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Remembering Clyde: a truck that taught me how to drive

By Karen L. Bartley, OOIDA Member

Over 30 years ago, I drove solo for a company out of the Tacoma, WA, area. It was the first big company I had driven for, and the first truck they gave me was a White Freightliner cabover. I called the truck “Clyde.”

It had two sticks, a 4-by-4 tranny and a 250 (or maybe a 262, I’m not sure) engine. Don’t hold me to that motor, but I think a riding lawn mower would have been able to go up a hill faster.

What Clyde taught me was to accurately shift, square, no cutting the corners, and be fast … real fast.

The tranny had a short throw on the main box. That was the first stick. The other stick was called the brownie. You moved the main stick four times and the brownie four times. In each of the four times you moved the main stick.

First gear, main stick, brownie four times. And so on. Keep in mind that the main stick is only moving about four inches and a 300 rpm split, meaning you needed Mach One shifting skills. That’s why I learned to shift with no clutch.

When you started up a hill with no power, you went from 60 mph to 15 mph in what seemed like milliseconds.

You better be fast or you would be stopped in the middle of the road, trying to start out in granny (lowest gear). Without enough power to gain any gears, you crawled up the hill.

Karen Bartley, an OOIDA member from Vashon, WA, has been driving since 1965. She first learned to drive in the U.S. Army, after which she drove solo until 1980 when she married Don Bartley. The two have fond memories of their many years with Navajo Express out of Denver. They drove and showed three different company show trucks. Karen – CB handle "Cinderella Diesel" – retired in 2003. Don retired in 2004.

If you were moving at all, it’s because you had crossed the T’s and dotted ALL the I’s – meaning shifting square.

If a driver failed to do that, he or she would be sitting in the middle of the freeway with a locked-up tranny, four-way flashers clicking away.

With no chance of pulling off the shoulder, then you would have to get out and open up the side box and get the 25-inch piece of metal “cheater” pipe that the previous driver so kindly left in the side box. No doubt it was for just this reason.

With pipe in hand, you would have to jump up on the frame of the tractor between the reefer and the cab of your truck. With the cheater pipe, you proceeded to pry apart the tranny gears that were locked up.

After you got the job done and put the cheater pipe away, it was back in the cab, place the tranny into double under, and very slowly proceed on up the hill.

That’s only half of it. When you had to stop and fuel up, all those big scraps that went by you on the road during this embarrassing occasion were now at the truck stop. When you went in to pay for the fuel or eat lunch, there they were to remind you in detail – and in Paul Bunyan voices – what had just happened.

That only happened twice and, on the second occasion, almost ended my trucking career.

I am a perfectionist and if I couldn’t do it perfect I wasn’t going to do it at all. Because of the skills I had to learn driving Clyde, I continued with my career as a “transportation specialist” and retired with more than 3 million safe miles.

Clyde taught me to be a good gear jammer and how to shift without a clutch. Clyde also taught me what “head boxing” meant.

There were no air-ride trucks or seats in those days. After your head had bounced off the headliner all day, it felt like it had been “boxed.”

Most importantly, the truck also made me a bunch of good friends. LL