We all talk about the good ole days, back when things were simple, easy to understand or a lot less complicated than they are today. In some ways this is true, but if you think about it, things were probably a little confusing or complex to the people trying to design or trying to drive the trucks in the good ole days.
Drivers, remember when you were first learning to drive, some caught on fast and others took a little longer to figure it out. I would say the only things good about driving a truck in the good ole days were a lot less traffic, less government regulation, and as a whole law enforcement officers were easier to work with. When you look back at how trucks were built and the overall way business was conducted, it is a lot more convenient now.
Just as a new Freightliner Cascadia is considered a top of the line over the road truck now – a 1950 Eastern Freightliner B-42 cab over was up to date and thought to be the Cadillac of big rigs then!
Early 1950s – 1970
Consolidated Freightways and later Freightliner Manufacturing based in Salt Lake City, UT, became Freightliner Corporation in 1942, led by founder Leland James. Freightliner Corporation built war materials during WWII, and after the war, they moved to Portland OR. In 1951, they entered an agreement to sell their trucks through White Motor Company.
The decade that began in 1950 saw many new inventions in our Nation. From passenger jets, NASA being organized, nationwide television, first ballpoint pen was marketed, the Chevy Corvette was the first all fiberglass body car, and 1958 was the introduction of plastic soda bottles. Freightliner introduced the “Eastern Freightliner” B-42 in 1950. It was presented as the first transcontinental cab-over-engine sleeper capable of hauling a 35-foot trailer.
It was named the “Eastern Freightliner” because it could not effectively manage the mountains of the western states. In 1954 they introduced the four-wheel drive mountaineer tractor. You can be assured that it took some time to get from point A to your destination with these tractors. They were advertised with a 64″ insulated Spacemaker Cab, the vehicles can operate on gas, diesel, or liquefied propane, making it way ahead of its time.
In 1958 Freightliner revolutionized vehicle servicing with a 90-degree tilt cab allowing mechanics access to the engine compartment. The 1960s saw many advancements in the trucking industry. The cab over was still the main design, but the sleepers were expanded a little, heaters were improved, air conditioners were introduced (not very efficient), and air ride seats were installed. A drivers comfort was progressing.
The Disco Days
In the early 1970s, the distribution agreement that Freightliner had with White Motor Company became troubled and was terminated. That opened the door for Freightliner Corp. to become a freestanding manufacturer and distributor. At this time the company introduced its first conventional model. High COEs accounted for 50% of the market at that time. Conventionals were popular in the western states and they were a great improvement to the ride in a COE tractor. Yes, they were an improvement, but an old-timer will tell you – they still beat you to death.
In 1973 Freightliner introduced its flagship truck model, named the Powerliner. It had a 2,000 square-inch radiator and an enormous 600HP engine. They had more than enough power for the mountains in the northwest and the cooling capacity for the desert southwest. The heavy-duty spring ride suspension was murder on your sore rear end. A lot of them had the Detroit GMC 671 diesel motor in them – more than enough power.
They were aptly named screaming Jimmy’s because you had to get the Rpm up around 2000 to shift gears – the noise alone was enough to wake the dead. Getting in and out of the sleeper was another story on its own, you had to be like an orangutan to get over the engine compartment (the dog house). Once you got in there, you had better not have to go to the restroom. Yes, we loved them back then – it was the best truck we had ever seen!
In 1979 President Jimmy Carter signed a law deregulating the trucking industry. Old-timers will tell you; this was not such a good deal. In 1982 the Surface Transportation Act relaxed the weight and length standards for heavy trucks, but it imposed a new excise tax on trucks and the tires they used. After these two laws went into effect, the fundamentals and rules for trucking changed forever.
The 1980s-Waylon-Willie and Outlaw Country
It was in 1981 that the Freightliner brand was sold to Daimler-Benz, allowing it to concentrate its management and financial resources to its traditional trucking business.
The 1980s might be the start of the new good ole days. Willie was going around the Nation singing “Mama Don’t Let your Babies grow up to be Cowboys” and everyone was trying to buy the largest CB, trying to talk cross-country. Computers experienced explosive growth and probably have not slowed down. Apple built the first Mac in 1884 and Nintendo took over America.
Freightliner came along with the easy access-sleeper, thus creating a high demand for conventional, long-nose trucks. The sleepers were not really convenient as you had to crawl thru a small opening to get into the sleeping compartment, but it was a big improvement. You still had the bed, just big enough for one person. Even though air ride suspensions were available for some automobiles, I don’t think they were not installed on big trucks until the late 80s, so we still had the rough and ready ride throughout most of the 80s
Freightliner started phasing out their Detroit GMC engines about the middle of the 1980s and started getting the quieter and more efficient Cummins. Most of the engines of that time were of the mechanical type, meaning they used fuel nozzles and governors. For the most part, the company trucks were governed to run a certain speed, but if you were a little mechanically inclined you could reset it to run faster. The owner-operators could run as fast as they wished fuel cost was not as much an issue as it is now.
In 1987 Freightliner came out with their first aerodynamic, conventional tractor, the FLD 112 and 120, it quickly became America’s best-selling class-8 truck. It indeed was a very modern truck at that time, the longer wheelbase, air ride suspension, and extended sleeper was a truckers dream.
It also was at that time that they introduced the Detroit Series 60 engine, a much quieter, fuel efficient motor. The Series 60 engine was an electronic engine meaning it has fuel injectors and everything is programmed into a computer. These type engines were readily available in automobiles, but the Series 60 was one of the first for large trucks. That meant mechanics needed computer training as well as all the other training necessary to work on trucks and making it almost impossible for a driver to reset any settings to the engine!
1990 – Present
The 1990s saw a real explosion in technology. Web browsers were developed and businesses started to build commercial websites. Cell phones became the norm and in the late 90s, they became affordable for people to buy. Digital cameras became popular as well as DVD and CD players.
1992 – Freightliner came out with the FLD 120 70″ sleeper that is fully integrated with the cab and had a raised roof so a person could stand up. The cab and sleeper combo were mounted on inflated airbags, and that combined with the air ride suspension was almost like driving a regular pick up truck compared to what drivers were used to at that time.
In 2000 Daimler Trucks acquired Detroit Diesel creating a very profitable relationship. In cooperation with Daimler AG, Freightliner built the only full-scale wind tunnel in North America. The wind tunnel played a significant role in the creation of the Cascadia model tractors, still one of their best-selling models.
From 1990 to present the trucking industry has seen many advancements in the technology field. Advancements in emissions technology to decrease exhaust while at the same time increasing fuel efficiency and the launch of a remote diagnostic system for all Detroit engines. Technicians can plug in remotely to diagnose engine problems. The introduction of automatic transmissions, GPS tracking, power inverters to run microwave ovens, TVs, and small refrigerators, are just some conveniences we now have on our trucks.
Sometimes, especially among older drivers, we long for the old days when things were simple, and we didn’t have all this technology to keep up with. A lot of drivers in the early 1950s may have thought the same way, trying to figure out all the new trucks and engines coming out at that time.
Just like the time back then, we have to keep up with the technology or it will pass us by. New drivers can grasp it a lot easier than the old-timers. That is why we talk about the good ole days. When you really think about it they were not as good as they are now, as far as driver comfort. Big trucks now are built a lot better than homes were built, years ago.
We have many, many more conveniences that we had in the past. If we didn’t have to deal with crazy four wheelers (cars), DOT enforcement, traffic jams, and dispatchers we can’t get along with, we could drive down the road in luxury and not have any complaints. That is most of us wouldn’t complain!!
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Thank You for reading my short post and as always leave your comments below!