Lookin' Back With Dick Lower - Part 1by Jake Tully - Published: 8/18/2016
With over 60 years of experience on the road, a wealth of writing about driving and knowledge of the global trucking experience it’s safe to say that Dick Lower is one of the leading authorities on truck driving in America.
With his acclaimed column, Lookin’ Back on Layover.com and his site, www.wordoftruckdriver.com, Lower has been providing truck drivers and would-be truckers with some of the frankest realities of the trucking industry, and has made forays into international publications.
Through his writings, Lower has enabled drivers to see the contrast between what is depicted on the road in media and by trucking companies, and the reality of trucking today versus trucking in what many refer to as the “golden age of driving.”
“He (a driver) had to be physically and mentally capable and self - confident to operate and care for his self and rig while traveling on
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two lane roads in all kind of weather,” said Lower of the trucker in the late 1940’s.“His load was precious and a great value to someone and they counted on him to bring it home safe…He was known as a, ‘special type of person’ to do what he did.His image many times rose to the height of a guardian of the highway.If you had trouble on the highway a trucker would help you.”
Lower has made it his duty to inform people of the past as well as provide realistic insight into the current state of trucking. Truck Driving Jobs had the incredible opportunity to speak to Lower about his career, his writings, and his mission to improve the amount of knowledge and information about the world of trucking available to drivers today. Lower, 85, is easily one of the most active truckers for his age - he admitted that when his license was up for renewal in a few years at 87 or 88 he may give it up then.
Speaking with Dick Lower was like speaking to an old friend. He was incredibly generous with his time and has a great deal to offer by way of knowledge about the history of trucking. Part One of this series sees Dick looking back on some of the historical perspectives of trucking in America.
TDJ: In Lookin’ Back, you write about the opportunities that one can gain while on the road while also giving drivers truths of the trucking industry. Was there a certain point in which you felt like the media or other news outlets were distorting info regarding trucking to people?
DL: Yes! Over the years from 1948 to present day the image of the Truck Driver took on different meanings and life styles.Before TV and before Interstate highways and CB Radios the image of the truck driver was one of a loner taking on the world to get his freight delivered.He was hard working and lived a lonely life on the road as far as everyone knew.A lot of these drivers were Pilots from WWII.
Along came the Interstate and the trucks got bigger and more powerful.The Unions gained strength in members and more powerful also.In the decade of 1960 - 1970 most everywhere one would go they needed a Union card to get a load or to get unloaded.The freight was regulated by the government so it didn't matter who hauled it - the cost was the same for everyone.In the 70's President Nixon declared a national emergency with a fuel shortage.He put a national speed limit on all Interstates and highway and byways of 55 mph.Up to this time the Federal government did not have any control over highways and byways in the states.Now the Federal government controls all the modes of transportation in the nation.Price fuel doubled!Speeding fines were outrageous!The president of the United States declared truckers to be ‘Bandits!’The media had a field day from then on with truckers breaking the law.The Iowa Governor at the time even declared war on the truckers!
In the 80's President Reagan fired all the people in the Union of Aviation control.It set up a chain reaction across the country.Now it became union busting time. The rest is history as the fights went on painting trucking industry as bad guys controlling everything. The media did not take the side of the Unions which was the majority of truckers at the time.Truckers were being portrayed as alcoholic big riggers chasing women.When in truth, 90% of all truckers were married and with families just trying to get along.
The decade of the 90's began with low wages and a decline in interest for new truckers.The Deregulation of 1979 caused massive problems in trucking.Anybody could get a truck and charge whatever they wanted.Cut throat operations were going on all over.Media was showing trucking as a way to get rich when times were bad and claimed people getting rich were the ones ripping others off.They showed schemes declaring you can own your truck with no down payment.Trade magazines began advertising come-on deals.Trucking companies were making money but by mid 1990's some Unions drivers were down to 20 cents a mile.Trade magazines still advertising big money for drivers when after cost of being on the road, insurance, dues, food expense and all other expenses they were just getting by or many cases losing money.No one was talking about all the negative operations going on.No warnings of the danger and hazards.
In the decade of 2000 trucking took on a new look.Media showed how you can make money owning your own truck.People began selling their homes to purchase a truck make money and see the country.I had older people talk to me about this as they explained they are selling their home and invest in an expensive tractor to truck with and live in. They asked me for advice and my advice was, ‘No matter how nice truck you buy and how many flowers you put in it or even if you have your own apartment with shower in it!At the end of 30 days on the road it will be only a damn ole truck.’ It will deflate in value compared to your home and you will lose lot of money each year you own that damn ole truck.How could someone be made believe they will get rich and make money and stay healthy living on the road unless they have been enticed in some way.
Where does media start and is advertisement considered media?The two are always in conflict with one reporting on just what they want to see and the other advertising just what they want you to know!What if a company would make it clear to new drivers they can go to prison or be heavily fined for improper operation of a vehicle or their health be ruined for life?
Will the Rubber Duck show himself on today's highways?Will the Pony Rider in the Silver Dollar Diesel spark the airways of the future?In my opinion the future of trucking depends on safe highways with safe drivers and media presenting the transportation industry as it really is. I feel the media can make or break the future truck driver!
TDJ: Are there any writers or columnists that inspired you to write or that you think influenced your writing style?
DL: No, no one!I have lived the life and see it as the words describe that life.My purpose and mission is to help guide people into the trucking world to be informed of the pitfalls and evils ahead of them.It is so sad to hear how someone has ruined part of their life with the hope they were going to better it.We only have one life to spend and we must be careful how we spend it.I write from the heart and soul as with passion to get it right.It is never my purpose to mislead anyone despite realizing we can't always be 100% correct but I am striving to do my best.
Many of your pieces focus on what one might refer to as the long, silent days of trucking. What are truckers today missing out on by not living in those times, if anything?
DL: Truckers are not missing anything from these early days.Those days were difficult at best. No way to call for help on the road.Every small town had a constable waiting and wanting to get your money. You have never seen the country so dark at night as in early days of trucking. The only light might have been from a farmer's 300-watt light bulb on a post in his barnyard - if he left it on. No power steering! In tight turns steering wheel would spin so fast to break your fingers or wrist.Steering wheel would literally pull you out of your seat.Winter time would find truck drivers at bottom of a hill with trucks parked on highway and drivers out of their trucks sanding the road. DOT would put barrels of sand or piles of cinders at bottom of hill with coffee cans and such to carry it to the hill. The truck drivers would have to clear the hill themselves by sprinkling sand or cinders on the road.Truck stops would rent a bunk to sleep in although it was one big room with lots of bed bunks with snoring drivers trying to catch a nap or catch enough sleep to go on.The bunk rooms always had an unpleasant odor!
Early trucks were most gasoline engines.Not very powerful.Driver's joking about the name of their trucks such as, ‘I got a Downhill truck,’ meaning it goes fast downhill but crawls uphill.I can remember speed limits in the 1950's was 45 MPH in Illinois and state Wisconsin it was 40 MPH.It took forever to get anywhere. The very early trucks of the 1940's into the 1950's still had vacuum brakes.With vacuum brakes you never had brakes until you let up off the gas and compression in the engine to build the vacuum up. Otherwise, if you had to stop quickly you did not have any means to stop you.Until that engine built up compression there was not any braking power.
Independent owner operators were called, ‘Wildcats.’There were not many road drivers that I recall owning their own rig.In the sixties drivers wore uniforms with hash marks for the number of years they were trucking.The military barracks hat was the trucker's hat of the day.They had a stiff brim so they would take the wire brace out of the brim of the hat so it would droop and look casual.It looked like the hat pilots wore in WWII. They also wore a badge to identify who or what company they worked for.
The type of license back then was known as a Chauffeur's License.The CDL or commercial driver’s license did not come about in the late 1980's or there about.The Chauffeur license was a state license.You could have a chauffeur license in each state and a separate driving record in each state. A person could have 12 speeding tickets without showing how many violations they really had. The Commercial Driving License is a federal law and all driving record in every state will be reported to the federal government. Although state law still prevails over the driver and even in his own car or vehicle is counted against his CDL.Under a Chauffeur's License any violation in your private car or vehicle would not count against your professional driver’s license.
I feel lot of drivers today would like to have the freedom that the old timers enjoyed.Even though, back then the equipment was nowhere near the likes of today's standard equipment and not with any Interstates and with small truck stops. Back then people got to know others better and drivers really did get to see the country as it was. Respect for the truck driver was good even if their trucks were slow.
Truck Driving Jobs will continue the conversation with Dick in the second installation of our conversation. For more about Dick, his writings, and his contribution to the trucking world, please visit his site at World Of Truck Driver as well as his columns at Layover.com.