Line One
Spitballin’ with Cowpoke
Who remembers the first trip?

By Bob Martin
contributing columnist


It’s all crystal clear to me. I was drifting around in Texas in 1963, out of work and not quite sure what kind of work it was that I was out of – my last job being on an aircraft carrier. I landed a job as a brick salesman in Dallas. My boss gave me a car to drive, bought me a sport coat and party shoes, and sent me out calling on contractors with a trunk full of brick samples.

The company was importing adobe handmade brick from Mexico. The workers dug up the earth, mixed in water, loaded a form, laid them out in the sun to dry and then fired them in a kiln. The finished product was loaded by hand.

I got to know one of the truckers hauling for us and made a trip to the border with him to pick up a load of this brick and bring it back to Dallas. We were allowed to go three miles into Mexico to the brick yards.

It appeared that the normal drill was to spend most of a day at the brick yards getting loaded. The first thing we did after crossing the border was stop and grab something to eat to take out there with us. A buck would buy a filet mignon sandwich or a large sack of tacos. We spent at least a day and a night on the border, and I got my first driving experience when it came time to hook ’em up and light out for Dallas. Our truck driver was indisposed.

And then, as they say, the rest is history. I gave up my station wagon for an R-195 International gas job and went brick hauling.

I didn’t make much money, but the fun factor made up for it. Pay was $50 a round, which was about 600-plus miles.

There were adventures. Several trucks were usually waiting to load and everyone tipped the “boss” $5 to get loaded faster or get a better product. All of us doing the same, it was a push. I had a brainstorm.

Back then, the cops on the street in Mexico didn’t carry guns. It was illegal for anyone to have one, let alone carry one across the border.

I bought a little .22 pistol at a pawn shop and took it across to give to the boss at the brick yard as a bribe. I made those other guys and their $5 look like pikers. Of course, if I had got caught, I’d probably still be in the slammer.

Sometimes we crossed at Eagle Pass. Funny thing happened there once. The game plan that day was to leave the truck in Piedras Negras, Mexico, to get loaded.

I borrowed a motorcycle to go back to Western Union in Eagle Pass, TX, to pick up a money order to pay for the brick. It wasn’t there. Although it was only $300, the boss had a major cash flow problem. The money didn’t show up for five days. So I sat in Mexico with a load on for five days for what should take a few hours.

Guess what? This kicked up a major red flag with the narcotics folks. They had a welcome committee waiting for me when I finally came back across the bridge. Of course, we were clean and they didn’t find anything.

Downriver from Laredo, a little town of Roma, TX, had a suspension bridge. It wasn’t very long, maybe a short city block. When we came across there, they would only let us bring a half load of brick on the bridge. Two straight trucks would follow and finish loading us on the U.S. side. They would shut the bridge down to all other traffic and had us drive in the center of the bridge. The fun part is when you pulled out on the bridge and the other end came up, it kinda rolled in front of you.

This might sound like a trucker story, so I hope there are some old-timers that had similar experiences to back me up on this.

It was a different time back then. I would be toast the first day if I had to work like that now. In the summer south Texas is hot, hot and hotter. We lived in those trucks, no A/C, of course. My first truck didn’t even have a bunk so I stretched my 6-foot self out on the 4-foot bench seat. My next truck had a 24-inch sleeper. How in the world could it get any better? LL

Bob Martin is an OOIDA life member from Lafayette, IN, and frequent contributor to Land Line. He’s been a trucker for 45 years.