Lookin' Back With Dick Lower - Part 2by Jake Tully - Published: 8/24/2016
Given the current state of the world, it’s fair to assume that many would agree with the notion of learning one’s history before they are doomed to repeat it.
While Dick Lower doesn’t necessarily speak of doom and gloom, he nonetheless provides drivers and trucking enthusiasts alike with his unique take on the trucking industry and a frank opinion on the trucking lifestyle.
In part one of Truck Driving Job’s interview with Lower, the veteran driver and road expert discussed a brief history of American trucking as well as his career writing about the occupation.
“It is my hope you may use the information to better understand the trucking world,” said Lower. “Of course my early years are in the Midwest states. Other drivers all have different slant, however the struggle to prevail is a common trait.”
Lower isn’t your typical driver with stories to tell - with more miles on the belt than you can count, he is sharp, deeply aware of some of the issues and problems that come with the driving territory, and more than willing to share his incredibly interesting life behind the wheel, even when times may have seemed tough.
In the second installment of Truck Driving Job’s interview with Lower, the man himself talks about some of the culture on the road, and discusses his some post-trucking experiences in the driving realm.
Dick Lower was also kind enough to provide some of his personal photos from the road. Included are some of the shots he considered to be worthwhile and otherwise interesting to his story of trucking.
Truck Driving Jobs: Your writing conjures up some very nostalgic imagery of trucking – diner conversations, cups of coffee with fellow drivers, twilight drives with signals to others on the road – do you ever look back and think about the cultural magic within that?
Dick Lower: Truckers try to look out for each other. To understand the culture of truck drivers is next to impossible for someone who works an 8 hour job or goes home each day and works only 5 days a week.You are living in a society that gets to sleep in the same bed each day and have a routine that you call "your life."There are other jobs but you will look for a job that allows you 2 days off a week and the ability to live a "normal life".
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Every driver understands the risk taken by other drivers.They understand the hardships of being away from home and family. They live in a world where they eat breakfast in one state, dinner in another state, go to bed in a different state each day. They do not have the pleasure of regular sleeping hours. They are even told how much sleep to get and when to get rest. Yet if they don't do it the way the Department of Transportation regulates their movements a stiff fine is in order for them. They live in a world of rules and regulation that dominates their behavior.
If all of that is not enough then Mother Nature can be fickle and storm unholy weather upon them causing discomfort and or even death. At a truck stop where other drivers stop to rest it is easy for truckers to make conversation with other drivers even though they have no idea who they are talking to except another driver.In days before CB radios there was a mode of communication called the telegraph for truckers.It was not dot dash method, rather hand signals warning on coming truckers of dangers or could be a speed trap set up by police. Flashing of head lights or blinking the marker lights and or waving log book out of the window indicating a check ahead or a log book check.
They live in a different world! It is the world of the truck driver. There is not any magic in this kind of life. It is drivers trying to survive staying alert and well the best way they know how.In the end of their run or finish of their dispatch they will get to return home to the regular life with everyone else.If you were a truck driver living on the road you and I would be good friends keeping each other company. Then quick as we would have met we would depart just as fast. We would have shared the company of each other and most likely enjoyed our conversation and companionship. It is mark of a culture of people living on the open road but there is not any magic to it.
Do I ever look back and think about this culture or way of life? Yes I do! It is my hope that I did a good job and by doing so made a good difference in the lives and people I came into contact with. I know there are people alive today because I did my job the safest possible way.I miss the friends and places!
TDJ: There were a series of letters published in Lookin’ Back from U.S. soldiers who drove trucks and our men overseas thanking truck drivers back home. Did you ever expect there to be such a global camaraderie among drivers?
DL: There have also been responses from other people in the trucking world from other countries. The connection and goals of delivering their cargo is the same as we experience here in the United States. Equipment might be different but people remain the same. They have to deal with weather, difficult roads, regulations and most everything we deal with in the United States. However, I feel Australia trucking is beyond our concept in the United States. They have truck trains that would drive our DOT crazy. Not only that but the road ways in the Outback are such that it is difficult to even try to compare them to the United States. In fact far as I know the outback of Australia is beyond comparing with anything else in the world.
Then we have truckers in Europe.I have received mail over the years describing conditions that are similar to conditions here.The Netherlands have a great program to increase and maintain their transportation system. I have been published in Danish trade magazine called, "Transport Forum." I can't read Danish however it is cool to see my words printed in a different language. The world of the truck driver is same all over and that is when the rubber touches the road.Methods and equipment are different but people have the same problems.To answer your question, "Did I ever expect to receive such a global interest and or camaraderie among people?" Answer - No, I did not!
TDJ: You’ve retired from trucking but still remain quite active with your CDL that you’ve had for over 61 years. In driving limousines and buses later on in your career, did you have many feelings or stories akin to trucking in these positions?
DL: Did I have many feelings or stories akin to trucking? Wow! The answer is Yes! The only thing that changed was the steering wheel! With exception my cargo with a bus or Limo is live. Live people! College students who are baseball or football or you name it.There is still no room for mistakes. I shall give you an example. Two years ago late in February I picked up a college baseball team.They were going to travel south in Tennessee north of Memphis. Pick up was on Wednesday and stay till Sunday afternoon then return to Illinois after ball game. In Illinois there was still snow all over everywhere so I was curious what weather would be when we got to Tennessee. Holy smoke, it was beautiful. There was even green grass and it looked like spring time. They played games on Thursday and Friday. Saturday Coach informed me after ball game in afternoon we were leaving to return to Illinois.
I asked what happened to change the schedule. The Coach said he was informed of a winter storm approaching Illinois and we were returning in hopes of beating it back home. At 4PM we loaded the bus and started for home. We were going to Champaign, Illinois which is in central part of state.Everything looked good all the way to Cairo, Illinois. Here we got off I-55 turning north on I-57.It was dark by now as we stopped for something to eat.On to Marion, Illinois and still clear weather! My hopes were getting high that we would beat the storm. On to Mt. Vernon, Illinois and here stopped for fuel. Everything looking clear and good and I-57 is clean and dry leaving Mt. Vernon.
That did not last long! Ten miles north of Mt. Vernon a blizzard like rain came flying out of the west. It wasn't falling straight down it was horizontal out of the west carried by strong winds. It was a struggle to keep control of the steering because of the strong wind .However, I felt if it is just rain and wind I can handle that!That didn't last long either as the temperature dropped below freezing. By the time we reached Effingham, Illinois the road has turned to ice. I-57 intercepts with I-70 going through Effingham. We continued traveling north near a town called Mattoon, Illinois the bus began to lose power. The air breather to the engine is on the left side of the bus which is exposed to the western wind carrying ice and rain. The breather is freezing up!The Interstate now is solid ice. I pull off into a small 24-hour gas station and back into the wind.
I tell everyone on the bus what the problem is and that we must defrost the air breather. If we can't get it clear we will be stuck there for the night. We are only 50 miles from Champaign so feelings are anxious to get there. After a while we load back up and I have told everyone we will drive into Mattoon and turn around come back out to the Interstate and then decide what to do. If we break down in Mattoon at least we can call for help! Break down on the Interstate and that will be life threatening. Everyone agreed!
Into Mattoon and back to the Interstate and the bus is running fine. I stopped the bus and asked the coach if they want to proceed back on the Interstate? I felt the bus was clear of ice in the breather but the road was very dangerous. They talked it over and asked to proceed. Now it was up to me to get us there. Black ice is causing cars to run very slow. They were getting in the way because I have to travel at least fast enough to keep traction.I stayed in the passing lane watching tail lights ahead of me making sure no one is in our way.
Ten mile from Champaign rain and ice stops.Clear road ahead!I was happy to see the break in weather .Into Champaign to the college and everyone was hurrying to unload luggage. Wind blowing like crazy and with it cold air.
After unloading and before getting back to the Interstate snow began to take the place of rain. Now a full blown blizzard effect storm is causing visibility to disappear. I had another fifty miles to go before reaching the company garage.It was a night mare and when I did reach the garage the mechanic said, "Holy cow, the bus looks like a popsicle."