From ICC inspector to truck historian

June 10, 2011  | by: Lucinda Coulter

Harvey Eckart, 78, is still a boy at heart when it comes to fire engines. He says he was mesmerized at age 3 with a 1925 Mack AC pumper tooling around near his Berwick, Pa., hometown, where he still resides.

Over his lifetime, he’s become a prolific truck history expert, having written six books on Mack fire trucks and one on buses. He also writes regular columns for The Wheels of Time, published by the Antique Truck Club of America, the American Truck Historical Society, and other truck history and fire truck publications.

But when it comes to the politics of trucking, Eckart is no child.

Once an inspector for the Interstate Commerce Commission, he’s as familiar with the political issues that roiled owner-operators in the late 1970s as he is with trucks’ undersides. He worked for the Wise Potato Chip Co. as a traffic manager for several years and became a special agent with the ICC in 1978. That was the era when “the deregulation philosophy was swirling quite profusely,” Eckart says of the issue reported on often then in Overdrive.

After deregulation in 1980, the ICC’s functions changed but continued until the agency was closed completely in 1995. But when Eckart worked for the once powerful agency that regulated railroads, water, highways and trucking, Overdrive often took its mission to task. On the magazine’s May 1978 cover, the splash read, “Justice Department Kicks ICC in Teeth.” The editorial on the subject commented on the agency’s changing role as a freight regulator.

“I read Overdrive,” Eckart says of his early career in inspection, “just to see what the other side was thinking.” The ICC was regarded as “the big bad boogeyman,” he says.

Eckart agreed with much of the criticism then-editor Mike Parkhurst had of the ICC, especially those that gave large carriers advantages over the single-truck owner-operator.

“However, there were many regulations built in to protect the owner-operators,” Eckart says. “One of the things that amused me toward the end, when deregulation’s end was near, was the thought, ‘Be careful what you wish for.’”

One of the regulations that Eckart mentioned helping the owner-operator was uniform detention time, but it was in place for only a year in the late ‘70s or early ‘80s before it was removed. “Not all regulation was detrimental,” he says.

“In most cases, problems were resolved in a gentlemanly manner,” Eckart says, noting that he enjoyed his work with drivers and carriers. “I enjoyed dong road checks and talking to drivers about their equipment. I always did have tremendous respect for the trucking industry and especially for the drivers.”

His advocacy of its history is surely evidence of a longtime awe of trucking.

Eckart, Roger Gerhart and John Hoppes, shown from left in the photo here, founded the All Mack Truck Show for the truck maker’s 90th anniversary in 1990. It’s been held every year since, in Lititz, Pa. The only requirement is “to show up, bring your truck and have a good time,” Eckart says. No registration is collected and no trophies are given at the popular show that has more than 100 trucks every year, he says.

Although he loves antiques, he appreciates modern rigs and the drivers who care for them.

“Thirty or 40 years ago, most trucks you saw on the road were dirty and rusty. Today trucks for the most part are rolling things of beauty,” Eckart says. “Particularly to an owner-operator, it’s more than a tool, it’s an extension of themselves. It’s a matter of pride.”

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