Dashboard Confidential – November 2020

Confessions of an overachieving workaholic

November 2020

Dave Sweetman

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Most everyone wants to make a good first impression when they start a new job. More like you must prove your worth until the boss gets to know you as well as trust you. Starting out on the bottom of the totem pole, it takes a while to work your way up. In trucking, that also includes dispatch and operations. Or at least that was the way I was when I was much younger.

In the early 1970s, I got hired on with a small freight company in northern Delaware that serviced the DuPont chemical market to many paint manufacturers. One of my regulars was Benjamin Moore in northern New Jersey. It was almost an act of science, as I had this gig knocked. The shipper came to know me, as did the receiver, and they let it be known that even though it was not called “just-in-time” freight then, that is what it was. Miss a load and the plant could shut down. I took the dedication seriously.

Winter rolled around, and we were hit with a major blizzard, dumping nearly a foot of snow. The local news reported bad road conditions but surely it could not be that bad. I drove an El Camino (half car, half pickup) that proved itself useless, as I could not get out of my driveway, let alone onto the country road I lived on. After several attempts, I gave up on the El Camino. I did, however, have a garage full of vintage Harley Davidson motorcycles and went back inside to dress accordingly to make the trip.

My ride of choice was my 1947 Harley Knucklehead and sidecar.Dashboard Confidential Dave Sweetman Harley

It has fairly good traction plus the added stability of the third wheel of the sidecar. I headed out. This was about 4 a.m., and I needed to be at my New Jersey destination around 8 a.m. I pushed on. There was no other traffic except for the odd snowplow, and once I got to the main roads it really was not that bad. At least that was what I kept telling myself. I pushed on. Arriving at the terminal near New Castle Airport, I was the only one there. I covered the bike, fired up my cabover 4070 International, poured a cup of coffee, changed clothes and tried to thaw out.

The Delaware Memorial Bridge was open, but the electric billboards said the New Jersey Turnpike was closed. Easy enough, I chose to run up Route 130 and then hit Route 1. There was extraordinarily little traffic along the way. I pushed on. Upon arrival, I checked in and my receiver was amazed I got there through the storm. I was unloaded quickly and called my office for a return load. No answer.

I called the boss at home and he first asked where I was calling from, insisting that I must be joking.

“No one is working today, the roads are closed, are you nuts?” he said all in one sentence. I guessed a return load was not in the works.

I could see from the paint plant that the N.J. Turnpike was open, and I chose to return via the toll road. The speed limit was reduced to 35 mph and although a slow go, it was quicker than the old road and no traffic lights. I pushed on. Arriving back at the terminal, I was the only one there, and the only tracks in the snow were mine from early morning. I backed my truck and trailer in where I had started and finished up my logs and paperwork.

Changing back into cold-weather clothes, leathers and gloves, I uncovered the bike and sidecar. It fired right up, and I headed home, rather pleased that I had done my job safely when others never showed up. Did anyone care, besides me? Probably not, but I established that I could be counted on. Did anyone care about that either? Probably not. I had proven myself and froze my butt off in the process, but the job got done.

Roll forward all these many years, and I wonder what the older me would tell the younger me. Would you do it again the same way? Probably. You cannot buy an adventure like that. I soon after got rid of the El Camino but kept the Knucklehead and sidecar. LL

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