‘Early diesels were a big step up’

October 28, 2010  | by: Les Wilderman as told to Lucinda Coulter

In the 1950s when I started trucking in Arizona, we didn’t have the luxuries that are available now. We had no spring brakes and no tractor protection valves. The shut-off valves were behind the cab then. Some of us re-piped the lines and put the valves inside the cab because if you lost your trailer air, you had a runaway on your hands.

A lot of F800 Fords tractors had vacuum for trailer brakes because many of the trailers had no air systems. If you had to stop on a steep hill, you had to pull the control down and run out and put a block behind the wheel before the vacuum leaked off.

The early diesels were a big step up. They had 175 hp, increased to 180 hp and then to 220 hp. People with a lot of money could afford more than 300 horsepower. The early engines from Cummins ran away if you ran out of fuel or got air in the system. You learned how to stop them with the gears if that happened.

Before the Interstates were built, roads were never shut down. You went around wrecks or pushed them off with a cat or something and kept going. Now folks are so scared of liability that the state shuts everything down for hours.

A lot of us saw trucks from afar on the farmland and ranches where we grew up and thought it would be a good way to make better money. That plan worked for some and didn’t for others.

I worked for others in trucking from the early ’50s until about 1981 and then the heavy-duty wrecker company I had sold out. I borrowed money and bought a small freight terminal and started a local heavy-haul operation. I started with one LT Mack and then bought an old Freightliner cabover.

After that, I purchased a 1974 W900 Kenworth, which I still use. It has worked out well for me over the years. I never tried to get big, and my business is paid for. It’s not much money, but it’s a good living.

I won’t be buying a newer truck because I couldn’t maintain it myself with all the electronics. I stick with the old machines because I can repair them.

I enjoy Overdrive because it has information about the trucking industry that I wouldn’t find elsewhere. I also always enjoy the “How to” articles.

– By Les Wilderman as told to Lucinda Coulter

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