Columnist started out over the road

December 4, 2011  | by: Lucinda Coulter

Bill Archer says this snapshot of his 1965 Freightliner stays in his pants pocket most of the time. Courtesy of Bill Archer

Bill Archer, 62, has shifted a lot more gears than the ones in the 1965 Freightliner he drove for several years.

An owner-operator and steel hauler for nearly a decade, the Pennsylvania native changed careers to be a reporter for West Virginia’s Bluefield Daily Telegraph in 1983. He has also authored history books and performed musically with partner Karl Miller for 23 years.

Archer attributes the wide-ranging success to confidence he gained from learning to drive in a straight line.

“Being able to work through uncertain situations – manmade, weather-related or other – gave me confidence to try things that I normally would have shied away from because I didn’t think I was very smart,” he writes in a recent Telegraph column.

He learned in 1973 to shift smoothly on his first run. He hauled pipe from Beach Bottom, W. Va., to Iowa. Turns out, the mix of heavy and light pipe on the spread-axle trailer he was pulling was unevenly distributed. An inspector noted his load exceeded legal weight, and he spent a couple of hours reloading. “I pulled pipe from one end to the other,” Archer told Overdrive in a phone interview. “That was interesting.”

The former owner-operator communicated with other truckers on the highway by hand signals. “We were really a close knit group,” Archer recalls, noting that the steel haulers watched out for truckers likely to be on drugs. “We didn’t let the hot pads get out on the road. We’d deal with it on an individual basis.”

His bachelor’s degree from West Virginia University and credit hours in graduate school helped his literary skills, but in delivering freight, he writes, he also touched on the world views of the nation’s great writers:

“I knew in my heart that if I could make my way through Chicago’s China Town section or survive hauling freight to the piers in New York, that I could probably appreciate the difference between Henry David Thoreau’s failure at Walden Pond and Washington Irving’s triumph in ‘A Tour on the Prairies.’ I believe that Irving would have liked to travel the U.S. in an 18-wheeler, but Thoreau? Not so much, I’m thinking.”

Archer, left, and Karl Miller have performed together for 22 years. Courtesy of Bill Archer

His advice to truckers is simple: “Life flows no matter what you’re doing. When you encounter obstacles, find a way to keep that flow. Don’t let the obstacles take over your life.”

Read more of the column, “Trucking came naturally – but reading, writing and arithmetic, not so much,” and other columns Archer has written in the Daily Telegraph.

Award-winning editor Bill Archer resides in Bluefield, W. Va., a small town nestled in the Appalachian Mountains.

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