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The Lone Haul Essay, Research Paper

The Long Haul

When Emil Treuthardt started full-time trucking in 1949, he never thought he would find himself driving into the next millennium. The 21-year-old Wisconsin man was just passing time until something else came along. The problem was that his boss treated him so nicely that he could not leave. After about seven years, driving was in his blood, and he could not think about doing anything else.

Now he has 50 years of driving without a chargeable accident. I won t retire. Says the 71-years-old resident of Monroe, Wisconsin. I m going to keep driving until I fail my physical.

For much of his career, Treuthardt had one thing motivating him, his daughter, Kathy, who was born with cystic fibrosis, a disease of the lungs. She had to spend 90 days at a time in the hospital throughout her youth. During her first 18 years, she had no health coverage, because insurance companies do not cover preexisting conditions.

Treuthardt had to pay the $300,000 in hospital bills out of his own pocket. I had one hell of a bill for that girl, he says. I could have bought a couple of farms for that. He drove 50 miles to Madison to see her every night she was in the hospital, according to his wife, Rozella. Now Emil s motivation for driving is different. Kathy died last summer at 44. The road has become his therapy. I miss her, he says. She was a sweet little girl. She d always worry about her dad if my truck wasn t there Friday night or Saturday morning. The hardest part now is coming home Friday night and knowing she won t be there to look for the truck.

Kathy wrote him a note shortly before her death, saying, Dad, don t worry about me. I ll be your co-pilot when I m gone. Treuthardt says that note helps keep him going. I carry that with me. I ve got a picture of her with me all the time. I look at her wedding picture every morning when I get up. They always say that losing a child is worse than losing a parent. That s true. Parents are supposed to die first. At least I had her for 44 years. The median age of survival for a cystic-fibrosis victim is 31 years of age.

The only thing that gets his mind off the loss of his daughter is driving. Once I get out on the road, I kind of forget about it, he says.

When Emil is on the road, his mind returns to the life he has known for half a century. I wish I d kept a diary, he says, reminiscing about trucking in the days of yore. We didn t have any superhighways, only two-lane roads. If we made 100 miles every three hours, we thought that was good. Today, if you don t make 200 miles in three hours, you re doing terrible.

His first truck was a 1946 KB-7 International. It would do about 50 mph downhill or about 35-40 mph normally, depending on the load. The truck had a 26-foot, single-axle trailer. There were no air brakes or sleeper bunks in those days. In fact, sleep was something hard to come by. If you had bucket seats, you were out of luck. If you had a bench seat, like the one in Treuthardt s KB-7, you slept on it for two of three hours; any longer, and your body would cramp up, he says. The best bed was a blanket in a park on a summer night.

Trailers today are twice as long, and the ride wasn t much worse back then. It rode just as nicely as today s trucks, since the trailer wasn t as long and the load was lighter. We had 160 horses, and we thought we were getting somewhere. Now we re up to 425 or higher.

Trucking companies had dress codes in Treuthardt s early years. He wore a hat with a patch that had the company logo on it. Some drivers even wore suits.

Tires weren t solid rubber, as in earlier years, but they had air-filled inner tubes that often split in summer when the tires overheated. The driver carried a lug wrench and tire patches and pumped up the tire by hand. But if a trucker broke down, help was no farther that the next truck. Back then if someone had trouble, someone would always stop and help. Sometimes two or three trucks would stop to help. That was before CBs. It was just consideration for your fellow man on the road. I helped many cars if they had a flat but didn t have a tire pump. The reason truckers rarely stop to help anymore is that you re afraid to, really, because you don t know who s out there. I ve seen on the news where they rob the poor truck driver.

Treuthardt misses the close sense of community that characterized the trucking industry in his early days. But when asked what his fondest memory is from 50 years of trucking, He replies: The days when there were good truck drivers out there. Nowadays, there are five, six or seven greenhorns just yakking on the CB, every on of them passing you.

I don t like to see tailgating, he continues. Cars are just as bad as trucks, but you can t train the car drivers, because there are too many of them. So train the truckers. I ve seen trucks run over cars from behind and kill everyone in the car. That s not right. Treuthardt drove his first truck at 15, when he hauled milk without a driver s license. Two years later, he volunteered to fight in World War II, landing a job driving an ammunition truck in Europe. You didn t have to walk as much if you drove trucks, he says. Although freeing the Jews was a noble cause, Treuthardt has memories that are better left buried. You ve got to forget about it, he says. The skills he acquired form driving a six-axle truck through mud were not applicable to driving a commercial vehicle back in the States. But when he returned form Europe at age 21, he started hauling springing heifers, cows preparing to have their first calves. He drove the heifers form Wisconsin to Texas, Mississippi, Ohio and the Carolinas. It was work that came easily to a man reared on a dairy farm. He knew how to milk cows by hand, which he had to do while crawling around on the floor among the 15 cows on the 26-foot trailer. He knew how to shepherd the cows off the trailer every 36 hours for feeding at the railroad stockyards. In seven or eight years of hauling cattle, he did not lose one cow, a record he is very proud of.

After demand for springing heifers dropped, Treuthardt began grocery hauling, a trade he was to ply off and on for 25 years. Reefer driving has changed a great deal. In the 1960s, grocery warehouses never wanted truckers involved in unloading. You couldn t go in the building. They brought the bills out to you. In the early 1970s, that started changing. First, the driver helped here and there; now he helps everywhere.

Treuthardt s days of breaking down pallets came to an end after a fall in 1984. He had a job hauling shrubbery and 6-foot trees, whose roots were packed in burlap bags. After the trees were watered, the trailer floor would turn into a mudbath. One day he slipped in the mud and fell off the truck. He was clutching a tree, which only added impact to his fall. I should have let the tree go, but I was holding it to my belly. It took seven hours on the operating table to fix his back.

Treuthardt sued the company, got a settlement and spent three years away from trucking, but not by choice. I ve never lied to anybody, so I told them (trucking companies) I had a bad back and couldn t lift anything. No one would hire me.

During that time, Emil worked various jobs, such as bartending and putting up mailboxes for the local newspaper. I d see a truck go by, and it broke my heart, not being able to drive, he says. Finally, he found a no-touch-driving job through a friend at Capitol Warehousing, a small company in Windsor, Wisconsin. He has hauled humidifiers and new Pepsi-Cola cans ever since.

If the culture of trucking in the old days has been the highlight of Treuthardt s career, the low point is not hard to find. In 1954, two women in a car pulled out in front of his truck. He tried to turn to the right, but the wheel locked, and he smashed into the car, killing the driver. There were 90 feet of skidmarks tracing the path of his truck, so he was not far from the car when it pulled out in front of him. The judge found him 10 percent negligent. Treuthardt says he still can t help thinking about the accident. If I see a couple of women on the road, I won t even attempt to pass them; it just brings back memories. Taking a life is something no one wants to do. I did it in World War II, overseas, but I didn t want to do it at home.

Treuthardt bounced back from that tragedy, just as he has from other setbacks in his 50 years on the road. Two qualities that have girded him through the hard knocks are his honesty and his work ethic. He prides himself on never lying. Once he got caught going faster than 70in a 55-mph zone. The officer was a little woman who could barely see into his window. When she asked him how fast he was going, he said Oh, about 72 or 73. She went to her car, came back and said, I m not even going to give you a warning. You re the first man that never lied to me.

You can spot his work ethic a mile away. He has missed only one appointment in the past 10 years, and that was due to winter weather. That s why the attitude of some drivers today annoys him.

A lot of these young guys can t pass a truckstop, they ve got to go in and brag awhile, he says. They don t care. They re late for appointments. Then they complain about their jobs. Well, it s their own fault.

Anyone who can drive their way to paying off $300,000 in medical bills has to have his nose to the grindstone. Emil Treuthardt still drives 100,000 miles a year, and he has many more miles planned. He says he s heard of drivers working into their 80s and 90s. I m still just a greenhorn, he says.

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