‘I was bitten by the truckin’ bug’
June 17, 2011 | by: Lucinda Coulter
Gordon Alkire, a resident of Riley, Kan., persevered when, at age 12, he first learned how to drive vehicles: “It was fun,” Alkire says of having to prop the seat up with pillows on a cattle truck he and his cousins drove. He is shown in an October 1980 photo here.
The owner-operator now leased to Landstar Ranger still remembers the day they drove an old Ford pickup a little too fast near his uncle’s farm in Hays, Kan.
“This was before I-70 was I-70. We took out the old Ford pickup to where the speedometer showed 100 miles per hour, and we were on a gravel road,” Alkire recalls. “We were in tall cotton until we got home.
“We stood up to eat supper that night – All of us,” he says. “Still, I was bitten by the truckin’ bug, I just didn’t know it then.”
On his uncle’s farm, he learned lessons that he says prepared him for trucking. “I learned not to be afraid of anything new, to maintain patience and always look out for others,” Alkire says. “Be a friend to have a friend.”
Alkire stayed with his first trucking job for about 13 years. He worked for Scrap Haulers, based in Riverdale, Ill., a suburb of south Chicago. He paid $6,000 for the first truck he owned, the 1968 Peterbilt cabover shown in the photo on the right, with a NTC 335 Cummins engine. It had no engine brake but had, instead, a compression release for cold winter starts, an RTO 9513 transmission and 411 ratios rears.
“I had a love affair with that truck,” Alkire says. “In the tanks, I mostly pulled used etching acid from Wisconsin to Gary, Ind., and it was a blast in the days when max gross was 73,280 pounds.
“When that job ended, I was very particular where I went and what I hauled,” he says. “When I sold the truck, it had 1,880,800 miles on it. I regret ever selling it.”
Other rigs have served him well in his long career.
One of those was the 1985 Volvo PST company truck, shown below. Alkire managed to persuade his dispatcher Jim McCain at PST, based in Utah, to let him pull heavy haul. “That truck never failed to get the job done,” Alkire says.
Some of those jobs would be hard for anyone to forget.
“We hauled a lot of Linkbelt cranes from Kentucky, Grove cranes out of Pennsylvania and pipe layers until I thought there shouldn’t be any left to move,” Alkire says. “I love doing oversized hauls. Nothing beat the feeling of someone confiding to me that, “Hey, I couldn’t do that job.’”
Alkire is glad a sympathetic trooper came along during one eventful haul near Olathe, Kan.:
“We were hauling several loads, and each one required his own escort,” Alkire remembers. “Those loads were wide, heavy and ugly.
“About 10 miles from the scale in Kansas, a south bound trucker was looking at the loads as we went by, and, doing so, he wandered into our lane and ran the rear escort into the ditch.
“No one was hurt, but one of the drivers in our convoy was playing music on his CB radio, and no one heard the escort call out what that his car had been run off the road.
“We just kept motoring down the road and pulled into the scales – short one escort. The scale master was fairly disturbed.
“Another driver who saw the accident, pulled up and recounted the whole thing to the scale master,” Alkire says. “Now the fun starts as we are so not legal.”
Fortunately, he recalls, a calm approach helped resolve the tense moments.
“With a little cajoling, pleading, some downright begging and a bribe with a cup of coffee, the inspector called his supervisor, and he, in turn, called the state permit department.
“We were allowed to continue one escort short to our destination,” Alkire says. “I think that’s the first and only time that ever happened in Kansas.”
The seasoned owner-operator, like others, appreciates the ‘60s and ‘70s: “We were knights of the road and were treated like it.”
Photos courtesy of Gordon Alkire.