‘We had to reach through the steering wheel to make a shift’

September 27, 2010  | by: Lucinda Coulter

“I started driving rigs in 1970,” recalls owner-operator Bob Ciaccia, of Conshohocken, Pa.. “All I had to do was convince the truck’s owners that I knew how to drive, since CDLs hadn’t been invented yet and Pennsylvania had no chauffeurs’ license requirement.

“In 1972, I purchased my first truck at age 19.  Most trucks I drove in the 70s were B model Macks with a duplex or a triplex tranny, made so that we had to reach through the steering wheel to make a shift. That could get a little hairy when going around a curve.”

Ciaccia, at age 21 in the 1974 photo he submitted, stands next to his then-new Kenworth for which he paid $31,000. He recalls paying 18 cents for a gallon of diesel during that era.

“I try to get young drivers to relate to that by telling them I would put 100 gallons in my saddle tanks, put a $20 bill on the fuel desk and get $2 back,” Ciaccia says.

The highway system then was drastically different from today’s. To pull his trailer loads to Florida, the Pennsylvania native ran U.S. Highway 202 to U.S. Highway 1 and ran south into Maryland, From there, he took back roads to Interstate 95 at the Susquehanna River crossing.

“I-95 went through the tunnel in Baltimore, and I had to use Route 295 to Washington, D.C.,” he says. “I-495 connected with I-95 in Virginia and continued south towards the Richmond-Petersburg Turnpike, a toll road with 75 cents per truck for each of the toll booths. What a bargain.”

The trucker’s favorite mom-and-pop restaurants was Ida Mae Joe’s Truck Stop in Midway, Ga., along U.S. Highway 17. “I ran through there five years ago, and they were still in business,” Ciaccia says, noting, however, that truck traffic was sparse.

Hand signals drivers used to warn other drivers about inspection checks or state troopers ahead were part of his routine. “We would make a sideways V sign wtih our fingers to warn of  ‘smokey takin’ pictures’ down the road,” he recalls. “We had a great bunch of drivers who knew each other more by their truck than by their face.”

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