Why I’m a member of OOIDA
March 21, 2018
George and I became members of OOIDA long before meeting Jim Johnston. We joined because there wasn’t another trucking association out there, fighting for our rights. We joined to have a voice, and a place at the table when it came to the inner workings of commercial trucking laws. We joined for the same reasons Jim Johnston organized the group, 45 years ago. Truckers needed advocacy and change in DC.
“I pretty much did it not because I wanted to become president but because we had made a commitment to a lot of people. We had traveled around the country, tried to recruit members and in doing that we said we were going to do this and that and going to try to fix problems. I could not go back on that. I sometimes say I was too dumb to know it couldn’t be done and too stubborn to quit. So I kept plugging away at it.” – Jim Johnston, President, Chief Executive Officer, OOIDA, 1974-2018
The only regret I have in accepting my recent position of staff writer at Land Line Magazine is that it didn’t officially happen before Jim passed away. I missed working with him physically in the building by about 90 days. His presence, however, remains as strong as the determination and sheer will to follow through with promises he made to people he cared about.
A love for truck driving began the day he got his CDL.
“I remember the happiest day of my life was when I managed to drive the truck to the license bureau to get my license. The cop walked with me and said: “boy those are big suckers aren’t they?” I knew I had it made.”
Small business and independent trucking advocacy stemmed from more than a decade of personal experience. Johnston actually lived the lifestyle of people he advocated for. He was a “real” trucker, before, during and after the 1974 strike.
“I drove for 13 years with my own truck and was pretty successful. I had two trucks when the shutdown started and lost the first one within 30 days because I wasn’t running the truck and was not making money, the other one I managed to keep for a year and a half after we started the association.”
Financial insecurity and unscrupulous individuals, concerned only with personal fame and monetary gain, plagued the newly formed association.
“We had someone else running the office at that time. Our 3,000 members had dwindled to about 35 guys who were actually paying dues. The honesty of the individual we left running the office – I won’t say too much but it left much to be desired. Like he set up an extra bank account we weren’t aware of.”
“Supporters” and “advocates” fell away, one by one.
Being committed to the cause didn’t extend as far for others as it did to Jim. He and his wife, Mary, made huge sacrifices to continue efforts.
“Us guys dwindled down to one. We had a board of directors and we had some people who stopped by the office occasionally. But nobody – including myself – wanted to be a wimpy desk jockey. We were truck drivers and that’s what we wanted to do. I loved trucking. Probably the most traumatic time of my life is when I had to let my truck go back. It was really difficult. We didn’t have much money and I wasn’t drawing a paycheck. My wife was supporting us the first couple of years. I think we got to 150-200 members in two years’ time.”
It would have been easy for Jim to quit. Go the way of others, take dues from folks with no intention of depositing money in the association’s accounts. But he didn’t. Because he loved trucking, and he made promises to hard-working people he had no intention of breaking, no matter the consequences.
“I wasn’t the first president. There was J.W. Edwards – he was weird – and went bye-bye pretty quick. Then there was Al Hannah, the next president, from Nevada and he went back to Nevada. We set the office up in the west end of the laundromat in Oak Grove. I was the only one here at the time. Everyone else just disappeared. We did have the Board of Directors, of course, and after a year’s time, they all decided I should be president.”
Jim was serving his ninth five-year term when cancer took him in January of 2018. There were trucking associations before OOIDA, and there have been many since, but there will never be another Jim Johnston.
So when people ask why I’m a member …
I tell them about Jim, and his commitment to the independent driver. I tell them, with a great deal of certainty, this is an organization built from the ground up with sheer determination and will. And I tell them their interests are looked after by people who care more about their rights than promoting themselves or making money.
OOIDA is successful today, 45 years after Jim made the decision to be a “wimpy” desk jockey because he honored promises he made and took commitment seriously. And that’s the most powerful thing a person can do.
That’s why I’m a member.
Register to attend the celebration of life at MATS
Editor’s note: OOIDA will host a celebration of Jim Johnston’s life and career at the Mid-America Trucking Show in Louisville, Ky. The celebration will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday, March 23, in conference room B1o1/102 in the south wing of the Kentucky Expo Center. All OOIDA members are invited to attend, however, OOIDA asks that you register here. OOIDA members Wendy and George Parker are among the featured speakers during the event.