Working at the heart of a movement

September 16, 2011  | by: By Bonnie Robinson as told to Lucinda Coulter

Bonnie Robinson poses in a 1970’s-era maxi dress in front of a 1926 Foden Steam Truck on Overdrive’s July 1972 cover. The other two magazine staffers are, left, Angela Saffie and Kathy Oberman in the chauffeur’s seat. Englishman Michael List-Brain owned the truck. Robinson says she remembers Mike Parkhurst snapping the impromptu shot.

My first real job was at Overdrive in the early 1970s. As the magazine’s receptionist, I soon discovered I was working at the heart of a movement to bring understanding and fairness to the independent trucker.

The magazine articles definitely touched nerves. Overdrive’s venders were threatened and bomb threats were made. Once, a hearse was parked in front of the office for weeks as a warning.

Then 20, I was disturbed by the unrest, but it only portended trouble yet to come. Some of the magazine’s staff had a special flair for humor while making a statement against government regulators, Teamsters and others, as seen in the many cartoons. Truckers, artists and movie stars worked together doing investigative reporting to improve truckers’ lives.

Hollywood took notice of Overdrive, too. Now you see truckers frequently as stars or in supporting roles. Truckers were in the news and gained more respect as the public acknowledged owner-operators. The magazine was the place to go for news on trucking.

There was a never ending propensity by others to try to silence Overdrive with lawsuits, threats and other obstacles. But she struggle for the truth continued. When driven to bankruptcy the first time, chapter 11 was chosen, and the magazine paid 100 percent of its debt, a choice indicative of the magazine’s integrity. The lawsuits continued, but Overdrive won all of them.

After the offices burned on Christmas 1973, I worked part-time for a few years but eventually lost touch after I changed jobs.

Mike Parkhurst lived and breathed the magazine he pioneered. He established a high standard of dedication and honesty for his staff. During the trucker shutdowns in the ‘70s, I was there answering the phone at night: We were open 24 hours a day during those strikes. Those who claimed there was a sellout could not be further from the truth.

Mike worked alongside his father, Winthrop Parkhurst, who proofed copy and was a true gentleman. We had a lot of fun times and funny moments. Once when the hearse was in front of the office, magazine staffer Roger Galloway threw on a trench coat and slithered from doorway to lamppost mimicking Peter Sellers’ Pink Panther character. With all of the trouble thrown the magazine’s way, a sense of humor bolstered the staff’s unity.

The magazine has a great history, and I’m glad there is still a voice for the owner-operator. They deserve respect, and they deserve a lot of road room. Truckers are part of America’s backbone of America and are a special breed. I consider them friends, and I feel privileged to have worked for Overdrive.

Bonnie Robinson resides in California.

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