Line One
The Left Coast
OOIDA member Don Peters recalls running California in the early days

By Don L. Peters
OOIDA Life Member, Saratoga, WY


After 47 years of trucking, it’s nice to look back on some of it. In the early days, running California was something else. One of my first jobs was driving for a truck owner leased to Cates Carr Go out of Hawaiian Gardens. That was 1969.     

Most loads heading north were Dixie Cup products. I usually had 10 to 15 drops, from Bakersfield to Oakland. I delivered to A&W drive-ins and other burger joints.

One ice cream place in Oakland was my favorite. They unloaded the product while I ate free ice cream.

I mostly ran 99 north and 99 or 101 south. Before heading south I usually picked up at San Pablo with chemicals in metal containers headed for Arm & Hammer in Long Beach.

I drove a 1961 White cabover to start. I was paid $100 per round trip and made three trips per week. Going south over the “Grapevine” fully loaded was 6 mph. In 1971, the owner bought a 1964 White cabover with much more power. I could top the Grapevine at a blistering 11 mph. I think at the time 99 only had one stoplight between the Los Angeles area and Sacramento. That was at Livingston.

Anyone been driving during a California earthquake? I was headed north when a big one hit in 1969. I passed under one overpass about five minutes before it collapsed killing two people. After I reloaded in San Pablo, the authorities were advising anyone heading to LA they should use 101, so off I went.

By the time I got to Thousand Oaks there was fire coming out of the ground everywhere from ruptured natural gas lines. It really looked like a war zone from there to Long Beach. I had to take many detours because of highway and bridge damage.

In the winter of 1969-1970 I made a run north and knew a major cold storm was headed for southern California. I made a decision to take 99 and go south.

It turned out to be the wrong decision. I spent two nights and almost two days up there in a major snowstorm. The truckers hauling groceries even opened their doors so the people could have something to eat and drink. There weren’t any truck stops up there at that time. I recall there were more than a thousand vehicles stranded.

Like all truck drivers, I had my favorite truck stops. At Fred’s Truck Stop in Kingsburg, the company had an account and I always stopped when heading south. I pulled in on a Friday night after a very long week. I needed five minutes of shut-eye. So when I pulled in, I just hit the maxi and laid over the steering wheel. (You should try that these days.)

When I woke up after about 20 minutes, I got out and the fuel attendant was standing by my truck. I knew him well and asked if he would please fuel the tanks while I got a thermos of coffee and a hamburger to go. He laughed and said my tanks and thermos were full and handed me my hamburger. Great service.

Years ago, before CBs were in every truck, we had special hand signals to inform other truckers as to what the scales were doing, law enforcement ahead, and others. Most of the hand signals today are obscene.

I really don’t miss Armstrong steering and seats hard as bricks. Tell someone today that your truck has a 4-speed, twin countershaft Brownie. I drove one truck even as late as the ’90s that had a 15-speed with a 4-speed Brownie.

I always listened to the late night, early morning trucking shows, sometimes even good ol’ Art Bell. I could usually pick them up on KFRE out of Fresno – AM, of course. Now I don’t have to wait; I can hear them anytime on Sirius XM.

Nowadays if I observe an especially courteous trucker, much of the time it is a pretty good bet he or she has a little bit of gray hair. Of course, that’s just an opinion.

Stay safe out there. LL