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Travel was adventure 50 yrs ago

By: Gary Bricken

Gary Bricken

Gary Bricken joined the trucking community almost 40 years ago and since then has accumulated 15 years behind the wheel of big rigs as both a company driver and owner operator and also served in management as both a Safety Officer and Shipping Coordinator. His writing career began in 1978 and has continued both in part and full time assignments for many major trucking magazines since then, most notably as the Field Editor for RPM for Truckers from 1995 until 2010.

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It’s hard to believe sometimes, especially when you are stuck in endless traffic, that traveling America’s highways was once a lot of fun, not only for the whole family but for truckers too.

For the road traveler, “getting away” was actually getting away from the sameness of home. Before the modern era of interstate highways was developed in the late 1950s and early 1960s, almost every town in this great country was unique. Bakersfield, California, was distinctly different from cities just up the road like Fresno or Modesto. The same was true all over this country. There really weren’t national fast food chains or big box stores. It was the constant change of scenery that made the trips by automobile, or even heavy trucks, a unique experience every day of the journey.

Now one city looks like another. All you need is a McDonald’s, Walmart, Target, AT&T or Sprint stores, a couple of Xpress Lubes, Pep Boys, Advance Auto, and of course, a Pay Less. You have an instant city ready to go.

Back then, just after WWII, millions of Americans were lighting out along the Mother Road. Also known as the Will Rogers Highway or The Main Street of travel routesAmerica, the famous U.S. Route 66 stretched from Chicago to Santa Monica, Calif. Roadside attractions varied from ice cream parlors to religious shrines, mountain caves promising more than they ever delivered, all you can eat steak houses, and orange juice stands shaped like a big orange. The road itself was of mixed quality depending on where you were.

It isn’t so fondly remembered by truckers who took a real beating in spring ride cabovers in West Texas, New Mexico, and parts of Arizona. Actually the lack of air conditioning, power steering, or air ride seats made every trip a memory to quickly forget. But at the truck stops, the trucker was king, receiving a free thermos of coffee, a free sandwich or even a full meal, with a 50 gallon purchase, of course. The island attendants filled your tanks, washed your windshield, and parked your rig while you enjoyed a free shower. Some places even had free bunks for the long haul drivers who didn’t have sleepers.

It was the not knowing what you were going to encounter from day to day and town to town that made trucking not just a job but a real adventure. One of the great sights in those days was going up Highway 99 in California between Los Angeles and Bakersfield. At night, the long line of slow moving trucks heading up the grapevine with towers of flame blowing out their exhaust stacks looked like procession of medieval monks on pilgrimage though the Italian mountains like you’d see in National Geographic Magazine. At the top of mountain, trucks were moving at 5mph or less, in first gearTravel window decals, with their Cummins 220’s screaming at 2100 rpm. It was tough, but it was an adventure.

And don’t forget the decals. People were proud of their travels back then and adorned the side windows of their Chevys, Nashes, Studebakers, and Fords with decals featuring every state they visited, a mark of accomplishment that the whole family would remember.  Yeah, traveling wasn’t always perfect, but it was always an adventure.

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