Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Bill Archer

June 24, 2013

Sometimes a trucker can transport the past into the future in one load

When I drove for Ohio Fast Freight, the company’s Chicago terminal that was located in Dalton, Ill., could force drivers to take a load, even if it was way out of the range as to where the driver wanted to go and carried a bad rate and weight. There was a lot of turnover then, so seniority didn’t mean much even though we were in the Teamsters union. The pecking order for loading freight out of Chicago was based on a first-come, first load-out basis, but drivers could usually pass over freight they didn’t want to haul.

Most people might think that it would be an adventure to carry a load of freight to Florida, but for steel haulers, the only good load was a load where you could find a quick back-haul with not too much of a deadhead. On the back-haul, it wasn’t bad for me to go a little further east than Pittsburgh, but it wasn’t good to go all the way to Philadelphia. Still, it happened from time to time.

One Monday after I dropped a load of steel at Ryerson Steel on 51st Street in Chicago, I hustled back to Dalton as fast as I could, but I was late getting on the board. The dispatcher was nice to me, but as I watched all the good Pittsburgh area freight headed out the door, I was getting anxious as I watched the clock spin past the mid-afternoon. I knew if I was there past 5 p.m., I would have to spend the night in the bunks at the terminal.

Finally, the dispatcher called me up to the window and said that she was going to have to force someone on an LTL (light tonnage load) from someplace in Chicago to King of Prussia, Pa. I liked the name, King of Prussia because a friend I trucked with always called it King of Persia, because he had trouble pronouncing Prussia. He always elongated his enunciation of the “purr” part of Persia.

But with that said, I had never trucked into King of Prussia, and although the money would be way short, I knew I was going to have to take the PA Turnpike from New Stanton, almost all the way to Philadelphia and deadhead back to Pittsburgh to pick up a load of steel. In an effort to make me feel better, the dispatcher said that the load was a piece of used machinery. “Used machinery carries a better freight rate than new machinery, so it will pay close to the same thing as a 40,000-pound load,” she said.

I think her name was Connie, but I can’t remember now. I do recall the freight that she sent me to get. There were two metal units that were each 20 feet long, 8 feet wide and about 6 feet high. I had a 40-foot trailer, so I had to take my tarps and chains out of the bulkhead of the trailer so the unit the loader put in front would ride as far up as possible. That way, the unit at the back on the trailer only hung about one foot over the tail end.

 The LTL paid as though it was a 20,000-pound load, but I knew both units together didn’t weigh more than 8,000 pounds, if that much. I used a couple chains for each unit with some metal edge guards so the chains wouldn’t scar the outside of the units, and off I went. Since I didn’t have to tarp anything, it was quick to load.

Since it wasn’t heavy or oversized, I trucked straight out U.S. Route 33 through Indiana and most of Ohio before I got to U.S. Route 250 where I drove south through Amish Country on to I-70 east. The load was so light that it felt like I was hauling a 40-foot-long cape behind me like Superman or something. The box-like shape of the load seemed to improve the aerodynamics of the load, and it felt driving like I was floating on air.

The PA Turnpike, which was usually a huge pain to drive when I was hauling heavy, was a breeze for me that day. Back then, truckers averaged traveling 50 miles in one hour, but I was averaging something like 56 or 57 miles in an hour because the freight handled so well. Hills and mountains didn’t slow my truck down at all.

The only trouble I had on the entire run was finding the address of the place in the King of Prussia where I was delivering the machinery to. I found it though, went to the loading dock and got empty in a hurry. As the receiver was signing my freight bill, I asked him what it was I was hauling. He told me they were card-sorters from an old IBM computer. He added that it could do the same thing as a Texas Instruments calculator.

That was late spring or early summer 1974, and Texas Instruments were selling pocket calculators for about $100. I thought about the load, what it paid me to haul it 800 miles and I smiled. I had no idea where technology was headed, but I knew change was on the horizon.

Bill Archer is senior editor of the Daily Telegraph. Contact him at

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