Thursday, November 20, 2014

Ten reasons Story City, Iowa, needs a truck stop

Story City, Iowa, a town of 3,341, 12 miles north of Ames on Interstate 35, recently rejected a Love’s truck stop.

We think Story City should reconsider. Here are 10 reasons why:

1. Story City was settled by Norwegian farmers looking for cheap real estate. They found it here at $1.25 an acre in 1850. A truck stop could only increase property values.

2. Story City was named for Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story (1779-1845) who was born in Massachusetts, taught at Harvard, and served in Washington, D.C. He never set foot in Iowa (never mind Story City) because there was no Iowa. But Justice Story was noted for his strong support of private property rights. He would never have forbidden a truck stop. They should build one now for Justice Joe.

3. There are more women than men in Story City, 100 women to every 76-and-a-half men, according to the census. Since 94 percent of all truck drivers are men, Story City could really use a truck stop.

4. Professional baseball player Hank Severeid from Story City once played for the Yankees. That was in 1926. Hank ends the list of famous people from Story City. In fact, he is the entire list. A truck stop would inspire Story City’s youth, like the rails inspired earlier generations.

5. In the 2012 novel “Fables: Werewolves of the Heartland” a small town populated by werewolves is named Story City. This is not good PR. Since trucking is certified 100 percent werewolf free, a truck stop could only help.

6. Story City is home to a citizen who claimed a cop once told him “500 at-large serial killers travel I-35 each day.” In a letter to the Story City Herald, the citizen opposed Love’s because he didn’t want to give predators a reason to stop “and abduct our innocent children.” Clearly, Story City needs a truck stop as a link to the real world.

7. In May of this year, according to the Story City Herald, Story City police had to contend with an apartment burglary, a stolen purse, a theft of catalytic converters from a repair shop, two slashed tires, five disturbances of the peace, four disorderly conduct calls, seven false alarms, seven domestic quarrels, two trespassers, 20 suspicious vehicles and 30 suspicious persons. The town is obviously out of control. How could a truck stop make things any worse?

8. Story City has a very low crime rate, according to government statistics, but that may all depend on how you define crime. According to RealtyTrac, Story City has a foreclosure rate double that of Iowa. Yet the town is home to five banks – a bank for every 660 people that live there. A truck stop would have no impact on this terrible statistic, but Story City should have one anyway.

9. Some residents opposed Love’s because they claimed it would cause traffic jams. Traffic jams? Twelve miles north of Ames and 30 miles east, south and west of nowhere else? What’s a traffic jam in Story City? A truck in front of you? I invoke the reality link once again. Story City needs a truck stop.

10. Truckers need a place in Story City to eat, refuel, and sleep. Story City needs the 50 permanent jobs. They should do the right thing and let Love’s build a truck stop. 

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Washington state plays blame game in bridge collapse

Federal investigators spread out the blame for the May 2013 bridge collapse on Interstate 5 in Washington state. Unfortunately, the Washington State Patrol puts the blame squarely on the truck driver and has charged him with negligent driving in the second degree.

The collapse of a portion of the Skagit River Bridge was investigated from every conceivable angle and we know much about what happened.

We know that truck driver William Scott of Alberta, Canada, was southbound on I-5 and in the right lane, hauling a permitted over-height load on a step-deck trailer. We know he had a pilot car up ahead, and we know that being in the right lane was not the place to be because the oversized load could not safely pass beneath the arched overhead bridge supports.

We know that a section of the bridge collapsed and that two vehicles plunged into the river. Fortunately nobody was seriously injured.

Scott told investigators he wanted to – and tried to – move into the left lane, but his truck was being overtaken and passed by another truck as the vehicles approached the bridge. The National Transportation Safety Board concluded that in its final report, but the second truck driver has never come forward and has never been identified.

The NTSB concluded in its final report that the overhead bridge supports had likely been weakened over the years by numerous – or even countless – strikes by over-dimensional vehicles.

These are all factors, yet the Washington State Patrol’s Major Accident Investigation Team – known as MAIT – claims in its “final report” that Scott was negligent in causing the bridge collapse.

“The MAIT determined the proximate cause of this collision sequence was directly attributable to William Scott’s negligence,” the State Patrol wrote. “It was Scott’s responsibility to know that the height of his load would clear structures such as the Skagit River Bridge along his permitted route.”

The State Patrol says Scott’s load was 2 inches higher than listed on the route permit, and that he needed to know “well in advance” what position he would need on the bridge to ensure clearance.

According to CSA, the company that Scott worked for and continues to work for, Mullen Trucking, has a good safety record.

Sure, in an ideal world, Scott would have moved over. Ramifications from this collision and collapse are ongoing.

The NTSB has recommended to the state of Washington that permitted loads be escorted by two pilot cars instead of one. NTSB recommends a ban on all cellphone use by pilot car drivers because the lone pilot car driver in this incident was on a business call using a hands-free cellphone device at the time of the collision. NTSB has asked for CDL holders to obtain an endorsement to haul oversized loads, and further, the agency is asking for improved signage and GPS data for bridge dimensions nationwide.

Would any of these lofty recommendations have made a difference in this case? Who is to say? One thing is for sure, the Washington State Patrol doesn’t seem to be interested in it. They’re only interested in pursuing charges against the truck driver. The patrol says the driver of an oversized load is responsible for safely navigating his route.

Scott is to appear in court next year on the negligent-driving charge.

Friday, November 14, 2014

For troops, care packages show ‘the little things’ are a big deal

If you read Land Line on a regular basis, listen to our Sirius/XM radio show “Land Line Now” or follow us on social media, chances are you’ve heard about OOIDA’s Truckers for Troops campaign, which is happening all this week.

For eight years now, Truckers for Troops has been raising money to assemble care packages to send to our U.S. military members deployed in combat zones overseas. OOIDA members and corporate sponsors have raised over $400,000 to date – not counting the generous contributions that have already rolled in during our annual telethon, which is happening this week. The way it works is simple – for $35, you can join or renew your OOIDA membership, and 10 percent goes to pay for the care packages. OOIDA matches that 10 percent dollar for dollar.

And just like in life, where it’s the little things that sometimes make the biggest difference, veterans
who have been on the receiving end of the Truckers for Troops care packages say the supplies, personal care items and letters bring a much-needed taste of home to people who are thousands of miles away.

The 507th Engineer Battalion opens up a previous
Truckers for Troops care package.
“We didn’t have a shop or a store on our base, so you can only imagine how nice it is to get anything from magazines to a bar of soap or a toothbrush and toothpaste,” said U.S. Army Capt. Jacob Holl, who received one of the care packages while on deployment in Afghanistan. “It’s always nice to get something from somebody you don’t know. It shows there are people who know it’s not easy. A little love from home can go a long way.”

Holl was just one of several veterans to be interviewed by “Land Line Now” in advance of this year’s telethon. Portions of those interviews are being broadcast during this week’s shows. In addition to interviews with the troops, the show is also reading thank-you letters we received from recipients, and talking with members whose sons and daughters are deployed overseas.

One of those folks is Senior Member Craig Scott, of Lyons, Ga. Scott, who was himself deployed overseas during Operation Desert Storm, signed up his daughter Anisha Taylor and another friend, Army Sgt.  Dave Fulsom to receive care packages while they are on deployment.

“I know exactly how it feels when you receive a care-package like that,” Scott said. “It just motivates you and it’s a morale booster. When I heard about Truckers for Troops, I’m thinking this would be the prime opportunity to do something for them. I didn’t actually have the time to sit there and put a package together, but this would be the opportunity to get a package to them and just knock out two birds at one time.”

Scott said the reaction he got from his daughter and friend when the packages arrived was priceless.

Selection in one of the gift boxes sent out in a
previous Truckers for Troops campaign.
“They couldn’t believe how much stuff it was; they were able to share the stuff with other friends there,” he said. “It just makes (the troops) know that people appreciate them and haven’t forgotten about them. You’re away from home, you’re over there doing your job and you want to be focused on your job. But sometimes you do get, you know, you miss being where you’re from …. When you know people are caring about you, it makes your job easier as a soldier.”

But it’s not just our members who are serving or who have family abroad. The staff at OOIDA and Land Line also have family members who are doing their “patriotic chore.”

Adam Johnson, the son of OOIDA Marketing Coordinator Nikki Johnson, served two tours of duty with the Marines in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2012 as a forward observer.

As part of forward ops, Johnson said he and his unit often didn’t have the creature comforts of an established military base. So while the personal care items and things like socks were much-appreciated, he said the boxes of raviolis his unit received were one of the biggest hits.

“We were just eating MREs the whole entire time,” he said. “When (my unit) saw that ravioli, they went crazy. The sardines in there too. After you eat MREs for so long … it pretty much just tastes like slime.”

And on a personal note, when I found out my cousin, Staff Sgt. Brian Grisolano was going to be deployed at Bagram Air Force Base last fall, I immediately signed him up for a Truckers for Troops delivery. I told him ahead of time to what to expect, but he said even the advance notice couldn’t prepare him for the size of the box.

“There’s a lot of organizations that send care packages to troops overseas, but what I really liked about the Truckers for Troops boxes is it’s not just for one person,” Brian said. “These are really big boxes … so not only am I getting use out of this, but the 12 guys in my room and the 20 to 30 guys in the rooms next to us, everybody can share what’s inside.”

He said one of his unit’s favorite items were the cans of Silly String.

“It really seemed out there at the time but we had a lot of fun with it,” he said. “Every time we got a Truckers for Troops box, within 20 minutes, there’d be a silly string fight.

“It’s easy when you’re home to take for granted that everything is just within arm’s reach,” he said. “So even something real small, that you don’t think is that big a deal, it makes a huge impact on a soldier that’s overseas. Everything we got meant a great deal to me and all my guys.”

Thursday, November 13, 2014

On the road with the Capitol Christmas Tree

The Capitol Christmas Tree moves across the country under the watchful eyes of the U.S. Forest Service, state and local law enforcement and the public. The journey, which began in north central Minnesota in late October, spans about three weeks and more than 17 stops as communities across the country share in the joy and fellowship of the season. For this truck driving reporter, it was a dream sandwiched between two celebrations.

On a blustery day in Wilmington, Ill., schoolchildren gleefully lined up to sign the tarps cocooning the 88-year-old white spruce making its way to the west lawn of the U.S. Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

Land Line Field Editor Suzanne Stempinski.
Photo courtesy of Debbie Hensley.
According to U.S. Forest Service representative Mike Theune, the tree has a crown spread of 30 feet and a trunk diameter of 30 inches. It was 88 feet tall when it was harvested. Trimmed and prepared for transport, it is roughly 75 feet tall.

To keep the tree at its peak condition, a forester monitors the tree, making sure it stays hydrated and healthy. A specially designed bladder is refilled with up to 45 gallons of water per day. While the chilly temperatures were tough on people, cold weather is good for the tree, allowing it to go into a dormant, resting state.

OOIDA Member Elwood Higdem has been driving truck for 55 years. He’s the man behind the wheel of the Kenworth T880 that hauls the Capitol Christmas Tree. OOIDA Life Member Ken Lundgren is the wheelman for the second truck – a Kenworth T680 Advantage, carrying the ornaments and additional trees that will decorate offices throughout Washington, D.C. 

Higdem relinquished his seat to me for one leg of the journey – a 10-mile trip from Wilmington to Elwood, Ill. 

I’ve been a commercial vehicle driver since before there was a CDL; and I’ve got more than 1.5 million safe miles under my wheels. I’ve pulled reefers and dry vans, flatbed and horse trailers. But I don’t have a lot of experience with over-dimensional loads, so I was excited to have the opportunity to deliver the tree from one destination to another. From the front bumper to the oversize load sign hanging off the back of the trailer measured just under 105 feet. No tight turns for this combo. With flashing lighted escorts in front, and a convoy of support vehicles running behind, it was quite a drive.

Left to right: OOIDA Life Member Ken Lundgren and wife, Pat;
Joan Higdem and husband, OOIDA Member Elwood Higdem.
Photo courtesy of Art Rink/Lifetouch.
People lined up along the street waving, cheering and taking pictures as the truck rolled out. I lined up with the curbs and took turns slowly and with great care as the logistics team had scouted the accesses and angles.

“Be sure to keep the stake on your left and don’t hit the sign as you go around,” advised Higdem as we made our way out of the Wilmington Middle School parking lot. 

These charming old communities with narrow streets were never designed to accommodate equipment this big. The trailer seemed to grow in my mirrors, longer each time I looked. Eventually we made our way onto a main artery and with smiles that got bigger for every mile turned, the procession wound its way to the Community Center in Elwood.

The team waved me to a stop in the middle of the road; my job for the day was done. I set the parking brakes and shut down the engine. Load safe and secured.

Chief of Police Fred Hayes welcomed us to his community. The Kenworth and Capitol Christmas Tree were the centerpieces of their official holiday lighting ceremony, with a huge turnout from the locals. Sandwiches and hot chocolate, cookies and good cheer were in plentiful supply as the day wound down, and the lights came up with stockings and snowflakes adorning light poles throughout the community.

I left Elwood Higdem and his wife, Joan, as well as Ken Lundgren and his wife, Pat, and the caretakers of the trees and their crew, who were planning their travels for the following morning. They were headed to Grand Rapids, Mich., with road construction and a time zone change to factor into their routing. It was another special day in the trip to Washington, D.C.

And for me, I’ll be watching the news as Speaker of the House John Boehner flips the switch at the official lighting ceremony on Dec. 2. The stuff of dreams – delivered.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Instilling respect and gratitude in future generations

Veteran’s Day is an important day around my house – as is Memorial Day, Pearl Harbor Day … You get the pattern.

As a parent you set a lot of goals for yourself when you have children. My list is long, but high up on that list is to instill in my children a deep respect and gratitude for the men and women who have served and who are serving our country in the armed services.
Daniel Craig, a member of the
Grain Valley Marching Eagles,
plays taps atop the U.S.S. Bowfin
over Thanksgiving week 2013.

I can remember distinctly the day I vowed to myself that’s how I would raise my kids.

I was in my early 20s when the National Guard unit stationed in the town where I grew up was sent to Iraq. The town was collectively stunned. It was a small community in northwest Arkansas with a rather large National Guard unit. I doubt there was anyone who wasn’t personally connected to someone who was “going to war.”

For me, my connection was my high school basketball coach – who I adored. Coach Moore left his wife and two daughters, who were right around my age, to go serve.

I wrote coach letters every now and then. Mainly because I liked the guy and it just seemed like the right thing to do. But it turned into a lot more than that.

One of the last letters he sent before coming home really sat me down and made me think. In the letter he asked if there were people who “hate us like they did after Vietnam.”

Admittedly, I was very young when Vietnam ended. I had no recollection of how it really was. All I could tell you was what I learned in the history books. And they fell short on what our soldiers faced when they came home.

I looked out the newspaper office windows and tried to digest his question.

Here we were back home with yellow ribbons tied around everything that didn’t move. Flags lined up and down Main Street. Banners were hung showing support of our troops, everywhere.

I wrote back and told him that he was about to see a heroes’ welcome.

Time has blurred the detail on whether the letter reached him in time. What I remember clearly was seeing him on that float that carried our Guard unit through town during the welcome home parade.

Jake Jones, center, performs with the Grain Valley Marching Eagles
at the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial Thanksgiving week 2013
As I was perched on a corner lamp post (being the diligent journalist photographing the event), I smiled and waved at him when they rounded the corner. He sort of dropped his head and shook it in disbelief and then looked up and smiled.

Coach was a tough dude. That smile spoke volumes. He finally knew what it meant to be a veteran who was treated with respect, honored and thanked for his service.

Then and there I swore if I ever had kids, I would teach them to show respect and gratitude like coach saw and felt the second time around after serving his country.

I won’t go so far as to say “mission accomplished,” but my kiddos do make me proud when I see them walk up to a vet and ask to shake his or her hand. When they were younger, you would have thought they were meeting rock stars when they ran into someone in fatigues at the store.

Now as teens they are getting the bigger and ultimate sacrifices many have made.

Perhaps the most poignant example is my son Jake.
Grain Valley Marching Eagles lay a wreath at the U.S.S. Arizona shrine.
The wall lists all the men who died on the U.S.S. Arizona on Dec. 7, 1941

The Grain Valley Marching Eagles high school band was invited to perform at Pearl Harbor this past Thanksgiving. Here you have 150 some-odd kids on a trip to Hawaii. I couldn’t help but wonder what they would get out of it beyond a righteous tan.

The band performed at the U.S.S. Missouri and the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial. They were also the featured band at the Waikiki Holiday Parade – a parade dedicated to remembering the fallen and honoring military heroes and survivors of Pearl Harbor.

The memories from that trip are powerful for Jake, as they are with all the kids, having met survivors and stood on sacred ground. He still talks often of being over the site of the U.S.S. Arizona and watching the oil bubble up from the wreckage below – tears of the Arizona they are sometimes called.

He called home the night after he visited the memorial.

“Mom, there were so many who died there. There are so many that have died since then. And, here we are a bunch of kids in a parade for survivors. How do we ever do them justice in honoring them?”

I would say his concern in not doing enough is reason enough to think that he gets it.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Voting is easy … intelligent voting, not so much

I went early to vote Tuesday, Nov. 4. As I hoped, the line was short. The hallway and voting room were quiet and the chitchat was whispery but clearly heard by all.

One lady in a pink sweatshirt was talking low on her cell phone, calling someone else to tell her how to vote. She obviously had no idea what was even on the ballot: “Hi, it’s me. So I am here at the library. OK. How should I vote? I have no idea. OK. Yes on number three and no on all others? OK thanks.”

And then there was the husband and wife there to vote together, side-by-side booths. It was an endearing sight. There was nothing whispery about how they planned to exercise one of their most critical American freedoms.

HIM: I don’t know any of these people, I am just voting for the first one on the list.
HER: I am voting for that one guy because he had a sign in Geneva’s yard. The sign was nice. And big.
HIM: I am just here to vote for my favorite old baseball player. He was a great second baseman.
HER: What’s he running for?
HIM: No matter, I’m voting for him!

I threw a look at the women at the table who were Election Day poll workers, waiting for one of them to ask the uninformed pair to be quiet. I mean these “election inspectors” kind of have a duty to keep the polling place orderly, right? Aren’t they supposed to take all necessary measures to ensure that the voter casts his or her vote in secret?

It was almost my turn to show my ID and sign in on the precinct clipboard. The people in back of me appeared to know each other and were discussing the ballot for all to hear.

HER: Hey neighbor! Good to see you out voting!
HIM: Well I don’t know crap about who is running and they are all liars, but it’s our duty to vote. Americans have died for democracy and I want that “I VOTED” sticker.

I shifted my attention away from the neighbors to the husband and wife pair, still in the side-by-side booths punching away.

HER: Who was that sheriff that we liked? Is he on here?
HIM: That was a long time ago. I don’t see him on here anywhere. I don’t even see a vote for sheriff.

By that time, I was really annoyed, thinking to myself: Never underestimate the power of a huge group of clueless people.

I am one of those who have been saying for months “get out there and vote” to anyone who will listen. I have said it a hundred times – I don’t care how you vote, just vote. And I meant that.

But I looked around the polling place Tuesday morning and saw only a few people that I thought were making an informed, decisive vote. The rest seemed confused, wielding the punch pen with wild abandon. Has our system become so complex and our campaigns so devious that few of our citizens know how to make good choices?

Later that night, I listened to “the people have spoken!” and “Americans have sent a message!” This morning I read one of the endless articles about voter turnout, blasting people who were eligible to vote but didn’t. I haven’t seen anything about how many of the Americans voted randomly, aimlessly, without looking once at the ballot or evaluating the candidates. And, frankly, I don’t want to.

Here at OOIDA, we spent months gathering info to help our members and other professional truck drivers make worthy choices on the ballot. We talked issues, track records, what’s at stake and who walks the walk. It was in the magazine, online at, in the social media and on our radio show. Based on conversations we had with truckers prior to Election Day, professional drivers might be a smaller segment of voters, but I’ll bet they voted smarter than the general public.

Voting is easy. Intelligent voting, not so much.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

NTSB and media miss the point in Maryland crash report

Federal investigators and the media are going all out to blame a truck driver for his role in a truck vs. train collision that occurred in Maryland last year and caused a 15-car derailment and explosion.

The National Transportation Safety Board’s final report on the May 28, 2013, crash at Rosedale, Md., points out straight away that the driver of the truck hauling a roll-off trash container was talking on a hands-free headset at the time his truck entered a railroad crossing and was struck by the train.

Headlines proclaiming driver distraction have all but convicted the trucker for “causing” the crash.

That may be icing on the cake for an already sensational story, but it is far from the only factor that contributed to the crash and may actually rank low compared to some of the more glaring ones.

For starters, a commercial driver talking on a hands-free device is not illegal as a matter of federal or state law.

But that’s not the point I want to focus on here. I have a number of problems with the report and the ensuing coverage of the crash.

Let’s start with the crossing itself. Because it is on a private roadway (known as Dump Road) it does not have any lights, crossing gates or any other warning devices beyond a stationary crossing sign in the shape on an X.

Even if that doesn’t trouble you or is somehow mundane, it’s important to note that there is a complete lack of visibility at this crossing due to overgrown weeds and bushes.

The trucker pointed this out in his statement to investigators when he said he believed “it was not possible to see to the right without some portion of the truck being on the track.”

In fairness, the driver admitted to investigators he did not typically stop at this particular crossing because his truck terminal was nearby and he relied on the sound of train horns to alert him to oncoming trains. Is that the smartest thing? No, but had visibility been better, that likely wouldn’t be much of an issue.

The uphill grade of the roadway leading to the crossing is also an issue for trucks because they must stop and start on a slight hill. Oh, and the stop sign marking the crossing is faded, and upside down.

Next, the NTSB dedicated some real estate in its 84-page report to discuss the truck driver’s health history and traffic record – which is due diligence, I suppose. Both seemed to be in decent shape. It’s the NTSB’s choice of words in these sections that are concerning – that somehow the driver’s weight of 300 pounds, his body-mass index, or that he had once been tested for sleep apnea, were contributing factors to the scenario.

The fact is, a driver’s weight, BMI or status on sleep apnea are not consistent or reliable indicators of that driver’s ability to perform his work duties. He possessed a full two-year medical card issued by his medical examiner well before the crash. The NTSB noted that since the crash, a different examiner restricted the driver to a three-month card after determining he did not follow up on being re-tested for his sleep apnea condition.

The report notes that the trucker’s waste-hauling company, Alban Waste, became a new entrant in the FMCSA database in April 2011. The company failed its new entrant safety audit a few months later after the FMCSA found it lacked in implementing and enforcing a company drug and alcohol policy. Alban Waste was placed out of service in February 2012 but was reinstated in March of that year and passed its new entrant audit.

So what does the NTSB want to see happen? They want an all-out ban on hands-free cellphone use for truckers. They want an increased focus on new entrant audits and for companies to be revoked if they show a pattern of deficiencies. And they want a system that will notify the FMCSA of “violations” that arise in a driver’s medical qualification exam. Does this have anything to do with apnea? Because the current laws and regs are clear that apnea testing is not mandatory.

The NTSB has also provided model state legislation that says trucks should come to a complete stop before entering a “passive” railroad crossing – ones that aren’t marked with gates and signals. The model legislation would also require improvements to sight distance at passive crossings through the trimming of trees and weeds. Local, county and state property owners and the railroads have an obligation to make sure their grade crossings are safe.

In this instance, it doesn’t look like anyone cared enough to make this particular crossing safe, and as a result, a train got derailed, some chemicals onboard exploded, and a truck driver’s name, health history and safety record got sullied.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Roses to St. Christopher supporters, razzberries to skinflints

OOIDA has long been a supporter of the St. Christopher Trucker Development and Relief Fund, a 501(c)(3), nonprofit organization that provides financial assistance to professional truck drivers who have medical problems and who are in need of financial assistance.

The SCF receives 30-45 applications for assistance each month. The fund has already given more than $204,000 in assistance this year to get drivers through a rough patch and back on the road. An additional $10,200 has been approved to pay as soon as the bills come in.

SCF says applicants have a wide range of medical issues, everything from broken ankles to terminal cancer. The average age of all applicants is 50, too young to retire or to get Social Security. The majority have no health insurance or accident insurance, short-term or long-term disability, or money in savings, so when a medical event takes them off the road, it’s financially catastrophic for the driver and it’s bad news for the company he or she drives for.

Where does the funding to help these drivers come from? TravelCenters of America’s Band Together campaign provides most of the donations. Here at Land Line we like to hand out roses and razzberries, so roses to TA, the employees and all the truckers who donated during the Band Together campaign.

And roses to those carriers, brokers and key industry service providers who quietly make sizey donations from their companies. Roses, too, to drivers making donations directly to SCF. The St. Christopher Fund says drivers make up than 80 percent of the individuals who open their wallet for the St. Christopher Fund.

But looking at the list of contributors, there are some skinflints who are noticeably absent. Who is somebody who could really benefit from getting those drivers back behind the wheel and who could sure benefit from keeping them in the industry? Somebody that deserves a big fat razzberry.

Let me give you a clue who they are.

The St. Christopher Fund says they’ve helped drivers from 578 different motor carriers. Do you know how many of those trucking companies have ever contributed funds to the trucker fund? Only two.

I don’t know about you, but to me – that’s shameful.

There’s no doubt those motor carriers are among those having problems putting drivers in their trucks. It seems like the words “driver shortage” and “retention” are in every trucking headline. You would think they would be supportive of those charitable organizations that work hard to put their sidelined drivers back on the road.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

‘Modern Family’ star working on new comedy set at truck stop

When it comes to untapped veins of comedy gold, TV’s Eric Stonestreet is banking on striking it rich with a show about truck stops.

Stonestreet, who plays Cameron Tucker on the ABC hit comedy Modern Family, has reached a deal to produce a sitcom that revolves around a truck stop in Kansas, according to a report from Deadline Hollywood.

A Kansas City, Kan., native who studied at Kansas State University in the “Little Apple” of Manhattan, Kan., Stonestreet’s truck stop project for ABC is called Big Stop. According to the report, the show will be “a modern take on family and today’s current issues as seen through the lens of a bustling Kansas truck stop where stories and characters, like big rigs, come rolling in off the highway every day.”

“Truck stops are the airports of the highways where all sorts of characters with their stories come through,” Stonestreet told the website. “It is relatable. No matter if you’re a businessman or a politician or a regular guy, we all find ourselves at a truck stop at one time or another.”

Big Stop will also be a throwback to classic TV sitcoms, making use of the multi-camera recording approach, used for shows shot in front of a studio audience (like The Cosby Show or Everybody Loves Raymond). Writer Jerry Collins, whose credits include The Bernie Mac Show, is attached to write. No timetable for development was disclosed.

Stonestreet’s not the first person in Tinsel Town to train a lens toward truck stops and travel centers. In 2011, the producers behind the hit show “Pawn Stars” gave us “Truck Stop, Missouri” a reality show about the colorful characters at Midway Truck Stop on I-70 near Columbia. That show lasted two seasons.

Hopefully the show won’t play for cheap laughs or reach for the low-hanging fruit of so many of the same tired clich├ęs that have been tossed at truckers since the 1970s. There’s reason to be optimistic, given that Modern Family is regularly lauded for being a genuinely funny show. It’s also been praised for its realistic depictions of Los Angeles, where the show takes place, such as in this 2014 article from Slate.

It’s certainly easy to see the appeal of a truck stop serving as the hub of a comedy show. The airport analogy Stonestreet made is spot-on. There are all kinds of characters from all walks of life who manage to wander into or pass through a truck stop at one time or another. Here’s to hoping for a show that will focus on telling those stories, rather than settling for gross-out gags or a bunch of lot lizard jokes.

What’s the funniest thing you’ve ever seen at a truck stop? Tell us in the comments!

Monday, October 6, 2014

95 Express Lanes: Nice new construction, bad highway policy

Been caught in construction delays along I-95 in Northern Virginia over the past two years? Have you been hoping for a better ride as a result?

Sorry. When the project, called 95 Express Lanes, opens next year it may not do you a whole lot of good. Upgrades along the 29 mile stretch between Stafford, Va., and the D.C. Beltway interchange near Alexandria are virtually all for HOV lanes restricted to two-axle vehicles with three or more passengers.

Actually the $1 billion project funded by both tax dollars and private investors includes at least two elements that are unfair to truckers and should worry everyone who relies on public highways. Sadly, these elements seem to indicate the direction of highway policy across America, and it’s not kind to truckers.

First, of course, are those HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes. To serve heavy commuter traffic, the I-95 HOV lanes are reversible, heading north toward the capital in the morning and south to the suburbs in the evening. This makes much sense.

But why not open those lanes to all? Does it make sense to give HOVs a faster ride at the expense of everyone else? HOV lanes are supposed to increase carpooling and make the air cleaner, but studies fail to show they do either. The only thing that studies – and common sense – do show is that reducing density on HOV lanes necessarily increases density on Everyone Else Lanes. You’ll be stuck on these lanes in your truck even though your diesel taxes helped pay for those shiny new HOV lanes.

Second, I object to the addition of High Occupancy/Toll (HOT) riders to the HOV lanes. When 95 Express Lanes open for business next year, drivers with a special version of E-ZPass will be able to use the HOV lanes – even without high occupancy – at a price. Sure, that could help a guy who’s late for work or someone with a personal emergency. But let’s face it, the HOT privilege is aimed at folks who can afford to pay the extra amount and will do so on a regular basis. Just as in the case of HOV, they will travel faster at the expense of those in the Everyone Else lanes.

Why should you care if they charge four-wheelers to use the HOV lanes?

Because it’s a terrible precedent that allows tolls to creep onto once open, public highways. It’s the HOV lanes today and the Everyone Else Lanes tomorrow.

Worse, HOT establishes another category of highway privilege, this time based on money. Picture the interstate of the future. Two lanes for recent vintage luxury cars; two lanes for buses, minivans, and family sedans; and finally two lanes for dented four-wheelers with at least one trash-bag window and a donut spare.  

Oh yes, and the 18-wheelers.

And of course there’s congestion pricing on those HOV lanes, another money grab. But don’t get me started.