This subject came to me last week as I ended my day and parked for the night. I had my curtains up and was busy with my end of day routine. Now, to set the scene, this is a square shaped lot that will park about 75 trucks. The lot was only about 1/3 full when I got there. I went to the back row where there were other flat beds and a couple dry vans. The reefers had parked further to the front. I was satisfied that this should be a peaceful undisturbed night of sleep. That’s when it happened. This truck driver with a reefer (unit) decides that his ideal spot was right beside me! That’s when I flew into “Reefer Madness”. Now I know that I learned in a different time but…. When I started, you would see flats, steps and, RGNs in one area. The reefer units parked on the other side and dry vans usually were in the middle. This arrangement seemed to be the standard for most places although there were some exceptions. I had to ponder what has changed? I came to the conclusion that the short answer was, a lot.
Respect was one of the first answers that came to mind. There used to be respect for your fellow drivers. Even though the older drivers would give you a piece of their minds rather quickly, they were the standard bearers for that time. Those same people would also jump through hoops to help a fellow driver. Drivers in that time also would sometimes pull different trailers depending what was in demand at the time. They understood what the other drivers had to deal with and would help a newer driver (like myself at the time) understand and become better at my job if I was willing to listen. I learned respect for and from these drivers that had much more knowledge and experience. I miss that.
Many of the people that came into trucking had some sort of background that made trucking a good fit for them. It could be a background in farming, military, warehousing, even mechanics. Of course there were some that just grew up wanting to see the country and experience the freedom. All of these have something in common. It is a profession of choice or one that they could easily adapt to. In my case, I grew up on the farm then went to the oilfield for almost 15 years. That made the transition into trucking relatively easy. Today, many people are going into trucking because it is an option for employment. Not necessarily the job they want to do but a job that will get them through until something better comes along. Many older people are starting a career in driving today to supplement their retirement or to carry them to retirement. How many times have you heard someone say, “I can always drive truck.”?
Training also quickly came to mind. When I started, only a few had officially been trained by a school. Most of the training programs were offered by a Voc-Tech school with high standards. The majority of drivers worked up through the industry until they had achieved the skill and trust of a superior. In the case of farmers, most kids started driving in the fields to help out then, after they got their license(or sometimes before), they would take the grain trucks to the elevator. After harvest, many of these young drivers started going out on runs and became OTR drivers to make more money in the off season. Most of these new drivers had 5-10 years experience before they went over the road. The military was another great source of drivers. Many soldiers returning home had gained some experience in service and found that driving truck made a good fit for them. Others took positions in a warehouse and eventually started moving trailers around as their introduction to driving. Regardless of how you got to the drivers seat, you listened and learned from the old timers. One of the things that seems to have gone by the wayside are the days when drivers used to stop for meals and sit at the counter or big tables and tell the stories of their time. You could learn a lot by simply listening to those stories.
The combination of all these things that have changed is what I determined that brought on my “Reefer Madness”. A lack of respect. A lack of training. A lack of understanding. A lack of standards and frankly a lack of caring period. I don’t know that there will ever be a cure for reefer madness but what I can say is that we could all do a little more to help the industry regain some respect.