The Wall Street Journal reports that today's economic environment is changing the nature of the long haul truck driver's job.
Gary Vann pines for the days when he could put the pedal to the metal in his 18-wheeler and hurtle down empty stretches of highway at 100 miles per hour. "You talk about fun, man," the 34-year-old Tennessean said.
That was in the late 1990s, when Mr. Vann was a rookie truck driver and oil was cheap. Now, with diesel at close to $4 a gallon, trucking companies are moving to cap soaring fuel bills by tapping the brakes on their drivers.
Several big companies have tweaked the computerized governors on their trucks' engines in recent months, dialing down the top speed. Mr. Vann's employer, Titan Transfer LLC, cut it to 65 mph from 70 mph. Titan also drops extra cash on drivers who know how to get the best fuel economy out of their rigs, and puts extra pressure on the leadfoot.Older drivers, who lived the 1970s trucker culture, are, needless to say, dismayed.
It's a good thing John Gilbert didn't have an egg under his accelerator in the 1970s. Back then, he often high-tailed it from Los Angeles to Baltimore at an average speed of 80 mph. Mr. Gilbert, now 69, would cross the country in three days, not the five his company gave him for the trip. That gave him two days to relax at home in Baltimore, with his bosses none the wiser.
The low-tech tools of the trade were catnip to rogue truckers. The CB radio helped drivers skirt speed traps. Faced with federal rules limiting the number of hours they could drive in a day, truckers kept written logs—sometimes several versions of them—to hide illegally long days from authorities' prying eyes.
Mr. Gilbert reminds us of a driver we knew. Cue Jim Croce.
I drive a broke down rig on "may-pop" tires
Forty foot of overload
A lot of people say that I'm crazy
Because I don't know how to take it slow
I got a broomstick on the throttle
I got her opened up and head right down
Nonstop back to Dallas
Poppin' them West Coast turn-arounds
And they call me Speedball
Terror of the highways
And all them other truckers
Will tell you that the boy is mad
To be drivin' in a rig like that
You know the rain may blow
The snow may snow
And the turnpikes they may freeze
But they don't bother ol' Speedball
He goin' any damn way he please
He got a broomstick on the throttle
To keep his throttle foot a-dancin' round
With a cupful of coal black coffee
And a pocketful of West Coast turn-arounds
One day I looked into my rear view mirror
And a-comin' up from behind
There was a Georgia State policeman
And a hundred dollar fine
Well he looked me in the eye as he was writin' me up
And said, "Driver, you've been flyin'!"
"And ninety five was the route you were on, it was not the speed limit sign."