Sometimes, trucking is for the birds

October 2019

Dave Sweetman


In a former trucking life, in a galaxy far, far away, I had a boss who was a true entrepreneur, and if there was a way to make a buck with a truck, he was on top of it. It was usually well vetted and thought out. Sometimes, well, not so much. But it looked good on paper and he always made his cut, regardless.

I got a call one day and was told that he booked some trips doing loads of racing and homing pigeons, and I was nominated. I know nothing about pigeons, with the exception that I had eaten one once in Paris (France, not Texas). It was called squab, and I didn’t care for it, so trucking pigeons didn’t seem like a great thing either. I got the whole rulebook quoted to me about how to be the best pigeon hauler ever. So said the shipper and owner of said flying avian cargo.

I was now even less interested.

I kindly deferred and another driver was picked to truck the pigeons. I’ll call him Will, to hide his identity, even though the statute of limitations has likely expired. Will was told that on the ride west from New Jersey to the Midwest, he needed to stop, set up a water station and let the pigeons out of the cages to exercise and get a drink. He was told that the pigeons would return to the cages and all would be well.

Driver Will did just that in a truck stop in western Pennsylvania. Parking off to the far corner of the lot, Will opened the cages and several hundred unleashed pigeons celebrated their freedom by circling the truck stop and pooping all over dozens of parked semis. Unhappy drivers reported the commotion to the fuel desk and a mini inquiry was held. I had mental pictures of drivers with wide brim hats and umbrellas trying not to look up at the sky, making a beeline to the office. Will and his feathered friends were told to leave and never come back. Calls to the trucking company home office registered more complaints. Will made his delivery, and the owner seemed pleased to have his feathered friends arrive for the event.

Not long after, another pigeon trip was booked and even though I was asked, I was (fortunately) on the opposite coast. Brother Will again got the nod, as he had done such a great job prior. Memories of pooping pigeons had gone away, it seemed. Hooking up to the preloaded trailer with cages stacked high as an elephant’s eye, Will had this gig knocked, as he was an experienced old pigeon trucking hand by now.

Well, almost.

With a bad memory of the last episode of misbehaving pigeons dropping bird bombs on unsuspecting folks, Driver Will thought that since this trip was a good bit shorter than the last, perhaps a minor tweak of the schedule could prevent another catastrophe. He didn’t stop. No water break, no exercise, keep on pigeon trucking. We’ll be there soon, right? Bad choice. It seems, as I was told, that pigeons suffer the same adverse health effects as we drivers have to bumpy roads and long hours on I-80 across Pennsylvania.

Driver Will showed up for the event with a trailer load of dead pigeons. It’s a little tough to have a competition when the contestants are unable to make it to the starting line. There’s a lesson there for all of us, somewhere. Driver Will felt very bad. The owner/trainer felt bad. It looked like the end of a perfectly good career for our pigeon hauling friend, but no. Pigeons make more pigeons, and all was forgiven.

For the next trip, the pigeon dude enlisted a new driver. He was versed on the proper way to truck pigeons, lectured on the past sins of the other driver, given strict rules to follow, and off he went to homing pigeon land. The trip went well, the pigeons made the gig and the new driver offered to help offload the cages on the roller ramp. Until he tried to walk across the rollers and down he went, injuring his leg. That was the end of Pigeons R Us.

I can honestly say, in my years of playing with trucks, I am innocent of any wrongdoing in the world of pigeons. Except for the one I ate in Paris (France, not Texas).

Happy trails. LL