There’s debate as to whether there’s an actual net shortage of truck drivers to drive available trucks or a shortage of drivers wanting to make trucking a career. One thing is for sure, though: the industry has a huge problem retaining drivers and turning a driving job into a career. Why? It’s a tough job for both driver and family at home when they have to deal with extended periods away, insufficient pay for the time involved, poor working conditions, lots of lonely miles and sleepless nights, poor treatment by shippers and receivers, and the never-ending on-road harassment from car drivers and enforcement officials.
That couldn’t be further from the image portrayed by Hollywood in the 1970s as American pop culture embraced the trucker and biker lifestyle. CB radios became the popular electronic gadget, and trucker lingo entered everyday life. Truck drivers’ larger-than-life personalities and big rigs made for some of the most iconic movies ever. Of course, movies about the open road began long before with great hits such as “Thieves Highway,” made in 1949 about a war-veteran-turned-truck driver hauling apples to San Francisco, played by Richard Conte.
Fascination with the open road
The fascination for the open road was also made popular by the TV Series Then Came Bronson in 1969, starring Michael Parks as a vagabond biker searching for the meaning of life in his Harley Davidson Sportster. What followed was nothing short of breathtaking as Hollywood enlisted some of the biggest names in movie history to play various trucker roles.
The list includes Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, Dennis Weaver, Kris Kristofferson, Chuck Norris, Burt Reynolds, Sally Fields, Jerry Reed, Claude Aitkins, Gina Davis, Susan Sarandon, Patrick Swayze, Jackie Gleason, James Brolin, Jan-Michael Vincent, Ernest Borgnine, Hugh Jackman, Rip Torn, Melanie Griffith, Kurt Russell, Forrest Tucker, Liam Neeson, and Mel Gibson. Wait… even Mel Gibson played roles as a trucker?
Iconic trucker movies are not exclusive to Hollywood, as it turns out. Disney Studios (formerly Fox Studios) now has a movie-making facility in Sydney, Australia, where movies such as Happy Feet, X-Men Wolverine, Thor: Love & Thunder, The Matrix, Moulin Rouge, and Mission Impossible II were made. One of the great Australian trucker movies was also made there – the 2013 box office hit Mad Max: Fury Road starring Mel Gibson. He also starred in 1979 hit Mad Max driving an R-600 Coolpower Mack set in post-apocalyptic Australia, followed by Mad Max 2 (1981) and Mad Max: Fury Road involving a Czech Republic-made Tatra T815 wrecker and R-600 steel cab Mack known affectionately as “Flintstones” by Australia truckers.
What’s all of this got to do with the driver shortage?
We only need to look at when the last box-office hit movie about truckers was made to answer that question. Even though more were made after it, 1998 is when most experts agree the last popular trucker movie hit theatres starring Meatloaf, Randy Travis, and Patrick Swayze in Black Dog, a movie about a truck driver and an ex-con who is tricked into hauling illegal firearms in a 379 Peterbilt. What preceded this movie were dozens of smash hits over a 30-year period that attracted hundreds of thousands of aspiring truckers to the industry. With the lifting of licensing requirements by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the 1970s, an operating license was no longer required, allowing the average citizen to use a CB radio to listen to the truck drivers’ conversations. Trucker lingo became mainstream as a result.
From classic movies like Smokey and the Bandit to TV Series like B.J. and The Bear, CB Radios and trucker lingo fascinated everyone. According to Jimmy Mac from the RadioNemo Show on SiriusXM Road Dog Radio Channel 146, they attracted a generation of truckers now in retirement or getting close to it, with insufficient truckers following closely behind them. The problem today is that absent Hollywood movies glorifying the national trucker, we have the opposite, where disrespect, frustration, and road rage fill the airwaves and social media. Attracting drivers to an industry like trucking is hard and getting harder. Many new entrants see truck driving as something to do between other jobs, with few seeing it as a viable profession to build a career.
What was your CB handle if you had one in the 70s and 80s?
Many don’t even see a CB Radio as a lifesaving piece of safety technology, let alone have a CB handle like “Rubber Duck,” “Pig Pen,” or “The Boston Trucker.” What was your handle if you were one of the hundreds of thousands that used CB radios in the 70s and 80s?
Some large fleets even go as far as not installing CB radios because they fear it would distract their rookie drivers rather than keep them connected with their surroundings, especially during hazardous winter whiteout conditions, most likely saving their lives.
Yes, blame it on Hollywood, but of course, the solution to finding and keeping drivers in the trucking industry is much bigger than a movie, but it’d be a great place to start.
How about Tom Cruise starring in “You Want it Delivered When?” where he plays a trucker trapped at a receiver warehouse for 36 hours trying to unload his million-dollar time-sensitive cargo resorting to never-before-seen stunts to get unloaded? I’d go see that movie.
After all, Navy and Air Force recruiters saw a 500% increase in applications following “Top Gun” in 1986.