And BS stories about summer jobs I had during my school days.
This is not a song but the sound of a good driver rowing through the gears with a big Diesel and twin sticks is music to my ears. I still remember sticking my left arm through the spokes of a steering wheel to keep a truck going straight while I used both hands to shift twin sticks.
I’m Going Back to Nashville to Get My Peterbilt, Larry Heaberlin
A truckers Song, Truckin’ in Montana
Truck Drivin’ Man, Conway Twitty
Looking at the World through a Windshield, Dell Reeves
Six Days on the Road, Dave Dudley
Roll on Big Mama, Joe Stampley
Truck Driver’s Blues, Asleep at the Wheel
Pure Grain, Dave Barnes
Brothers of the Highway, George Strait
Give ME 40 Acres, The Willis Brothers
Give Me 40 Acres, The Willis Brothers I have been in this situation, see 40 acres above.
I have noticed that all truck driving songs have a Country Western format. I have never heard a truck driving song performed by a Jazz ensemble, or a string quartet.
40 ACRES While driving for an asphalt paving company, I had to move a D-8 Cat from one work site to another. The crew had loaded the D-8 on a low boy semi trailer and hooked it up to a single axle truck tractor. The rig was pointed the opposite direction that I needed to go so I had to turn it around. The rig was located in town with narrow city streets. The low boy was so long that it was impossible circle a block to turn around because even swinging the tractor into the opposite lane would cause the rear tires of the trailer to jump the inside curb and possibly knock down a street sign or power pole. I found my 40 acres to turn around in a grocery store parking lot. People shopping for groceries were astounded to see a large truck tractor pulling a low boy with a large Cat on it heading for them.
ANOTHER 40 ACRES Also when working for an asphalt paving company, I had to pick up a tank of molten asphalt and a tank of burner fuel, I was driving an 18 wheeler (tandem axle tank truck pulling a two axle tank trailer. The pickup point was a refinery that I had never been to and it was very dark, about 2 AM. I over shot the pump station and did not have enough room to turn into the refinery. It is impossible to back up a 2 axle trailer. The pumper at the refinery told me there was a vacant field about a quarter mile further on where I could turn around. I found the field but I could see what was there, I pulled in and discovered it was covered with tall grass. I hoped there were no ditches or old junk hiding in the grass. I made the turnaround OK and went back and filled up. I have found a picture of a truck similar to what I was driving that night, see below.
I started driving trucks on public roads when I was 14. I got a special farm permit and I hauled wheat to grain elevators with 2 ton trucks (24,000 GVW ). I loved harvest time because I could get off of a tractor and get out and drive. The trucks were a ‘47 Studebaker with a 4 speed clash box and a one speed rear end, a ’47 International with a 4 speed clash box and one speed rear end, a’48 Chevy with a 235 engine 4 speed synchro box and a vacuum shifted 2 speed rear end, and a’54 Chevy with a 261 engine 4 speed synchro box and a vacuum shifted 2 speed rear end.
My first paid truck driving job off the farm was when I was 17. A local farmer traded in his old ‘47 Chevy on a new ‘53 Dodge with a large flat head 6, a 5 speed clash box, and an electric shifted 2 speed Eaton rear end. He never learned to shift it so to pull a long hill, he would stop at the bottom, start up the hill in a gear low enough to get over the hill. He hired me to haul wheat for him on a road with several long hills, I would hit the hills as fast as possible and use the gears necessary to top the hills.
My second truck driving job other than on the family farm, was for Payne Sand and Gravel. We hauled sand and gravel to construction sites with International single axle dump trucks. These trucks could haul 5 cu yds of sand or gravel, were powered by gas engines and had Eaton electric shift 2 speed rear ends. I also operated a classification plant which separated sand from gravel and sorted gravel rocks into various sizes. The classification plant was fed from a dragline which pulled feedstock from a gravel pit. This was a fun job, The dragline was powered by a 75 horse electric motor and drove two winch drums. I got some time in a Pedtibone-Millican front end loader (see picture below) loading trucks. This loader was the only piece of equipment including trucks that I ever operated that was powered by a Screamin’ Jimmy, it had a 3-71 see the (link).
Trucks at school: MSU among other things was an Ag school and was involved with the Ag extension service. They would sell farmers new varieties of seeds. They had a new variety of wheat seed that my Dad wanted to try on the farm so Spring quarter of my sophomore year I left my car at home and drove a Chevy wheat truck down to school to pick up a truck load of burlap bags of seed wheat. A girl from my home town was visiting her folks and needed a ride back to MSU. She hitched a ride in the truck. When we arrived at the woman’s dorm, we pulled into the long circular driveway and I let her out. Not like arriving in a limousine. The truck was too large to park down town, so if I wanted to go down town for a burger or a movie, I had to bum a ride. If I got bored, one of my buddies and I would take the truck to down town Bozeman and cruise the drag, got into a few drag races from stop lights and even won a few.
Truck at school part 2. My senior year I wanted to build a hot rod, so I collected parts during the summer at home and loaded them into an old butt ugly International wheat truck to take down to MSU. I had the truck at school the whole school year as well as my car. There was a group of young ladies who liked to come down to the house a bunch of us rented, to drink beer, listen to music, and shoot beer cans with my .22 rifle. On occasion we would pick them up at the dorm and return them before curfew with the old truck. Good for a few laughs. Myrna (who I have been married to for 49 years 2017) was one of the young ladies. One night she got tired us of shooting guns in the house and ask if we would stop if she could hit the S on a Schlitz can, we agreed. We had forgotten that she was taking rifle marksmanship as a PE course, she nailed the S and we killed beers by drinking them for the rest of the night. I did some work on the hot rod that was the original load on the truck but did not finish it, school work got in the way. Nearing the end of the school year, I thought it would be best to take all of the hot rod parts back home. Room mates and I loaded up all of the parts and we headed towards my home town. The room mates were leading the way in a convertible, they were going to drive me back to school after we dumped off the truck. We set off after dark. The old truck would only run about 55 mph so the room mates got bored going so slow. They cured their boredom by drinking beer and chucking the empties at me in the truck. I spent over two hundred miles being pelted with beer cans bouncing of the trucks grille, hood and windshield. International builds them strong, so the truck showed no signs damage from the beer cans.
For two summer vacations I did not drive trucks but worked for Green Line implement, a John Deere dealership managed by Howard Axtman. I think over the years half of the people living in Fort Benton worked for Howard. I did a little bit of everything, overhauled industrial engines, steam cleaned and painted used equipment, painted the dealership buildings, assembled equipment like manure spreaders, field demonstrated equipment, and anything else that needed doing. I even did a brake job on Howard’s personal car. I never worked on Diesels just gas engines, working on Diesels required special training and Summer hires did not get sent to Diesel school.
A farmer who lived about 20 miles out of town, traded in 3 small Oliver combines for two large John Deere model 95 combines. Rather than truck the trade ins back to town, three of us summer hires were driven out to the farmers place so we could drive the combines back to the dealership in town. I started out in the lead combine, soon I looked over and the two other combines passed me taking up much of the road, each one had a 12 foot header. When going out in the field for any reason we always took our tool boxes. I stopped my combine, got out some tools and adjusted the engine governor up a few hundred RPM. I soon caught up with and passed the others. Before long the two others passed me with their engines singing a few more RPM than mine. This continued all the way back into town. By the time we reached town, the poor little Continental industrial engines were screaming. We told the shop foreman he should get out a tachometer and adjust the engines speeds to factory specs because they did not sound quite right. If someone had tried to thrash wheat at the engine speeds we had set them at they would have gotten wheat flour rather than wheat kernels.
One summer I worked for Green Line, John Deere brought out a new combine model, the 95. The 95 was the first to use a John Deere built engine (the 217) all previous models had used a Hercules industrial engine. A custom cutter brought his new 95 to the shop and said he did not think the engine sounded quite right. He was right , the exhaust had a distinctive “plock” “plock” sound, indicative of a leaking or burnt exhaust valve. The shop had no manuals or parts for this new engine. Since no one in the shop had worked on this engine, it did not mater who worked on it. The shop foreman sent a summer hire out to work on it, me. I pulled the head and ground the valves. The parts people called the factory and got gaskets express shipped and also the torque specs for the head bolts, I made up my own tightening sequence. The custom cutter thought the shop and my self had taken too long to do the job and had charged too much. On any valve job, I always hand lapped the valves and seats to assure a perfect seal, this always added a few hours to a valve job. I have never had an engine return with a burnt or leaky valve. I also used to bolt on a cylinder head by taking the bolts down 10 ftlbs at a time until I reached final torque. This also added a small amount of time to a valve job, but I never had an engine returned with a blown head gasket.
When wheat is ripe and ready to harvest, it is susceptible to damage from many sources such as wind, hail, rain and other things. As soon as the grain is ready to cut and thrash, farmers want to get into the field as soon as possible because a years work can be lost in minutes. This rush to get the crop harvested can lead to tunnel vision and something called harvestites. A farmer who had bought a new John Deere 95 combine ran it for a few hours and than shut it down to change out the break-in oil and add regular oil. Harvestites set in and in a rush to start cutting wheat he forgot to add oil to the engine after draining the break-in oil. The engine soon seized. One of the regular mechanics went out oiled the cylinders and freed the engine. The engine ran good and sounded OK for a few hours and then broke a con rod and chucked it out through the block taking a 6X6” piece of cast iron with it. It was the first time we had seen the inside of this new 217 engine. The parts department put in an emergency express order for a new long block. Because I had done a valve job on this new type of engine, I was the de facto expert on it that summer so stripped the fuel and electrical systems off of the broken engine and installed them on the new long block when it arrived. The farmer was back in the field in a few days and remembered to add oil after that.
Another farmer got harvistits that same year. A freshly overhauled Hercules combine engine had just taken out to his farm and installed on his combine. After draining the break-in oil he forgot to add oil and started it up. The engine soon seized. Because of the experience with the 217 engine earlier, no attempt was made to free the engine and fire it up, The farmer was convinced that we should bring the engine back to the shop and have us fix it. Howard put several of us working on the engine on the engine so that we could get it out in one day. Because the engine had recently been overhauled, it was decided that only the pistons, crank, and rods should be replaced. Howard put Larry Dallum (full time mechanic), myself (Summer hire), and Mel(Ole) Dallum (parts man) on the job and ask us to work as long as it took to get the engine out and running. We worked a full 8 hour day on the engine, went home for supper and then came back in to finish up the engine. Howard felt sorry for us working such long hours, so he handed Ole a few bucks and sent him out to the Palace Bar to buy us a 6 pack of beer. The beer tasted real good and we finished it off in no time. The beer tasted so good that we pooled our resources and sent Ole out to get more. About 7 or 8 o’clock we were finishing buttoning up the engine. Larry was finishing up putting on accessories while I was installing the cylinder head. I screwed down the head bolts mostly by muscle memory being unable to read the engine manual after many beers. I could not read the gauge on the torque wrench by this time, so I had Ole read out torques as I put the final torque on the head bolts. Usually after an overhaul or a major engine teardown, an engine was placed on a test stand and fired up to check for good oil pressure and lack of knocks or other unusual goingons. We were tired and wasted by this time so we just went home. The next morning early we hauled the engine out to the farmers place an installed it on his combine. It was a very hot summer day and we did not feel very good. We crossed our fingers and fired the engine up. It fired up, had good oil pressure, and sounded real good. The farmer finished up his harvest and we heard no more about this engine. We did good.
One interesting character I worked with was a minister who had a small congregation of about 8 people. He worked as a full time mechanic at Green Line Implement to make ends meet. I don’t remember his last name because we all called him Preacher Bob. Preacher Bob had an aluminum hard hat that he was very proud of, so one day I stole it, took it home and painted it John Deere Green. After the green paint set up, I masked it off to make flames, and painted flames with International Harvester Red tipped with John Deere wheel yellow. After all of the paint set up I took it back into work and left it hanging on the exhaust stack of a tractor Preacher Bob was working on. He loved it and wore it all of the time.
The people who worked summer jobs for Howard Axtman at Green Line Implement, went on to have interesting careers. Larry Dallum’s son Keith is now a deputy sheriff, Wade Cook has his own business in town repairing and selling small engines, Mel(Ole) Dallum became an air traffic controller, Beanie Carver is now Robert Carver Phd and is an administrator with the Idaho university system. Claude Behrens is a physical therapist. There are many others I have lost track of and don’t know what became of them. Keith Dallum and Wade Cook were there long after I had left and are still working. All the others I worked with are either retired or have passed away. I am an old fart.
At the end of my senior year and after graduation, I still did not know what I wanted to do “when I grew up” so I went to work for Sweeney & Lustgraff Asphalt paving for the summer. I did a little of everything but mostly I drove 18 wheelers hauling molten asphalt and burner fuel from oil refineries to the hot plants where the paving mix was prepared.
When hauling molten asphalt, I got a small bonus for hazardous duty. I liked the extra pay but being young an foolish I did not think much about it. The trucks were old, had bad brakes, the tanks behind me held 2500 gallons of asphalt at 360 degrees, and 2500 gallons of burner fuel which was very flammable, and I was also driving 14 to 16 hours a day. The refinery in Black Eagle (across the river from Great Falls) could not keep up with the demand for asphalt in the summer, so I would usually drive to Chinook to pick up a load. 125 miles one way (see 40 acres above). I would usually do this drive in the middle of the night. If no one was available at Black Eagle to take the load to the hot plant, I would frequently drive another 180 miles round trip to Helena to deliver the load. I was so sleep deprived that when I pulled into the refinery, I would show the pumper where I wanted the truck tank filled to and then to wake me up when the tank was filled. When the truck tank was filled the pumper would wake me up and I would pull the rig up so he could fill the trailer tank, and then I would take another short nap. I still get sleepy if I smell coffee and Diesel exhaust at the same time. I did not get to know the other drivers because of our odd work hours, but Sweeny & Lustgraff trucks had a unique clearance light pattern on the cabs so we always knew when we saw one of the other drivers on the road and would give each other a blast on the air horn as a greeting. One night about 2:00AM two of us passed each other in down town Havre, and must have awakened half the town with numerous air horn blasts. I figured that if I had to be awake all night so did every one else, so when I saw a farm or ranch house with all of the lights off, I would grab a gear which would put the engine RPM in a range that would make the stack bark and lay on the throttle, I would also give them a “ Sung by the _____ _____ Quartet “ on the air horn. One night my favorite truck, an old Kenworth was out of service so I took a Mack to pick up a load. The Kenworth had oval tanks and I knew which markers to tell the pumper to fill to. The Mack had round tanks so I just guessed at where to fill the tanks. I did not guess correctly. When I pulled onto the scales, the rig weighed 100,000 pounds, max weight allowed on Montana roads at the time was 78,000 pounds. Luckily, the truck weigh station in Havre was closed in the middle of the night so I got away with it. If I had been caught with a rig that much over weight, I would probably still be in jail. One afternoon, I was able to pickup a load at the Black Eagle( Great Falls ) refinery. As I was pulling out of the pump station one of the owners, Bud Lustgraff waved me over and told me to park the truck. I was hoping I had not done anything wrong. I got into his pickup and off we went to a bar, he just wanted someone to have a few beers with. After several pitchers of beer he brought me back to the truck and off I went on a 90 mile run to Helena down the old Wolf Creek Canyon road with a drop off to the Missouri River on one side and sheer rock walls on the other. I made it OK and the asphalt was still warm enough to pump out of the truck tank when I got to the hot plant.
With all of the hours I was driving, I should have been catching up on my sleep on the weekends but instead on a Friday evening I would throw a change of clothes in a brown paper sack and drive 200 miles to Bozeman ( MSU ). All of my roommates when I was going to school were a year behind me so our old house was still rented and I had a place to stay. One of my old roommates was going to school Summer quarter and a bunch of the theater arts people were also going to school summer quarter, some were doing Summer stock at a local theater. Lots of fun people to party with. The weekends were spent in the Heidelberg downing pitchers of beer. Late Sunday evening, I would head back to Great Falls, catch a few hours of sleep and jump back into a truck for another 14 hour drive.
One job I had while working for Sweeney and Lustgraff was loading trucks in a gravel pit with a Caterpillar 933 Traxcavator (Link) If the gravel seam I was working started to play out, there was a D8 Cat dozer setting in the gravel pit which I could use to move dirt and open a new seam of gravel. Dozing dirt with a D8 made me feel like King Kong, having all of that grunt at my fingertips. The 933 was fairly new and had hydraulics to move the bucket up and down and tilt the bucket. The D8 was rather old and had a winch and cable system to move the dozer blade up and down. Check out the picture when this link is opened (Link) I put in enough time on Caterpillars so that I considered my self a “Cat skinner”. Many years later while filling out a job application form at an aerospace company, I put down cat skinner as a former job. The personnel lady reviewing my application form was horrified when she saw this entry. She thought I had a job skinning pussy cats. I explained it was slang for someone who had operated Caterpillar equipment.
Fresh asphalt paving is usually sealed with a coating called chip seal. It is usually applied after new asphalt paving has had a chance to setup and cure for several weeks. The “chip” is crushed gravel. The chip is glued to the asphalt surface with an emulsion of liquid asphalt and water. The emulsion is mixed up at the refinery from asphalt, water, and some chemical which causes them to form an emulsion. The “chip” is spread on the fresh emulsion and then rolled to firmly glue the chip to the new asphalt paving. Check out the following Link ( LINK ) Sweeney and Lustraff paved the driveway of a gas station, after the new asphalt setup they sprayed the surface with emulsion and spread chip on it. The chip required rolling with a compactor until the chip was firmly bonded to the paving, this took several hours. The emulsion and chip were applied late in the afternoon, so rolling was needed late into the evening. One of the owners ask me to do the rolling so after driving trucks all day I jumped on a compactor and started rolling. About 6:00PM one of my roommates felt sorry for me because I had not had dinner so he came by with a case of beer. My roommate hopped on the compactor with me and we rode around the gas station lot, whooping and hollering, drinking beer, and rolling chip. I got really good at rolling, I could get the steel rim of the roller right up to the edge of the pump island and assure a good bond of the chip at the island edge. The gas station owner got real nervous because the more beer we drank the faster we rolled. We never damaged anything. About 9:00PM the paving company owner came by to check on my work, he said I had done a good job and sent me home. The picture below is something like the roller I used but much newer. This job was good training for becomeing a spacecrafter later on, drinking beer and working overtime.
When the weather starts to turn cold in the fall, the asphalt paving season comes to a close. I found myself out of a job, and still not knowing what I wanted to do when I grew up so I did the most logical thing. I moved back to Bozeman and MSU and moved back in with my old roommates who were completing their senior years. Life continued as before, picking up ladies at the women’s dorms in the evenings, listening to music, drinking beer, and shooting the empty beer cans. One of the ladies, Myrna and I have been married to for 49 years. One of the other ladies, Judy, Myrna’s sister now lives a mile from us. The days got a little boring so I started to monitor classes on campus. none of the professors seemed to mind and they tolerated me. I stayed away from classes I did not like, like math and English. I did sit in on history, film &TV, theatre arts, and chemistry classes. My senior year the chemistry dept. started to teach freshman chemistry by closed circuit TV. The Film & TV department provided directors and cameramen for this chemistry class. These chemistry classes covered things that had not been covered when I was a freshman so I found them interesting. I had taken the Film & TV class that had provided cameramen for these chemistry classes, so when I monitored these classes I did not go to a lecture hall and watch on TV, I went to the studio where the class was being televised. On occasion when a student cameraman did not show up or had trouble getting something in focus, I would jump on the camera and do the class. The cameras were gigantic vacuum tube RCAs on three wheeled dollies. See the picture below.
About new years I started to run out of funds, so I thought I should start planning for the future and get a job. I set some criteria for a job I would like, It should be fun and be inside out of the cold and weather. At first I thought I would like to move to New York and try to get a job as a stage manager or as a lighting/sound director at an off Broadway theater. Also I thought I might go back to school and get a masters in theater arts or film & TV. After talking to the director and his assistant at the MSU theater arts department I changed my mind. They said the theater world in New York was a very closed society, and if a person did not know someone in the business their chance of getting a job was nil. I bought newspapers from all around the country to see what jobs were available. I noticed that in the Los Angeles Times there were a lot of jobs for electronic technicians being advertised at various aerospace companies. I thought electronic technician might be a good job if I could fake my way through an interview and test. I crammed for a test by reading the first few chapters of an old Radio Amateur’s Handbook. I sold some stuff and took off for California, Myrna went to Washington D.C. to work for senator Metcalf . I faked my way into a job at the Autonetics division of North American Aviation. The only oscilloscope I had ever seen was on the bench of a TV repairman. Luckily I started on night shift and was assigned the task of building breadboards and had the opportunity to learn how to operate test equipment and figure out how transistors worked. I continued to fake it and was soon promoted to Associate Engineer. Being in Southern California, I had the opportunity to attend USC nights in hope of getting my masters and eventually teaching film at some small college. After 11 credits I soon realized that I liked transistors more than I liked people, so I dropped out and continued to work in aerospace. I did however teach one class session and it was not too bad. One of the engineers at work was moonlighting by teaching electronics at several junior colleges and at Disney Land. One time he had over scheduled him self and had a class at a college and at Disney Land the same night. I helped him out by taking his session at Disney Land and taught a class on transistor circuit analysis and how to bias a transistor for linear operation. I continued working in aerospace for 40 years and ended up as a Space Craft Electrical Test Conductor. Check out this ( Link ). We retired to Montana back where we started from. No more truck driving.