September 2009 | Commentary | Checking In

Dialing Into Truck Tone

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You pick up the phone and get a dial tone. You move to a keyboard and you have Web tone. Many of us take these amazing enablements for granted, rarely considering how they work, just expecting that they will—all the time, every time. We only consider their absence when and if they fail.

But what about truck tone? Our profession is aware of the intricacies of truck transportation, but we expect it to always be there, in one form or another, in many flavors and specialties—solutions when and where we need them.

Yet, not too long ago, commerce was conducted without the nationwide arterial product flow that trucks so seamlessly and, seemingly effortlessly, now provide. Imagine for a moment what was missing: the thousands of different carriers, the multitudes of good drivers, the miles of road, the complexity and abundance of equipment, and the ubiquity of technology threaded throughout.

Trucks rarely moved beyond local hauling. There were no coast-to-coast lanes, no truckload carriers, no advanced level of technology, expertise, reliability, or speed. Can you see the parched hard clay? The deep ruts and rocks in the way? There were no up-to-the-moment weather reports to warn of muddy washouts, the slippery precipices from which there was no recovery. No lights, or food, or water at every turn. Transportation was difficult. But don't take my word for it.

Set your GPS to page 30, then thumb your way to this month's feature article, Celebrating 90 Years of Ship by Truck. These tales illustrate the tough reality of conducting commerce in a landscape without truck tone.

Thanks to one man's spin and another's turn, motor freight began rolling over ruts, then steamrolling across interstates. Tire baron Harvey Firestone's 1918 Ship by Truck advertising campaign, and a brief encounter with 29-year-old Dwight D. Eisenhower one year later, sparked a vision. In 1956, President Eisenhower brought that idea home by legislating the U.S. Interstate Highway System. But he had some roadside assistance along the way. With hard backs and minds to match, truckers won with blood, sweat, and axle grease.

We won, too. Where trucks rolled, roads developed and linked together into highways. Commerce and jobs followed. Enterprises grew and created futures for the skilled and unskilled alike. A nation flourished and helped drive prosperity across the world.

Today we face not potholes, ruts, or washouts made by Mother Nature; not breakdowns or fatigue; but impediments of another kind. These new obstacles are crafted by powerful people in high places who have an imperfect comprehension of what it is we do in this industry. They don't understand how every action you take is also a small act of stewardship for our economy.

In the end, these new impediments won't matter. As history shows us, there are plenty of strong backs and minds in our industry. The road to greater progress lies ahead.

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