I think my brother fell in love with trucks during the CB radio craze of the mid-1970s.
Craig often had a wild affinity for some subject or another, and when he did he went all out.
And when Craig was crazy about something, everybody in the family would be roped in by his enthusiasm.
So then we all got into CB radios, every one of our vehicles had to have one. Everybody had to have a CB handle. Craig even went so far as to install a separate CB band aerial on top of the house. The breakfast nook in our kitchen was turned into the base station for the CBs. And of course we had to have a lot of equipment.
Craig was the “Happy Hippy”. I was “Camelback”. Brother Bart went by “Cool Breeze,” and Dad was the “Roadhog” which he could never remember. He would get on the radio and say, “This is the Road Agent” or something similar but totally unlike “Roadhog”.
During this time it wasn’t just the radios that were hot — It was trucking in general. There were hit songs about truck driving and the newer ones were CB radio-oriented. There were movies about Over-The-Road-Truckers and their CB radios doing various things. There was even a hit TV show at the time called “Moving On” and it featured a theme song by Merle Haggard, no less.
Although I can’t lay my hands on it at this time, I remember well a photograph we took of Craig on his 22nd birthday. The cake was shaped like a CB radio and the legend in frosting said “Break
22″. In Star Trek language you would say this was like the hailing frequency. Truck drivers actually used channel 19 — we just put 22 on there because of his age.
And that is when I remember Craig first started talking about actually being a truck driver himself. At the time our entire family was involved in the newspaper business in Hoisington, Kansas and the neighboring town of Claflin. One of the things involved in that business was taking our station wagon — and later a full-size van — to the printing plant. Our job was grabbing the papers that came off the press, bagging them in large mail sacks, and taking them to the post office for mailing.
This became Craig’s fantasy world where he was driving a truck instead of a station wagon or a van to haul these newspapers. Of course since the station wagon had a CB radio in it Craig would talk to the truckers we met or passed in their own inimitable lingo on the thirty mile trip each way to Russell, Kansas where the newspapers were printed.
That chore — which happened twice a week, one day for each newspaper — would last from early morning to late afternoon and we would have to stop for lunch. So of course we would stop at some place like Sonic Drive-In and eat road food. To Craig this was the next best thing to actually being at a truck stop rubbing elbows with real-life truck drivers.
About five years later Craig and I found ourselves in the big city of Wichita Kansas. The newspaper business hadn’t been going so well, mainly because home computers were now becoming readily available in the early 1980s and desktop publishing made newspaper production much easier. But a lot of people were now able to log into computer networks such as America Online AOL or CompuServe and get their news rather than having to subscribe to a newspaper. This was still many years before the internet as we know it existed. But printed publications started their gradual decline at that time and although they have not totally bottomed out, most publications have either folded or gone online.
One reason we moved to Wichita was that it was the largest city in Kansas. We had always been interested in taking our music to higher levels, but unable to make that huge jump to Los Angeles or Nashville or one of the other music centers.
We decided on Wichita because it was the largest city in Kansas. We had long talked about taking our music to higher and higher levels, and we thought that with a large pool of musicians in a big city like Wichita we could put together a killer band. We never really got around to doing that.
First of all we had to make a living. Craig tried several things but nothing seems to work out for him. One of them was sales clerk at Radio Shack. After all, they sold CB radios and he thought that would be heaven for him. But Craig was not cut out to be the white shirt and necktie sort of over-the-counter salesman that they emply in some place like Radio Shack. Additionally it didn’t pay very well.
I brought home a paycheck by getting a job as a typesetter in a print shop. This was when computer typesetters were first getting cheap enough to be used generally even by the smaller shops. My skills were much in demand since some of the old-time printers never got the skills to do computer typesetting. But computer and printing technology would soon put even that trade out of business.
Finally Craig realized his dream by enrolling and truck driving school. He took to it like a duck to water of course. And before long he was actually driving over the road in a big rig semi.
He wanted to be a long-haul trucker because of some romantic ideas he had. He would be a knight of the road, just like in the movies. In his mind there were hierarchies of truck drivers. The people who had a local route, brought home a regular paycheck, made a steady living and had a steady family life were looked down upon.
The Gypsy truck drivers were the top of the pyramid. And among them there were even higher and lower levels. For example those who drove produce were called “Garbage Haulers”. Moving van drivers were called “Bed Bugs.” Those with refrigerated trucks were a higher class and they were called “Reefers”. The middle class were the tanker trucks, livestock haulers and general freight haulers who contracted with a company and were paid by the mile. This was where Craig fit in.
His goal was to become the very top of the pyramid — an owner operator. Besides owning the truck these drivers booked their own loads and made their profit mainly through their own endurance. Although a truck driver is limited to the number of hours he is able to drive for safety reasons there were always ways to get around those and some drivers were legendary for going long periods without sleep so they could drive from coast to coast. Of course many of them had chemical substances to assist them, and there are legends about those drivers too.
He would come back from the road to tell stories about people who had gone so long without sleep but they hallucinated and sometimes had weird accidents. There were urban legends such as the guy who didn’t realize that he had backed over his mother-in-law and dragged her a couple of hundred miles before being pulled over by a sheriff and arrested for murder. Many, many tales came from the road, and Craig was a wonderful story-teller. If he had written them all down or at least dictated them for transcription he might have been able to retire and live off of the proceeds of that.
Our mother was a constant worrier, as many mothers are. For example when the TV news would tell about a major truck wreck in Texas, mom would fret and say, “Craig was going to Texas wasn’t he?” We always tried to reassure her that there were a lot of trucks on the road and the one in the accident probably was not Craig’s. Besides that Craig was very good about phoning in and keeping in touch with the rest of the family. After all we were a very close family.
Probably the best thing that happened to him was when he met the young lady that he soon married, Joy Reeves. They settle down together in true Craig fashion. He convinced Joy to go to truck driver school, which she willingly did. They hired out as a truck driving team, and brought in a very comfortable income driving cross-country taking shifts sleeping. They even had a little dog that they carried with them and I think they were just as happy in their truck as they were at the home that they purchased in Wichita.
Craig was an enviable person. He had a dream and he worked toward it and he succeeded and realized his dream. Not only that — he found a life-mate to share this dream with him and take to the road as his partner.
Eventually Craig and Joy talked about getting off the road and settling down. Craig purchased an old-time photo franchise in Wichita’s Old Town tourist area.
His new passion at that point was historical recreation and Joy went along with him on this, too. He became an avid camper and folklore expert, adopting the identity of a mountain man and learning the skills that went along with that. In Craig’s vision, a mountain man’s skills included lots of gun shooting and tomahawk throwing. He also had a vast collection of knives.
Unfortunately we all know that he became sick with cancer, but he had Joy to take care of him up through his final days.
So I see the CB radio and truck driving as starting a whole new life for Craig, one that would make him happy and take him through the rest of his life.
And I wonder if maybe that wouldn’t be most people’s dream for a good life.