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Cabover says, “I Ain’t Dead Yet”

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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The great American humorist Mark Twain allegedly once said “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.” Actually, he never said that exactly, but the media has always been something of a misinformation highway.

But an old cabover told me personally these very words recently. “I ain’t dead yet.”

It’s not often that this writer gets to actually interview a truck but then it’s not often that you can get a truck to do anything but brag about their long noses, high stacks, and oodles of chrome. This interview took me by surprise one day when I was poking around an old truck junkyard. I had my back turned to this old Freightshaker, trying to steady my camera on a long forgotten Sterling dump truck, when I heard this voice behind me say, “You didn’t see many conventionals back then, lad. The cabover was king in those days.”

I was too surprised to turn around, so I just said “Is this for real?”

A deep voice replied, “Haven’t you seen the movie Cars? Sure we can talk. But we’re like dispatchers; we prefer not to talk to you face to face. Talking behind your back is more our style.”

I stayed where I was, lit up a Camel, and asked, “So when were you guys the kings of the highway?”

The voice mumbled something about my stupidity and said clearly, “Actually the first heavy haulers, like the 1908 Autocar, were cabovers. Every major truck company made cabovers. We got a real shot in the arm when the old Consolidated Freightways decided to build its own trucks just before WWII. They were lightweight and powerful with a practical tilt cab for easy maintenance. They went nationwide when White Motor Trucks agreed to sell their rigs through their dealerships in the early 1950’s. Don’t get me wrong. Other makers had cabovers too, but the Freightliner was the best of them all at the time.”

I studied that statement for a moment and asked, “Why? They are about as stylish as a box of cereal. What was the attraction?”

The heavy voice grumbled again about me being a nitwit and said, “It’s like a woman, son. Pretty is alright for dating, but you need smarts for the long haul. The cabover was smart enough to allow for long trailers when trucks were limited to lengths that varied from state to state. They weighed less too, and that meant more money in the owner’s pocket. And a darlin’ that won’t waste your hard earned dollars is a keeper, believe me, son.”

I considered both what the old cabover was saying and checking into the state mental hospital at the same time. Who was gonna believe this? But I took the bait and asked, “So what happened? That little darlin’ finally noticed you were ugly and took off down the road with a pretty Peterbilt 379?”

The old fellow chuckled, sort of sounded like missing a power shift, and said, “Yep, you hit it right on the head, son. The pretty boys attracted the drivers like us old cabovers never did. The driver shortage of the late 1980’s caused trucking companies to do anything to attract drivers. The regs on truck lengths were modified so that the big nose rigs could do just as good a job as we could, and I admit it. They were prettier in a way. As my last driver told me before he deserted me for a new Kenworth W900, ‘Sorry, old fellow, but you can’t put a price on being cool.’ That hurt, but times are a-changing.”

So I bit again and said. “What do you mean times are a-changing?”

The reply was quick and to the point. “There’s a fellow on the electric radio that’s always saying, ‘Follow the money’ when he’s yacking about political corruption. Same is true here. Drivers want more money. They deserve more money too. But to make more trailers longer, you gotta shave some weight off the rigs. Most of the world don’t even make conventionals; they use cabovers. The new ones are a durn sight better than we were. that’s for sure. We’re gonna make a comeback in America. You wait and see.”

It was starting to rain, and I seriously wondered why I was standing in a weed strewn field talking to a truck, but I had to ask one last question. “So, Mr. Cabover, you got a name?”

“Sure I got a name, boy. It’s Clark, just like it says on the door. Take my picture; I want to send it to my mom in Iowa.”

I couldn’t even consider how that was going to happen, but I turned around, snapped a photo, and wandered back to my pickup wondering if I was ever going to tell anyone this story. I suppose I will. I’m not dead yet either.

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