these type events I get out the old ball cap with my Navy outfit’s logo. And I do salute when they play the “Star-Spangled Banner,” when they raise or lower the colors, and when they blow “Taps.”

It’s not just events like this. I salute at ballgames, races, anywhere they honor the colors and play our national anthem.

If I was in Grain Valley, MO, today, I would snap one off to OOIDA’s media staff. Well done.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Lorem ipsum?

Unless you are in the publishing business, you have no earthly idea what “lorem ipsum” means.

Years ago, editors used to yell “gimme 12 inches of copy for page two” and you’d measure that up by column inch. With the advent of computerized page design, it’s “gimme 540 words.” In order to know that exact number, the designer fills the space with “dummy type.”

Lorem ipsum dolar sit amet, consectutur adipiscing elit. Sed orci magna, convallis eget interdum eget, doales ornate ante.

That’s what a small chunk looks like. Sounds kind of like something you’d hear at a Sunday Mass, doesn’t it? That’s probably because it has its roots in classic Latin literature.

Of course, lorem ipsum says nothing. It was jumbled five centuries ago from something Cicero wrote. It’s been kept alive by purist typographers, but has no meaning.

Unfortunately, the publishing business is full of lorem ipsum – words that when put together, don’t say anything.

Finding a magazine – or newspaper – that has real content isn’t easy these days because editorial staffs have cut their writing work force back to the bone. In the past two years, more than 166 newspapers in the United States have closed down. There’s actually a website called Magazine Death Pool that chronicles the hundreds of magazines that die each year.

The good news for you: As 2010 comes to a close, we begin our 36th year. Land Line Magazine not only is surviving; we are thriving. Since OOIDA established its own magazine in 1975, Land Line has continued to develop a broader-based advocacy through journalism – both in print and over the airwaves.

Moving forward into 2011, we remain fiscally solid and editorially strong, with a real live award-winning staff that has its marching orders to stay close to our Association’s core mission. No fluff and stuff editorial, no baloney, no filler, no irresponsible advertising and no lorem ipsum on our pages.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Trucker Buddy the Cowpoke way

Our chocolate Cocker Spaniel “Dudley” was first. Then the truck, my wife Geri and I were in a three-way tie for second by our Trucker Buddy class on who they wanted to see first when we visited the school.

We had a Trucker Buddy class of fifth-graders in Tyler, TX, for two years. Going in we knew nothing about it, but I could see that to do it right it would have to involve a school visit near the start of the school year and again at the end. We did and it worked out super.

At our first visit in the fall we were all strangers, so old “Dudley” was a real icebreaker. We did the usual stuff, and everybody got to go in the truck. “Hey, they have a TV, refrigerator and microwave in here.” I explained that it was a “Dave Sweetman Starter Kit.”

And we had a question-and-answer session. We talked about our job and some of the places it took us, promised to send pictures and other mementoes of our travels, and agreed the kids would each write us a letter once a month and we would respond.

We did our part. Running all over the country gave us plenty of opportunity to get some neat mementoes, especially in the second year when we had leased on with Trailer Transit. Places like the Kennedy Space Center, various Broadway shows, golf tourneys, The Grand Ole Opry, Grand Canyon, etc. We would collect fliers, programs, take photos, etc. We had stuff to send in every week.

Houston, we have a problem.

Everything had been going smoothly until one weekend Geri and I were hiding from that Houston heat and humidity in a motel. We had been working on our letters, 25 or 30 to our class, and had them spread out on the unused queen-sized bed and went out for breakfast. When we got back, the maid had thrown them all in the trash. We saved them without the manager having to go dumpster diving.

Before our spring visits we knew we couldn’t come empty-handed. We were in the Shell SuperRigs calendar in 1997 and had a copy of the calendar for everyone. One year just before our visit we were in Denton, TX, as members of Peterbilt’s Council of Class doing a focus group thing. I told our host about our Trucker Buddy class and our visit the next day. He promptly overnighted Peterbilt hats and key chains for everyone. The next year Trailer Transit furnished hats all around.

The visit in the fall had been kinda laid back, the get-acquainted meeting, but the visit in the spring after we had been “together” all year was electric. You would have thought we were royalty. Only if you have had a class would you know what it’s like. We spent the whole afternoon there. They carried in dinner and brought another round of Mexican food for us to take with us. We might have mentioned that was our favorite …

I’ll admit, to do the job right took some time and effort. To keep coming up with something new and communicating to kids so young was hard at times, but the rewards far outweighed the bad. That final school visit both years made it more than worthwhile.

Looking back, I would have robbed a Boy Scout to have a digital camera and a computer back then. We could have sent updates and photos every day: a photo of last night’s desert sunset, a big city skyline, mountain sunrise or state welcome sign this morning, and a note about where we were and our plan for the day.

Of course a “Dudley” report every day would have been a given. Wish we could do it again, but with today’s technology.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

A town called Skidmore

About 20 yellow sticky notes sit crumpled on my desk this afternoon, evidence of my effort to mark interesting sections of a true crime novel about Skidmore, MO.

The November edition of Land Line includes a feature story on the farming and trucking town of Skidmore, MO.

Skidmore has unfortunately become famous for being the site of several awful crimes, including the 1981 shooting of noted bully Ken Rex McElroy.

Originally, I started marking the most interesting portions of the book, “In Broad Daylight,” as I read it. After the 20th sticky-note, it seemed half the book was covered in sticky notes.

I was sort of looking for names of people that might be key players to revisit nearly 30 years later. We found a handful of truckers, diesel mechanics and several OOIDA members to use as sources for our article.

If you like crime stories and true novels with deep, rich background, I recommend picking up a copy of Harry MacLean’s “In Broad Daylight.” Two copies of the book have been floating around our office for weeks now as my co-workers have enjoyed diving into the book as much as I have.

One copy happens to belong to my grandmother – who bought her copy in the 1980s and who has always loved a good mystery, especially if it’s true. Half of the fun I had working on this article came when I got to check in with her and exchange info about Skidmore and Nodaway County – an area she has visited since she was a child in the 1930s.

As you’ll read, MacLean relied heavily on an OOIDA Member named Kriss for background, interviews and story rights for many people in town. What resulted is a New York Times best-selling account of McElroy’s shooting, with several nods to daily Midwestern and small town life.

I have never called up a book’s author before, but MacLean was as interested in Skidmore as ever, and even offered to help a bit with our story.

MacLean, an attorney, pursued the story with a writer’s vengeance, spending about three years total in Skidmore to develop sources and write what would become a made for TV movie.

It wasn’t easy, he said.

“I just got in my car, found Skidmore and started knocking on doors,” MacLean told me by phone from his home in Denver. “I had doors slammed in my face, dogs bite me and shotguns pulled on me. It was pretty rough in the beginning.”

MacLean told me he had always been a great fan of the Truman Capote book “In Cold Blood,” the legendary true crime account of the brutal 1950s murder of the Clutter family in small town western Kansas.

His editor came up with the title of “In Broad Daylight” after seeing it in a sentence MacLean had written. The title seems to give a tip of the hat to “In Cold Blood,” while preparing readers for a distinctly different story of a small town killing.

“I reread ‘In Cold Blood’ about every five years, and I always get freaked out by it. It’s so powerful,” MacLean said. “I wasn’t trying to mimic the name, but it’s not bad that it comes out that way.”

Friday, October 29, 2010

‘It’s worth the drive …’

We’re fortunate here at OOIDA headquarters to be able to visit with some of the folks who drop in to take a building tour or to take advantage of the Association’s many services.

Sometimes I feel like I’m part of the OOIDA member building tour, but I enjoy it because I get to hear directly from members. Sometimes we have a lot in common.

On a regular basis, our trusted tour guide, Sheri Shepherd, brings around a member from Canada. And because that’s where I’m from, she always makes sure we get introduced.

We had a good chuckle the other day.

Along comes Sherri with OOIDA Member Mike Reinders on a building tour. She tells me that Mike was from Acton, Ontario, and in my best advertising voice, I announce, “It’s worth the drive to Acton.”

Mike nearly did a double take.

“How do you know that?” he asked. And he had a right to ask. Here he is in the middle of the U.S., 1,000 miles from home, and someone is reciting a famous local advertising slogan from his hometown. “It’s worth the drive” has been an advertising slogan for The Olde Hide House as long as I can remember.

Mike told me that The Olde Hide House recently fell on bad times and was liquidating. We agreed that it was a shame.

I am from Listowel, Ontario, about 60 miles from Acton (and totally worth the drive, I might add). Mike told me that he used to live in nearby Drayton, just 20 miles away. That’s a small world, for you.

I need to send a shout-out to two other Canadians who passed through OOIDA headquarters in recent days – Member Duane Richardson of Essex, Ontario, and Member Bob Sage of Vancouver, British Columbia.

Duane and I discussed some cross-border trucking issues. He too, got a kick out of running into a fellow northerner.

Bob Sage is originally from Peterborough, Ontario, so I knew the perfect comeback for him, too.

“Home of the Petes.”

We’re not talking about Peterbilts here, but about the Peterborough Petes hockey team that has produced a number of quality NHL players over the years. Bob and I also agreed to keep in touch on some border trucking issues.

While on the subject, I would be remiss if I didn’t give a shout-out to another Ontario native, “Snakebite” Bob Heans of Fergus. I talked to Snakebite on the phone recently about a remarkable scenario that he was involved in.

As you may have read on the Land Line site or heard on Land Line Now, Snakebite came to the aid of two young men following a single-vehicle crash near Pittsburgh, PA.

Snakebite used some basic safety techniques and kept the men calm until the ambulance arrived.

The young men not only survived, but one of them credits Bob for helping him avoid an injury to his spinal cord. The man had broken several broken bones in his back, and docs called it a miracle that he wasn’t paralyzed.

We are grateful for every one of you out there, no matter where you’re from or your walk of life. Thanks for your readership and membership. You guys make it “worth the drive” to work.

Texas gubernatorial candidates on transportation

For months the candidates for governor in Texas have been taking their message about critical issues, including transportation, to the people in hopes of winning their support. Only a handful of days remain until voters give the candidates the answers to whether they were successful.

The candidates are Gov. Rick Perry, a Republican, and Bill White, a Democrat.

Perry’s policies on transportation are well known. The most noteworthy endeavor of his 10-year administration has been his push to create the Trans-Texas Corridor. Approved in 2003, the corridor was touted as a toll road that would cut across Texas from the Mexican border to Oklahoma.

In 2009, after years of debate, the multibillion-dollar TTC was declared dead. But his goal of increasing toll options in the state is very much still alive.

Perry’s election website touts his track record of pursuing “innovative infrastructure solutions for a rapidly growing state by promoting private investment.” Although many Texans cringe at the thought of paying extra to travel around the state, Perry is committed to pushing forward and partnering with private groups to build roads.

Perry’s opponent, former Houston Mayor Bill White, is not opposed to tolls. However, he is not interested in the grand tolling plan pushed by Perry. White wants to leave toll talk up to local officials and says it is important to “respect the will of the voters.”

White’s plan for involving locals in the decision process is much more palatable than Perry’s approach of shoving the toll option down their throats. If re-elected, there is no doubt that as long as Perry continues to push anything resembling the TTC plan his constituents are not going to stay mum. The pressure will once again be put on state lawmakers to rein in the scheme.

While the candidates differ on how to approach toll plans, they are both campaigning about the importance of stopping diversions from the transportation budget.

Perry says billions of dollars are diverted from the state’s transportation fund for other purposes. His website touts the governor’s 2010-2011 budget that ended more than $300 million in diversions, and using the money for road construction and maintenance.

On White’s website, he calls for phasing out the diversion of fuel taxes for purposes that are not related to highway construction.

The candidates’ commitment to making sure transportation funds are used for their intended purpose is laudable. Whoever is in the governor’s chair during the next four years, it will be worth tracking whether Perry’s election year budget decision or White’s campaign promise are carried forward.

Addressing other options to boost transportation funding, White says he will call on the Legislature to allow local voters to decide whether to increase their fuel tax. Perry says he is opposed to higher taxes of any kind.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

New Mexico gubernatorial candidates on transportation-related issues

Candidates for elected offices often have clear-cut differences on issues of significance to voters. The race for governor in New Mexico is an exception to that rule when it comes to noteworthy transportation issues.

The victor in the race pitting Susana Martinez, the Republican nominee, and Diane Denish, the Democratic candidate, will be thrust into making decisions on how best to fix and maintain the state’s roads, commuter rail and what to do about the state’s law that allows undocumented immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses. On the campaign trail, both candidates appear to share like minds on the issues.

A story in the Santa Fe New Mexican reports that the “candidates say they would take money from other government spending, including the administration’s budget and capital outlay spending, and put it toward road work.

That appears to be a switch from what typically seems to happen in state government. I cannot guess how many times I have reported on states taking money away from transportation budgets for use elsewhere. A soon-to-be governor is touting turning the tables? It’s about time.

The candidates have also addressed the Rail Runner commuter train. The express train is a centerpiece of outgoing Gov. Bill Richardson’s efforts to improve commutes in the Rio Grande corridor. Denish and Martinez say it would be worthwhile to take another look at the commuter train and whether it is worth keeping afloat.

Another issue on which the candidates share the same view is doing away with a state law that allows undocumented immigrants to get New Mexico driver’s licenses.

On her website, Martinez pulls no punches on the hot-button issue.

“This law encourages illegal immigrants to come to New Mexico and makes it more difficult for law enforcement officials to determine if someone is here illegally. Repealing this law is a commonsense step towards securing our border,” Martinez says.

She also cautions that as government looks to preserve the rule of law and take reasonable steps to secure the border, government must recognize that “legal immigrants who follow the rules and come to America seeking to improve their lives ... strengthen our nation.”

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Wisconsin gubernatorial candidates on transportation

One of the great things about election season is that candidates are compelled to take a stance on many issues of importance to voters. Transportation funding is one of the topics that Wisconsin voters are pressing the gubernatorial candidates on for possible solutions.

The Democratic candidate is Tom Barrett. The Republican nominee is Scott Walker.

A 2006 report from a bipartisan legislative panel documented almost $700 million in annual unmet needs on roads throughout the state. Funding for the state’s transportation system comes via fuel taxes and vehicle registrations. Since then, revenues have continued to dip as drivers change their habits and fuel-efficient vehicles are more commonplace.

To make matters worse, the state’s transportation fund has been robbed of $1.3 billion during the past eight years to benefit other programs.

Thankfully for Wisconsin taxpayers, the candidates agree this is a flawed setup. Barrett, the Milwaukee mayor, has called for the raids to stop.

Walker, the Milwaukee County executive, also said the road raids need to end. He has gone as far as calling for an amendment to the state constitution to prevent future governors from raiding the fund.

To boost funding, Walker has touted rerouting sales tax revenue from new vehicle purchases into the transportation fund. That money – estimated at $500 million a year – now goes for general use.

This seems like a sound plan. It’s high time that other budgets are forced to come up with their own money source instead of dipping into transportation-related revenue.

On his website, Barrett calls for “a balanced approach to transportation that invests in our roads, as well as public transportation initiatives that will help spur long-term economic growth.

He wants to increase passenger rail options. He says that the pursuit of taking commuters off roadways would result in less wear and tear on state roads, and lower maintenance costs.

One option that Walker said is worth further discussion to help get road work done is the creation of pay-only express lanes. He thinks it is worth considering charging drivers to use an added lane that would allow them to have a faster commute.

Walker told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel he opposes traditional tolls that would charge to use all lanes. He wants travelers to continue have the option to use highways without being charged.

Barrett’s campaign has stressed that the mayor is opposed to all tolls.

It is good to hear that both candidates are not interested in charging all highway users to pay for their drive. There doesn’t seem to be much harm in allowing travelers to pay for the privilege to access designated lanes.

But as lawmakers, and the next governor, scramble to come up with possible solutions to plug gaping holes in the transportation budget, it is vital that the state first take steps to ensure that the revenue already coming in is used for the intended purpose.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Florida gubernatorial candidates on transportation

Election Day is only days away and voters are honing in on what candidates for elected offices have to say about key issues to them. Florida voters have a pretty good understanding of where the candidates stand on transportation issues, which include protecting road funds, port issues, and moving more goods by rail.

The Republican candidate is Rick Scott. The Democratic nominee is Alex Sink. Both candidates have addressed transportation issues, although Scott has provided fewer details.

Each candidate has shared concerns about the state’s transportation trust fund. The trust fund has warranted discussion on the campaign trail after the Legislature acted earlier this year voted to strip $160 million from transportation to help cover state budget deficits. Gov. Charlie Crist vetoed the raid but apprehension remains that lawmakers could once again pursue the maneuver with a new governor in place.

Truckers and others who appreciate the need for transportation funding should like what they hear from the candidates on this issue.

The Florida Times-Union recently published excerpts from a letter Scott wrote addressing raids on road-building funds for other purposes.

“Transportation user fees should be used for what they were intended for when collected,” Scott wrote to the Florida Transportation Builders Association.

Sink is equally adamant in her opposition to raids on road funds. She criticized the “out-of-control Florida Legislature” for their effort to siphon funds. On her website, Sink promised that she would veto all future efforts to “raid this critical funding source and will ensure that these resources are invested in transportation projects.”

Another notable campaign pledge made by Sink addresses providing tax incentives for businesses to use rail.

She says that Florida’s nearly 3,000 miles of existing track “can be used to transport goods while conserving fuel and reducing heavy truck usage that stresses our highways.” As governor, she would be committed to “providing tax incentives to businesses that move more of their goods by rail as a percentage of a business’ total goods shipped.”

From time to time we see big railroads making pleas to government for what amounts to a handout to help them meet their strategic goals of forcing more freight into their captive hands. While it is important that transportation investments are made in their infrastructure, just like other private businesses, railroads should be accountable for the decisions made with their profits.

Perhaps Florida would be better served to allocate available transportation funds elsewhere until the railroads show they can make better decisions with the money they already get.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Maryland gubernatorial candidates on transportation

In the final days before the Nov. 2 election, candidates for elected offices are pulling out all of the stops to distinguish themselves from their competition. Maryland voters who will cast their ballots for governor have a good idea about how the candidates would address transportation issues during the next four years.

The candidates are Gov. Tom O’Malley, a Democrat, and former Gov. Bob Ehrlich, a Republican.

One big difference between the candidates is how they view a pair of proposed transit funding projects. On his website, O’Malley hypes his support of the Red Line in the Baltimore area and Purple Line in Washington, DC, which would be partially funded by the federal government. The state would borrow money for at least some of their portion.

O’Malley says the projects would put the state “in a position to compete for federal funds as the projects enter their engineering and construction phases.”

Ehrlich, who was governor from 2003-2007, indicates he will develop “safe and cost-effective alternatives” for the Purple and Red lines. On his website, the light rail projects are described as “neither cost effective nor practical in light of Maryland’s depleted transportation trust fund.”

He writes that Maryland does not have the $3.6 billion needed to build the projects and “any further funds spent on them are simply stolen from systems that need immediate help.”

Ehrlich is sure to point out that revenue from the TTF is down significantly since O’Malley took office, which corresponds with one of the worst economic downturns in the nation’s history. Since 2007, the state has received reduced fuel, titling, registration and sales tax revenue, as well as fewer toll and transit fares.

To help the state rebound from this downturn in revenue, Ehrlich plans to establish a “consensus commission.” The commission would recommend “realistic ways” to fund Maryland’s transportation system.

It would be worth keeping a close eye on possible solutions touted by the proposed commission. Hard to imagine more toll options would not get serious consideration.

Capital Beltway improvements are included on Ehrlich’s to-do list. To ease regional congestion, his site promises “more effective use of HOV lanes on I-270 and improvements on I-495.

In an effort to aid local roadwork, Ehrlich says he will commit an additional $60 million in state road repair money to counties.

O’Malley’s site focuses strongly on transportation options, including transit and ride sharing, which could keep more people off roads.

It is good to see the governor highlight alternative modes of travel in the state. Getting commuters to be more active in reducing congestion is a win-win scenario for everyone who travels roadways. But, it would be nice to hear more about how O’Malley would address road funding during a second term.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Now that was a convoy

Of all the good times we’ve had trucking, participating in the Share America Convoy in ’97 is a standout. The convoy was bookended by the Truckers Jamboree in Waupun, WI, and the Knights of the Road Jamboree in Reno, NV.

Held during Trucker Appreciation month, it was to promote Trucker Buddy. It sounded like a fun deal to Geri and me. We had been showing our truck for a couple years, and we couldn’t wait.

The way it all shook out if memory serves, several of us did the Waupun show, which ended on Saturday night. The convoy formed at the T/A in Madison, WI, on Sunday, and we headed out for Reno, doing little shows at truck stops across the country. We did Rochelle, IL; Walcott and Des Moines, IA; Omaha, Grand Island, North Platte and Hershey, NE; Cheyenne, WY; Salt Lake City, UT; Wendover and Battle Mountain, NV, ending at Reno.

Joey Holiday provided the entertainment. Joey and Vicky hadn’t hit their stride yet and were traveling in an old motorhome. I never asked Joey but I suspect his plan might have been to run it as far as it would go and leave it – been there, done that. We passed the hat a couple times for gas and duct tape.

The convoy was led by Gary and Carol King. Gary was the founder of Trucker Buddy. Some of the other players were Darien Stevens, Dave Sweetman, Phil Lanum, Russ and Debbie Brown, Curt and Sharon Smith – and of course Geri and myself. There were others who made the entire trip, but I can’t recall their names.

Roger Fayman of California Custom Products acted as our scout, running ahead and giving people a heads up, making arrangements, promoting some free meals and some fuel or gas for those that needed it.

Other truckers joined the convoy along the way to ride a day or two then get on with their business. All told, we took five and a half days going 1,850 miles – my kind of truckin’ – ending up in Reno at the Alamo Truck Stop for the Knights of the Road Jamboree. We knew it was gonna be special when the Crash Test Dummies waved us in to the show lot.

There was a brand-new motel on the property, and we had a room reserved. The folks that brought the lions didn’t and needed to be close, so they offered Geri and me a room at the Nugget for our Super 8 room. We had our cocker spaniel with us and had to turn them down. That was OK by me. I wanted to stay right in the middle of this anyway.

Dave Sweetman, a longtime OOIDA member, columnist for this magazine and others, won a laptop computer (his first I think) in a drawing and learned how to use it. The world hasn’t been the same since.

Reno was fun. Bob Cashell, former lieutenant governor of Nevada, owned the truck stop at the time. One afternoon, he sent a coach and invited everybody to his home for a cookout. What a spread. Everything was out on the decks and patios, three or four free bars, no tips allowed and a designated coach driver to get us home. There was this huge multicolored parrot sitting on his perch. He looked me right in the eye and said, “I can talk, can you fly?” It was a fun evening for sure.

Who was that hanging off that overpass with three cameras around her neck? Bette Garber, of course. Bette was there, beginning to the end with her red, white and blue van. Her job was to cover it all and she did. It was a treat for Geri and me to spend quality time with Bette over the 12 days or so. Normally at the shows, she was always on the run. R.I.P., Bette.

Colorado gubernatorial candidates focus on transportation issues

In about 10 days, Colorado voters will cast their ballots on some significant issues and races. In addition to questions on the statewide ballot that address transportation funding, voters will elect a new governor. The three leading candidates vying to fill the seat being vacated by Gov. Bill Ritter have addressed transportation issues.

The candidates are Democratic Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper, Republican nominee Dan Maes, and American Constitution Party candidate Tom Tancredo.

One of the most substantive transportation discussions during the governor’s race has focused on congestion caused by skier traffic between Denver and mountain resorts along I-70. Much ado has been made about the entanglement of weekend vacationers and large trucks on high-country highways.

Hickenlooper told the Colorado Independent that the weekend skier rush is “what makes Colorado Colorado. That’s what makes us different.” He recommended that CDOT ban westbound trucks on Friday afternoons and eastbound trucks on Sunday afternoons.

The mayor has done a dandy job of playing up to the desires of many voters he is courting, but he’s shown quite a bit of shortsightedness in dismissing the greater good of the state, the region and the nation.

Hickenlooper’s idea could have various economic impacts. On-time deliveries would be affected not only locally but regionally and nationally. Truckers and the businesses they serve would also be burdened with additional costs.

Obviously something needs to be done about the traffic dilemmas in the area but delaying commerce doesn’t appear to be a bright idea.

Another topic that candidates have addressed is the FASTER legislation approved during the 2009 session. The transportation spending bill includes the option of charging tolls to access existing free routes and new transit-funding initiatives. It also green-lighted the raising of funds through an increase in vehicle registration fees.

On his website, Maes says there was no need to approve FASTER because federal bailout funds coming into the state “are more than enough” to immediately address about half of the road and bridge needs.

“If government downsized, and kept the spending limit in place the transportation industry would have the revenue it needs to conduct its business. Now we see the state spending so-called stimulus money for roads and bridge repair on bike paths!” Maes wrote.

Hickenlooper refers to the FASTER legislation as “pioneering.” On his website, he says it has allowed “many of Colorado’s immediate needs, such as repairs and replacements of structurally deficient bridges and roads” to be addressed.

Tancredo has made a point of emphasizing that Colorado needs to change its status as a “donor” state. His website shows that the state gets less than $1 back on every dollar sent to Washington, while others get as much as $1.50 or $2 on every dollar contributed.

“I believe that Congress should work to address this inequity in the multi-year surface transportation bill scheduled for action this year,” Tancredo wrote. “This will help guarantee more funds for Colorado highway projects without raising the federal gas tax.”

He also wrote that fuel taxes shouldn’t be diverted for other purposes.

“Excise taxes and special fees collected by the federal government ought to be spent to benefit those who pay the tax. That means taxes on gasoline should be utilized to build highways.”

It’s good to hear talk from candidates about greater responsibility with revenue already available to government. Voters are not interested in seeing their taxes and fees raised every time government is in a pinch. Elected officials need to prove they can better manage what is already coming into coffers.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

California gubernatorial candidates on Prop 23

California is among the 37 states where a race for the governor’s office is on the Nov. 2 ballot. Also on the statewide ballot there is a question about whether to suspend a greenhouse gas emission rule. Fortunately for voters, the candidates for governor have weighed in on this important issue.

Approved in 2006, the greenhouse gas law allows the California Air Resources Board to create many new regulations. Specific to trucking, authority was given to formulate several trucking regulations aimed at curbing greenhouse gas emissions, including the state’s drayage rule, and truck retrofit rule.

The law, known as AB32, is intended to cap greenhouse gas emissions at 1990 levels by 2020.

Proposition 23 on next month’s ballot would tie implementation of the four-year old law to California’s unemployment rate. If approved, the emissions requirement would be suspended until the unemployment rate is 5.5 percent or less for a full year.

Currently, the state’s unemployment rate for the first two quarters of 2010 was above 12 percent.

Democratic candidate Jerry Brown has denounced Prop 23. On his website, Brown proclaims that “shelving the state’s program would stunt the rapid growth of California’s burgeoning green economy, threaten hundreds of clean tech jobs and roll back our clean air and energy standards.”

Republican nominee Meg Whitman says she opposes Prop 23. On her website, she reiterates her support for a one-year moratorium on AB32.

“As I’ve said for more than a year, AB32 as it stands today is a job killer. We must fix it. My plan is to suspend AB32 for at least one year while we develop the sensible improvements the law badly needs to protect the jobs of hard working Californians while improving our environment,” Whitman says.

One important thing to keep in mind about Prop 23 is it would not halt all the provisions covered in AB23. It would prevent the state from moving forward on greenhouse gas-related measures until the unemployment rate improves. It does not call for shelving the program as Brown claims.

Also, passage of Prop 23 would not stop some of the current CARB rulemakings from going into effect, such as the TRU regulation and the truck and bus rule. But it would put a lock and chain on CARB and prevent them from moving forward on some of their more onerous regulations that are being discussed, including a requirement for reformulated diesel.

Truckers and others who vote in California have every reason to support Prop 23 on Election Day.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

A deft toast to the Left Coast

This year the Truck Show Latino got a new name: Golden State Trucking Expo. It was a change intended to send an invite to all truckers to attend this annual Southern California event. It worked.

The event took place Oct. 16-17 in Pomona at the Fairplex. The Latino truckers, family and friends remained loyal attendees, and a diverse stream of others showed up to enjoyed the event as well.

At the First Observer booth, OOIDA’s Director of Regulatory Affairs Joe Rajkovacz and I were on hand to introduce truckers who were not familiar with First Observer to the TSA security program for truckers.

Next door at the OOIDA booth, Mike Schermoly and Land Line Now Host Mark Reddig met hundreds of truckers and signed up a good bunch of new members. Mark dived headfirst into the festive ambiance of this show, showed off his dusty-but-not-bad Spanish, and discovered California-style chili cheese fries with jalapenos could have consequences.

The place was packed with OOIDA members. California Members Jose and Maria Escott joined the crew at the OOIDA booth to help, along with their daughter, Helen.

Senior Member Jon Osburn of Boise, ID, was there with the St. Christopher Fund “MeRV.” The Harley momma seen on the back of Osburn’s Harley Saturday night may or may not have been been me.

OOIDA Life Members Roger and Heather Hogeland of Yucaipa worked the Women In Trucking booth, along with OOIDA Support Member Antoinette Martinez, truck attorney with the American Defense Lawyers Association.

With aisles of exhibitors like Arrow Truck Sales, Centramatics, R.J. Taylor’s Ol’ Blue and Internet Truckstop, the joint was pretty much jumpin’. Even the California Air Resources Board had a booth there. And from what members told us, they were getting an earful from truckers.

The Truckin’ for Kids posse was there, headed up by OOIDA Life Member Frank Pangburn and wife Diana, Priest River, ID. The 30th annual Truckin’ for Kids Drags is scheduled Oct. 24 at the Toyota Speedway in Irwindale.

OOIDA members who pilot some of the top show trucks in North America showed up to participate and to compete in the Best of the West show truck contest. Show producer Roger Sherrard told Mark that it’s clear that the show is “on the grow” and that the Fairplex has “plenty of room for us to do that.”

When our OOIDA crew arrived Friday to do a little pre-opening snoop, we found OOIDA Member Randy Rebillard and wife Jona of Pembina, ND, hard at work cleaning up “Tired Iron.” Rebillard’s truck has a stained glass rear window crafted by Jona that’s a knockout. The Rebillards think way outside the box with the stunning features on this truck. They don’t overwhelm you with all the design elements, but the ones they have incorporated into this working truck are spectacularly clever. The pewter-toned molded tin tiles that make up the ceiling of the truck’s cab? Who does that? Randy and Jona didn’t come to California to compete; they were helping Best of the West competition organizer Bud Farquhar with the show.

OOIDA Member Michael Most, Peoria, AZ, sent his popular truck “Legends and Heroes” to California with driver Nick Mitchell. Aside from being a big fave with the kids, Nick picked up a best award for Paint and Body in the working division and a best award for Interior. The yellow 1998 Freightliner Classic also won a new award called the Overall Extra Special Award.

OOIDA Members Bob and Shelley Brinker rolled in from Grayling, MI, with the “Legend of the Black Pearl,” a 2000 Freightliner Classic XL. The judges scored this truck high, awarding Brinkers the “best” working truck in the Aluminum/Chrome/Stainless class; best in Engine class. The points accumulated in these classes earned them the Best of Show working division trophy – a knockout showpiece that is the signature work of Carl Carstens, Rockwood Products.

OOIDA Member Jerry Kissinger of Cottage Grove, WI, showed off the 1991 Mack SuperLiner he calls “Thumper,” and won the Driver Award, an award that is a driver presentation award. This is a cool award. It gives kudos to the driver who best presents the truck to the judges and as far as I know has nothing to do with how much candy you give the judges.

All day Saturday, attendees voted on their favorite truck. Jerry earned 36 percent of the People’s Choice votes, making Thumper the crowd favorite and trophy winner.

In the limited mileage categories, Isaac Aguilar and the 1992 burgundy Peterbilt 379 known as “Still Deliriouz” captured five Best awards for Sandvik Trucking and Bill Sandvik and wife Marie from Valley Center, CA. Points earned with these top scores earned Isaac the Best of Show limited mileage division. The Sandviks are cool people. Bill has been an OOIDA member since ’03.

On Saturday night, Sandvik Trucking treated show truck contestants, exhibitors and others to a Mexican food buffet on the fairgrounds, which was prepared by Bill and Marie’s drivers and their families.

Sandviks have more than two dozen trucks, more than a dozen now working, and their drivers – who become part of the Sandvik family – are Hispanic. Those drivers, including show winner Isaac Aguilar, put on a buffet of chopped honey pollo, beans, rice with everything from guacamole, fresh salsa, chopped cilantro and freshly cut limes. Even Isaac’s mom, Annie, helped with the feast. With the serapes and table settings, they get five stars for presentation.

For me, it could not have said “California hospitality” better.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Alabama gubernatorial candidates on transportation

Casting a ballot for a candidate is one of the more powerful ways we can express our views on particular issues, including transportation. A little more than two weeks out from Election Day and Alabama voters have a pretty good idea about what their candidates for governor want to do to address the issue.

Republican candidate Robert Bentley and Democratic nominee Ron Sparks have quite a bit to say about issues such as the state Department of Transportation, borrowing and new capacity.

Sparks’ election website touts roads and bridges as the driving forces of the state’s economy. He says the state is falling further behind when it comes to keeping up with demands.

“We have miles of highway in this state in such disrepair that vehicles risk damage by traveling on them. ... Without a renewed commitment to our highway infrastructure, we are courting disaster.”

Bentley also addresses the issue on his website. His plan calls for creating “a bipartisan panel of experts to recommend the best ways to modernize the Alabama Department of Transportation.” They would work independently to “evaluate the performance of the major modes of transportation within Alabama.”

The candidates’ commitments to transportation are laudable. However, it will be worth keeping a close eye on the methods chosen by the next governor to get the work done. Hopefully they will make sure revenue already coming into the state is being used for its intended purpose. That is their best chance for keeping Alabama voters who elected them on their side – and winning over others.

An issue on the Nov. 2 statewide ballot that Bentley and Sparks have both endorsed is Amendment 3. If approved, the Alabama Constitution would be amended to allow $100 million a year during the next decade to be rerouted from a state savings account for roads and bridges.

However, Sparks said it doesn’t go far enough. In addition to the $1 billion that would be raised over the next 10 years, he wants to borrow another $400 million for highway construction and repair.

Among the projects that would get attention are new four-lane roads running north to south through eastern and western Alabama.

“My proposal will be funded through the issue of GARVEE bonds, a bonding program that uses future federal infrastructure grant funds to finance the debt service on the bonds.” He further describes it as “a proven means of front loading infrastructure investments.”

Bentley’s pursuit of modernizing ALDOT includes evaluating options for the new north-south roadways.

Even though additional capacity sounds like a fantastic plan, there is a lot to be leery about as to how Bentley would pursue funding the work. A report in The Birmingham News leaves no doubt about what he is willing to do to get new road work done:

“If the federal government won’t help pay for them, Bentley said he would consider making them toll roads.”

Bentley has already said he favors building an elevated toll road over U.S. 280 to relieve congestion in Birmingham.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Georgia gubernatorial candidates on transportation

Voters who take the time to get as much information as possible on candidates and their positions on issues of importance to them typically have to do quite a bit of digging. In Georgia, truckers have some insight into how the two men who are vying to become governor stand on various transportation issues.

Included below is what Democratic candidate Roy Barnes and Republican nominee Nathan Deal have to say about addressing one of the worst gridlock problems in the nation.

Nathan Deal’s election website is critical of the current transportation system. He also shows interest in reducing some truck traffic routing through Atlanta.

“Georgia’s east to west connectivity is insufficient, which forces thousands of extra vehicles onto metro Atlanta roads. Alternative routes must be explored to remove more than 100,000 transfer trucks from metropolitan roadways each day and significantly relieve congestion and delays as a result.”

Roy Barnes says on his website that “the days of only big road projects are gone. Instead of simply pouring more concrete, we must implement a mass transit plan that addresses Metro Atlanta’s tremendous population growth and unique problems.

“MARTA is convenient for Atlantans who want to travel short distances within the city, but it is completely unusable for suburban and exurban commuters,” says Barnes. “An elevated light-rail system running over metro Atlanta’s interstates, rail lines, and existing rights-of-way would move commuters to outlying suburbs more efficiently, unclog our interstates, and reduce our reliance on foreign oil, all while putting Georgians back to work.”

When elected officials and candidates talk about putting more money into alternative forms of transportation, it is natural for people involved in the trucking industry to hold their breath out of concern what such action might mean for the roads they use on a daily basis. Barnes addresses that concern.

“Businesses will not settle at the end of potholes and narrow roads. There are two important economic engines in Georgia: real estate development and commercial business. These engines tend to reinforce each other, but both rely on transportation as an essential tool for success. To bring new economic opportunity to every corner of our state, and to make Georgia work, we need to improve and expand the statewide highway system.”

Improving roads isn’t a campaign pledge that too many people are going to take a candidate to task over. But you better believe voters, including truckers, will keep a watchful eye on the methods used by the next governor to get work done.

Deal, like Barnes, addresses expansion, but he focuses on the Port of Savannah. Officials in the state are hopeful of making upgrades at the nation’s fastest-growing container port in time for a major widening of the Panama Canal, due for completion in 2014.

“As the Port of Savannah is expanded to accept larger vessels, surface transit will be a fundamental ingredient in ensuring the full utilization of the port. Connectivity through roadways and rail, when financially justifiable, must be explored,” says Deal.

One more transportation topic covered by Barnes is a proposed constitutional amendment also on Nov. 2 ballot. The amendment is billed as a way to reduce long-term construction costs paid by the state.

If approved by voters, the Georgia DOT would be allowed to pay for projects as they are under construction instead of being required to paying the entire dollar amount of contracts at the outset.

“I believe this is an integral first step to resolving transportation shortfalls in our state over the long run,” Deal stated.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Over-the-road serial killin’ truckers?

The FBI’s highway serial killer initiative has sure resulted in a demonizing of a hard-working segment of Americans.

In my opinion, it’s ridiculous and actually rather frantic to finger truckers for hundreds of unsolved murders along our roadways.

Sure, the highway system is full of truckers. But they are not the only workers who make a living on our nation’s highways. Our society has an ever-growing mobile work force out there. There are thousands of service people out there ripping off serious miles. And thousands of sales people are out there and they are not all George Clooney Up-in-the-Air cool dudes.

But let’s dig a bit deeper. I will bet there’s at least a half million travelers out there – desperate, untethered modern gypsies batting around our interstates in crappy old cars and living off cheese crackers and truck stop coffee. Bet there’s plenty of them with a dark history.

We probably have no idea how many drifters and homeless people and worse, just plain human predators exist in obscurity along our highways, panhandling at rest stops and hanging out in truck stops. The invisibility of these people is remarkable. America does not want to see them.

Unfortunately, along with being our nation’s pride-and-joy super slab, the interstate network is also the jungle path of thousands of lost people – many of whom have no respect for other humans.

Friday, October 8, 2010

PA gubernatorial candidates on transportation

In every election, savvy voters want to know what candidates have to say about issues of importance to them. In Pennsylvania, truckers know where the two men who are vying to become governor stand on transportation issues.

A thorough comparison between the candidates and their thoughts on how to go about achieving a comprehensive way to meet transportation funding needs has been put together by The Patriot-News. Included below is what Republican candidate Tom Corbett and Democratic nominee Dan Onorato had to say about transportation issues:

On increasing the fuel tax:

Corbett says he is opposed to a fuel tax hike. In hopes of convincing voters that they can believe him, he has signed a pledge stating he would not raise taxes or create any new ones. Instead, Corbett would rather replace the fuel tax sometime in the future with another revenue stream as vehicles become more fuel efficient.

Onorato agrees that they shouldn’t pursue a fuel tax increase. He said the state already has one of the highest tax rates at the pump.

On raising motor vehicle fees:

Corbett says he has “no intention” of boosting fees, such as vehicle registration and drivers’ license fees. However, he pointed out they are not prohibited under the no-tax pledge he signed.

Onorato says he also wants nothing to do with higher motor vehicle fees. Instead, he says the state should look for efficiencies and tighten its belt before talking about increasing fees.

It is good to hear talk about resisting the urge to reach deeper into the pockets of taxpayers with higher taxes or fees. The state should first take steps to ensure the revenue already coming in is used for its intended purpose. Hopefully, the new administration will do a much better job of using resources they already have than the Rendell administration has done.

On leasing the Pennsylvania Turnpike or privatizing roads:

Corbett says he would consider selling public assets, such as the turnpike.

Onorato says he would promote partnerships with private groups that help the state complete projects that would otherwise be unfeasible. Unlike his opponent, he is opposed to selling assets such as the turnpike.

On tolling more roads:

Corbett says he would call on PennDOT and the Turnpike Commission to study the potential for new projects that expand roadway capacity as part of a statewide strategy for funding. Those projects could include establishing partnerships with local governments and private companies and creating high-occupancy vehicle lanes that charge drivers tolls.

Onorato says that user fees, such as tolls, could be considered for road construction that might not otherwise be financially viable but only after improving efficiencies with current taxpayer dollars.

It is disappointing to hear that Corbett appears to be cut from a similar cloth as Rendell – as far as leasing, or essentially selling, the turnpike. I cannot imagine there are too many people who will be casting ballots next month in Pennsylvania who support the pawnshop mentality of making existing infrastructure available to the highest bidder.

On State Police funding:

Corbett says he might consider moving the trooper funding from the state’s motor license fund to the general fund.

Onorato says the State Police should be paid for out of the state’s general fund.

It is encouraging to see that both candidates are open to weaning the State Police off the motor license fund.

When all the campaigning is done and voters make their decision on Nov. 2, hopefully whoever emerges the victor in the race for governor will take more cautious steps to address infrastructure needs than what has been seen in the past.

CARB back, back, backing it up

The point of this blog entry is mainly to point you to a very interesting article in today’s edition of the San Francisco Chronicle.

The article explains that CARB has admitted miscalculating the effects of diesel particulate matter by 340 percent when providing science to back its off-road diesel regulation, which regulates construction equipment.

As Land Line reported this week, science behind CARB’s most expensive trucking rules to date has been under fire for more than a year.

Stay tuned for more news on this issue, particularly as California elections approach early next month.