A Likely Story - Adjust In Motion

Roger Clark
June 2023

I like to think there’s no rig I can’t handle. My second cabover, after all, was a 1978 IHC powered by a six-banger Detroit, backed up by a 13-speed Roadranger. You know, one with a splitter over the plunger, which was harder to learn than a Mozart Sonata. 

At one time or another, these past forty years, I’ve straddled Cummins, Cats, Detroits, and Macks, double-clutching, skip-shifting, and floating the gears until automatics finally found their way to the highway. And of course, they have their own set of hang ups, but nothing I couldn’t adjust to.

 Then along came the autonomous trucks, with radar-controlled cruise control, lane departure warnings, automatic braking, and even a voice-activated, pop-up middle finger right above the dashboard. But don’t worry. Driving seats, sleeper bunks, sun visors, and stereo controls are still bad as ever, because OEM design engineers are still more interested in what could be, not what is be. 

This became readily apparent a few weeks ago, when I made eight consecutive runs with seven different trucks. By the time it was over, I was a blubbering, stuttering mess, with a nervous tic and a shock of gray hair. He’s not my best friend, but Jack Daniels is a great therapist!

 There were ProStars, Cascadias., KWs,  and Volvos. Some were automatics. Some weren’t. Some were fairly new, with all the bells and whistles, and some were so old that all I heard were bells and whistles.

One had the cruise control on the steering wheel. Another had it on the dashboard. Still another was on the wiper switch, so every throttle setting also washed the windshield. 

Some units had functional dome lights. Some didn’t. Five showed fault codes, during the warm up, and one had a flat tire on the front drives. Six had jake brakes, and two did not. I can’t describe to you how this affected the mountains of eastern Kansas. Instead I will leave it up to your imagination, which would also describe our Pretrip Inspection at 2:00 in the morning.

Two of the trucks were models of excellent housekeeping, thanks to driver Wes Yocum, and six were slip-seat loaners that hadn’t seen a whisk broom since 2016. Odometers ranged from 100,000 to a million miles, and some service intervals were up to thirty thousand miles late. Driver seats were very different from each other, and so were the controls that make you comfortable, or make you wish you were dead.

 Recent conversations with management indicate all trucks are the same. So are the people driving them, according to those who inhabit corporate cubicles. Anyone can drive a truck, including them, they think, and it reminds me of a policy etched in stone at CFI.

CFI in the 1990’s was a trailblazing carrier, led by dynamic leadership, during a period of unparalleled growth. And fun. One of their policies required all managers to spend one week per year on the road. They were required to drive, if they held a CDL, or ride along if they didn’t. There was no choice, and no one was exempt, including the suits & ties.

 Now a ghost of its former self, CFI has been bought and sold more times than the queen of the Silver Dollar, but lo, did that light shine bright in the nineties. A big reason why was being held accountable. Not just us, the drivers, but them who signed our paychecks. 

Today, nobody is held accountable for anything. So brand-new, battle-scarred power units look like they came straight from the oilpatch, and million-mile beaters are parked on the ready line. They’re easy to find, even in the dark. Just look for the glow of Check Engine lights!