Line One
From bed-buggin’ to steel haulin’
Race didn't matter as long as you were out on the road

By OOIDA Life Member Len Giddens


My dad trucked all of his life, starting back in the late ’20s or early ’30s. He drove for Suwannee Grocery near Quitman, GA. He drove for them until he moved to Tallahassee, where he started driving for Harrell Transfer and Storage.

I would go on some trips with him when I was 6 or 7, but he never taught me anything but to stay away from trucks. I learned it all just by observation. Before I was big enough to drive, I could do packing, knew how to load shipments, estimate weight, go in a house and tell how much space was needed for a shipment, how many men, how many hours it would take to do a job, etc. I wanted to drive bad.

To be in HHG you have to have a lot of tolerance. The customers would drive you nuts. People would leave lots of money and valuables lying around just to see if you would steal them. They would follow you around telling you how you should be doing your job, and don’t damage this or that.

So, when I started out in Florida I was a bed bugger. That was about the only trucking job the Negro could get. A good week for me was about $40 before deductions. My dad got a salary of $50 per week. When he went on a line haul, he would come home with about $100, give or take a few.

There were no hotel/motor courts that we could rent so we slept in the back of the trailer. You always left enough space for that. You didn’t spend your expense money for a room, and the little you had left you could keep. If you were lucky, you might spend a night with some colored people that you had met someplace.

One thing for sure, when you were out on the road, you were just another trucker. You helped a trucker, no matter the race.

My first truck was a 1963 White. It had a 220 Cummins that was slanted to the right, long hood, a dead axle on the back, 10-speed Roadranger, no sleeper. It was the 9000 model. The air conditioning was those pop-out vents. There was one right in front of the windshield. Speaking of windshields – when you pulled, the wipers would stop working. They operated off the vacuum created by the engine. There were very few diesels around, but you could see one coming a mile away, smoking.

The CB was out there in the ’50s, but you rarely saw a driver with one. In the early ’70s, the CB became a must-have. It was a good thing at first.

My first lease was with Bass Transportation out of Flemington, NJ. I ran a lot of east and west, Chi Town. There weren’t many truck stops, so we had to plan our trips. Most of us had only two 50-gallon tanks. We would meet at Johnny’s Truck Stop at Jugtown Mountain in New Jersey. The next stop would be the 76 at Exit 11 on 80, then Pop’s Truck Stop at Strongsville, OH, Toledo 5, and finally the Cross Roads or the Dunes in Gary, IN.

The Stock Yard Truck Stop in Chi Town was a rough place. I saw two guys pull up to the back of a meat trailer, go in and start taking boxes off. The driver ran out. They made him lie on the ground until they got all they wanted, and then they left.

Over the years I was leased to a number of carriers, and trip leased to most. Good money was made hauling steel on the East Coast. You could go into the steel mills, and tell them to “fill it up.” There were no scales on 80, so it was a dream. Load two 40,000-pound coils out of Cleveland and take off for Welder Tube in Philly. The gross max in those days was 73,280.

I can remember when you got to the Texas line, you could throw your logbook in the bunk, and come across almost like you owned the state. 

I made money back in the day. Fuel was 25 cents a gallon, a top-of-the-line steer tire $90. One could run Baltimore, Philly five days and bring home $1,200. You could wait for your special load. Some would haul one load out to Chi Town, and bring one back and do whatever the rest of the week. Of course, you had to load the wagon.

You could run the pikes all the way, if you didn’t gross over a hundred thousand, and the axles had to have equal weight. There were times you could get on the Ohio pike by getting out and putting an oak 2 x 4 on the scale. You had to catch the right toll taker. If you weren’t too heavy, you could stop before your steers hit the scale, pull your spike enough to raise them up or make them lighter, while at the same time rubbing the curb.

There was this one owner-operator with BP who used to come to Bristol, PA, and load LTL freight all week. He had a beefed-up covered wagon that never sagged in the middle. He would get on the Pennsylvania Turnpike grossing more than a hundred thousand in a Class 8. Each one of his axles, a spread axle, had fast dump air bags, with a switch for each. The exhaust air would go into a tank, and could not be heard as he dumped and recharged each. He kind of faded away when he got busted on a wooden scale in Rochester, PA.

I have driven a lot of miles. I have paid one logbook fine, and earned numerous safe driving awards from several companies. Although I had a wife and four kids, I spent most of my life alone, mostly looking through a windshield. LL