A Drivers Story
– By #Mark Dorrance
I have had a love affair with trucks since I was a boy. I had my first ride in a 1950 Reo that my Dad had. I was about four years old. He was hauling sack cement from the gypsum plant in Florence CO. to Denver CO. He would take me with him a lot. When I wasn’t with my Dad I was playing with my toy trucks at home. I spent a lot of time with my Dad and trucks over the years. When I was old enough to drive one my Dad taught me how. First I had to learn to drive a pick-up with a clutch. I wasn’t very good at it at first, but finally got the hang of it. Then I moved up to an eighteen foot, single axle, flat bed with five gears and a two speed axle. After driving the flat bed for awhile it was time for the big rig. It was a 1963 cab over international. It had a ten speed transmission that was put in backwards so it made for an interesting learning experience. My Dad had bought it so he could haul drywall from Florence CO to his business in Denver. That is what I did until things went south in the construction business in the 1970s and my Dad sold the business. So now what do I do? I did not want to be an over the road truck driver because I wanted to be home with my family at the end of the day. On one of my last runs from Florence I saw a PETCO tanker at the port of entry and I wanted to know if they got home every night and I found out that they did.
I had never worked for anyone except my Dad and it felt strange applying for a job, but I did anyway. I went to work for PETCO at the age of twenty one. I had never pulled a tanker before but they needed drivers and said they would train me. This was the year they were making the transition from top loading to bottom loading and the beginning of vapor recovery so it made the training very challenging. So on March 1, 1975 I started learning how to operate a petroleum transport. After three weeks of training I was promoted to my own tanker unit. It was a 1975 Kenworth day cab with a five hole beall trailer. The unit was dedicated to Chevron twenty four hours, six days a week. I started on the night shift which I had never done before. My deliveries were north to Fort Collins CO, south to Pueblo CO, east to Akron CO, and west to Aspen CO and a lot of places in-between. Later my brother came to work at PETCO and we drove the Chevron truck together switching shifts every two weeks. We did this for months until my brother decided he wanted his own truck. I stayed with the Chevron truck and took the day shift. It was great. I loved the job. Everything was going well until one cold day in December. On December 21, 1975 I was traveling southbound on US 285 on my way to Buena Vista CO. It was a quiet Saturday morning. Only one car passed me and nothing had come the other way. I had just come down the west side of Kenosha pass headed into South Park. I came over the crest of a hill and the car that had passed me was half on the road and half off the road. No time to think; just try to miss the car. I turned the wheel to the left, but the right fender hit the right side of the car causing the diesel fuel to shift to the left spinning the unit crossways in the road and the unit started to roll. The truck went into the bar pit with the snow flying up over the top of the truck and I held on to the steering wheel as if my life depended on it. I was sure that this was the end of my life and career. The truck went around once and came back up; I said a prayer for my wife and kids because I was sure it was my time to meet Jesus. The truck went around again, still gripping the steering wheel with all I had, and then everything went dark. I don’t know how long it was, but when I woke up I was expecting to be in heaven, but there I was underneath the truck my left leg pinned down by the transmission and the running board two inches from my chest. I was thankful to be alive. Another truck driver headed northbound had witnessed the entire accident and reluctantly approached me and the truck, assuming that I was dead. When I asked him for help he was quick to do so. I received a broken foot from the transmission and a few bumps and bruises. When the investigation was complete it was determined that the unit had rolled twice together and then the trailer became disconnected and rolled two more times sliding down the hi-way on its side and rupturing the fourth compartment and loosing the contents. This was the only accident I was ever involved in. I was not at fault because the other driver was backing up the hill on the wrong side of the road, and so the State Patrol cited him. I worked for PETCO until September 1976 when I decided I could do better at Chevron.
I started with Chevron in September 1976 doing much of the same thing I did at PETCO. I didn’t go to the mountains as much. I did more company stores and less commercial accounts. It was shift work with a crazy schedule. I drove a 1976 International day cab with a five hole Cowboy trailer ( one of a kind) I worked Thursday through Tuesday night; then I had three days off and switched to days on Saturday and Sunday. Monday I was off and then worked days Tuesday through Friday, had five days off and started all over again. My body didn’t know if it was awake or asleep. As with all truck drivers I have many war stories but I have two with Chevron that were special.
On February 16 1980 I became a scab( whoops) we were not union but Hawaii was and they were on strike and drivers from all over the country were asked to go ( union an non-union). Who wouldn’t want an all expense paid trip to Hawaii in the middle of the winter. Two of us from Denver went. We had to stay for at least a month. The islands were still top loading and no vapor recovery. We worked twelve hours six days a week or until we ran out of hours which never happened because the longest round trip was 80 miles. We had sales reps ride with us for directions to the stations but since they were all natives it was like having our own tour guides. I only stayed a month because I had left a pregnant wife and two young children at home who needed me more than the extra pay. If I had it to do over again I probably wound not of done it because it was harder on my family than we thought it would be.
Near the end of my time with Chevron I had a few moments of fame. We had been told on the first of March 1989 that we would no longer have jobs after March 31st. All but two of us left for other jobs. We were mostly going up the mountain. One very snowy and windy night I was going to Glenwood Springs. Loveland pass was a mess. It was a white out from the last hairpin on the east side until the second hair pin on the west side. It was so bad at the top that I got crossways in the road. I made it to Glenwood and I was hoping the pass would be closed when got back so I could go through the tunnel. It wasn’t. I made it about a hundred feet from the top on the west side before getting stuck in the deep snow. No cell phones yet so, all I could do was wait for someone to come in the middle of the night. The plow finally came because he said he had heard me go by and wanted to see if I made it. NO I DIDN’T. He pulled me to the top of the pass. By this time the storm was almost over and it was early morning and visibility was much better. I slowly began my way down and the plow followed to make sure I didn’t have any more trouble. Everything was great until I made the last turn. There was a snow slide and all I could do was slide into it. I thought this is it again, I’m going run into the slide and it is going to push me over the edge, but it didn’t, the truck slid into the middle of the slide and the snow came over the tires and the truck stopped. I didn’t know what to do. If I stayed in the truck and the slide continued to come down I would still go over the edge, so I decided to get out. The plow driver had stopped when he saw me go into the slide and was yelling at me to hurry back to where he was. So I jumped into the snow which came over my waist (which didn’t take much because I’m so short), I struggled through the deep snow to the plow. He said we need to get to the plow shed on the east side of the pass and call for help and notify my company. We were sure by the time we got back the truck would be over the edge, but it wasn’t. It wasn’t very long until a news crew showed up and there we were on the morning news. My boss had not called my wife yet so she was very worried as to where I was. He finally called her. Then she turned on the morning news and there was my truck stuck on Loveland pass. I finished out the month and left with great sadness because I really liked working at Chevron.
Now what was I going to do? Chevron had sold its stores to AMOCO so that seemed the logical place to look for a job, but Chevron had written a clause in the severance terms that if went to work for AMOCO before a certain date, we would lose our severance. So I took a vacation and thought about it. There must be a loop hole somewhere. I called Chevron’s human resources department in California, and a nice lady helped me find the loop hole. As long as AMOCO employed me as a part time driver, Chevron could not take my severance away. And part time was as many hours as AMOCO wanted me to work. So, I applied for a job and AMOCO put me to work part time (40 hours a week). I started in April of 1989. I worked whatever shift there was for a month or so then I went to night shift slip seating with the number one driver which meant I got to drive the newest truck. The trucks were Freightliners and the trailers were four and five hole allideds. They were all super singles and they were underpowered, but all we did were local deliveries and very seldom a mountain load so they worked out okay. It was great, ten hour shifts and a four day week unless you wanted overtime. I could work all I wanted and still have plenty of time with my family. It was pretty uneventful working for AMOCO. No significant war stories until the day I was forced to quit. Not just quit AMOCO but driving and maybe even life.
The week before Thanksgiving November 1989 I was getting ready for work and I couldn’t catch my breath coming up the stairs. I had been taking some meds for my arthritis and one of the side effects was shortness of breath. So I went to the doctor and he examined me and did not like what he found. He called another doctor for a second opinion. They both sent me to the hospital for a chest X-ray. The X-ray revealed my heart to be twice its normal size. They sent me home and said I could not work until I had seen a cardiologist. I couldn’t get an appointment until the day after Thanksgiving.
On November 27th 1989 the cardiologist performed a heart catheter test and found that I had a heart disease called cardiomyopathy, which has no cure. I maybe had two years to live. I could no longer drive the trucks I loved or even work because any exertion might cause complete heart failure. My wife and I went home to tell our children and family. The next week my wife and I went to AMOCO, told them and said good-by which was really hard because I loved working there. Everybody was always so good to me. Okay you maybe think this is the end of my tanker career and life, but God had a different plan.
This was before transplantation was very successful so they gave me lots of drugs hoping to prolong my life. To keep from being bored and going crazy I went to college at the age of thirty-six. The meds and the grace of God did help me make it to my 40th birthday, but my cardiologist said I was getting worse and was sending me to a pre- transplant doctor. I said to the doctor, “I didn’t think I could have a transplant.” He said, “it is either that or death. “ “Okay I will be happy to try.” The other cardiologist put me on the transplant list, gave me some different meds, and a pager, and told me to come to the clinic every week. I went to school and clinic. I was happy when baseball and softball started so I could watch my sons and daughter play. It was at a ballgame on July 1st 1993 in Farmington NM when the pager went off (my wife had it and she was at home in Arvada CO). My sons and I boarded a plane for Denver. Time was critical; the heart was being transported from WY. We all made it and I had the transplant and it has been doing well for the past twenty-four years.
I still couldn’t work so; I finished college with a degree in accounting. Later I got a job as an accounting assistant. It didn’t pay much and I was going to lose my disability and health insurance. So, I decided to get my CDL and find a part-time driving job. This all came about four years after my transplant. I asked my doctor if he thought I could drive full time again and he said I could so I decided I would try to go back to AMOCO so I could have better pay and health insurance and do what I loved to do.
On January 1st 1997 I went back to work for AMOCO working whatever shift there was. About a month later I thought I was going to lose my job again. The company doctor wanted to know why a transplant patient was driving one of their tankers and told my boss to take me off the truck until they had more information. I had passed the DOT physical so what was the problem. The company doctor and my doctor had a discussion and they let me drive again. I drove for AMOCO until the tragic day they sold out to bp. Bp took any driver who wanted to work for them so I stayed.
Bp took over during the year 2000 and everything was about the same except they did not take care of our trucks like AMOCO did. I worked for them until December 2005 when they sold every store in Colorado and got rid of the trucks and us. Bp did the same thing Chevron did, we could not work for any carrier that delivered to the company that bought their stores for three months or we would lose our severance pay. Okay I will wait three months. Not. It was driving me crazy so I went to work for Flying J.
They needed drivers so I got hired right away. They gave me a nice Kenworth day cab and a three hole beall trailer. I mostly did the truck stops until they decided to branch out, which was a disaster. They started going to the mountains with super singles and underpowered engines and grocery stores for which they were not equipped. Also they had dispatchers that could only dispatch one load at a time. I stayed for the three months and quit. It was time to find something else. I went to Offen Petroleum where my old boss (Dean Teter) from AMOCO was working but, they wanted me to work more hours than I wanted. I told them I didn’t think it was for me. Then Dean said he knew of another company that needed a driver and would have them call me. The next day I got a call from Marly Ogden Superior Transportation. I met with him and he hired me.
I’m not sure of the exact day I started but it was April 2005. He gave me the best truck I had ever driven. It was 2006, 379 Peterbilt day cab 18 speed 425 CAT, and a 2000 five hole Beall trailer. I loved that truck. I mostly delivered locally up and down the Front Range until another company underbid us and took a lot of our work. Then it was the mountains and sometimes Utah or Wyoming or Kansas or Nebraska and once to North Dakota. Marly was good to me I had four new trucks while working there all Peterbilts. They were all good trucks but he 379 was my favorite. I had my share of war stories while I worked for Superior Transportation, but the worst ones always had to do with Loveland Pass. I lost most of the battles with that pass so I one day I asked Marly if I could just stop going to the mountains now that we had more local work. He said,” okay”. I was doing that until October 1, 2015 when Marly told us he was selling Superior Transportation to Dixon Bros. Needless to say we were all shocked, but Marly said it would be okay. Dixon would keep him as manager, us as drivers, if we wanted to stay, and the trucks and tankers. So I stayed.
Things for Dixon have been different since we lost some benefits that Superior had given us, but we gained on the pay scale. I’m still delivering petroleum products with a 579 Peterbilt, and a four hole Heil tanker, but my body is wearing out and some days are harder than others.
Many things have changed since 1975, bottom loading, vapor recovery, computer loading the trucks and tankers, the traffic, drivers, so many carriers, and waiting in line. In 1975 there was no waiting. I have had a career with many ups and downs but it has been good most of the time. Over the 37 years I have had one spill and one mix and no motor vehicle accidents except for the one in 1975. I hope to work one more year and retire when I’m 66 if my body will last that long.
Even though I will retire one day, I will never lose my love for trucks. I will miss driving them and riding in them. I will sit at my desk and look at the pictures of all the trucks I’ve driven, and remember all the adventures I had with each one.
MARK A DORRANCE