Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

August 26, 2013

Driving truck through Iowa with a Dave Dudley song in my head

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— — I really messed up on the very first load of steel pipe that I hauled for the Daily Express broker I drove for. As I think back on it, I figure that the loaders at the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel plant where I loaded knew I was green and helped me on my way to messing up. The load I had was a mixed load including a few short bundles of galvanized pipe and a few bundles of some longer, reinforced, double-thickness pipe that’s used in lining oil wells after they’re drilled.

It took me a half-hour or more to back up to the loading dock. I had to back up along a curve with one side of the truck and trailer’s wheels on one track of a set of railroad tracks and the other side on the rail nearest the wall. Within a year, it wouldn’t have been hard at all to back the truck up, but on that night — the first time I went to pick up a load — it was a hard night.

The loaders put all the light galvanized pipe on the front of the trailer, and the heavy stuff in the back. The overall load didn’t exceed the legal limit, but my trailer axles were way too heavy. I got stopped at a scale in Iowa, paid a fine and spent more than an hour sliding pipe from the back to the front of the trailer at 2 a.m. Central Time. I was covered with sweat, but I was even more covered with disappointment in myself. It was my first load.

I forget now where the pipe was going, but it was one of those typical 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. delivery places. I traveled another 35 or 40 miles on I-80 until I found a truck stop where I could have breakfast before I delivered the load of pipe. Getting the pipe oil off my hands before I sat down at the booth in the restaurant was a plus, but as I sat there waiting for my open-face roast-beef sandwich with mashed potatoes and brown gravy to arrive, I had a few minutes to think about the morning.

Here I was, a guy with a useless college degree who wasn’t even smart enough to know how to get a load of pipe legally loaded on a trailer. I worked at a truck stop during my first two years of college and thought I knew a little about the business, but on my first load, the $200-plus fine I paid at the Iowa scale was more than I would be making for the entire load.

The waitress returned carrying my plate of food in one hand and a coffee pot in another. She set the plate down in front of me, turned an empty coffee cup that was on the table, right side up and poured it full of coffee. I stopped feeling sorry for myself to look up at her and say I didn’t drink coffee, but she looked back at me and said: “Honey, you look like you could use a cup of coffee tonight.”

She was right. I was mad at myself, covered in sweat and beating myself up over being a failure. That was the first load I hauled on my own, but more importantly in the broader scheme of things, it was absolutely the first cup of coffee I had ever had. Prior to that night, I used to think I could just will myself to keep going. In high school football, my coaches hated disciplining me, because I could run all day long in the hot sun without passing out. I was always pushing myself to the limit.

The waitress knew better than me that I needed something more than a couple hours of sleep to get me through that first load and on to a tractor plant in Burlington, Iowa, to pick up a back haul. I didn’t even know what to expect from the taste of coffee, so I tasted it slowly. I was glad of that because it was hot. But I was even more glad because I started waking up again and I quit feeling sorry for myself.

Being around truck stops for as long as I had been around truck stops, I was well familiar with the Dave Dudley song, “Truck Drivin’ Man.” It wasn’t playing on the jukebox as I walked out of the truck stop, but I had a little bounce in my step as though it was.

OK, the unloading process wasn’t any easier. The place where I delivered the pipe, removed one pipe at a time, slid it of the trailer and into a slot to put the pipe into different slots so all the same-size pipe was in the same slot. There were kids a lot younger than me unloading the truck, and suddenly, I felt like the old guy in the bunch with a little bit of knowledge of how to get things done.

After I got empty, I got back to the super slab, found a rest area, climbed into the bunk and slept a few hours before driving down to the tractor plant. They loaded at that plant around the clock, and by the time night fell, I felt like trucking all night long again with a Dave Dudley song rolling around in my head. “Pour me another cup of coffee; For it is the best in the land. And put another nickel in the jukebox, and play one for the truck drivin’ man.” I haven’t quit drinking coffee since that morning in Iowa.

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