A Journal looks at 90

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As 2001 slips away, I couldn’t pass up the chance to note that CCJ turned 90 this year. The first issue of Commercial Car Journal – so called because trucks were little more than cars with cargo beds back then – was published in March 1911.

We share our birthyear with some significant events and developments, including: the first Indianapolis race; the first Diamond T truck; the first electric starter, lighting and horns; and the formation of Chevrolet, General Motors Truck, Eaton and Midland-Ross.

CCJ was there in 1913 when our nation dedicated the 3,400-mile, coast-to-coast Lincoln Highway. And in 1917, when Goodyear demonstrated that pneumatic tires are practical for heavy trucks, in the Akron-to-Boston experiment with its “Wingfoot Express” truck. And let’s not forget 1931, when Clessie Cummins introduced the first truck diesel engine in America.

But what’s surprising about looking over early issues of CCJ is that the concerns, challenges, goals and rewards of trucking were pretty much the same as those of today. Information on operating costs, government regulations, maintenance, vehicle utilization, and greater efficiency through technology dominate the magazine’s pages, old and new.

Editorial Director Avery Vise and I recently contemplated this phenomenon. “There’s an ad for a tachograph in the very first issue,” he chuckled. True. The lollipop-shaped Jones recorder used a circular, calibrated card that made one revolution every 24 hours, while a moving stylus recorded how long a truck was operated. Vehicle speed wasn’t much of an issue then, due to primitive engines with modest horsepower, and most cities’ 6-mph speed limit.

Speaking of horsepower, for those who were not yet convinced of the cost benefits of hauling by truck versus horse, CCJ published a chart, “Comparative costs of hauling by horses and by motor trucks,” in the same issue. The chart noted that, while the cost per ton-mile for a one-horse wagon was 36 cents, it was only 20 cents for a one-ton truck.

Early issues of CCJ were crammed with articles debating the value of new technologies, much as we might debate the virtues of synthetic versus mineral-based oils today. And advertisements, as today, stoutly promoted products as keys to better performance.

One of my favorites is a 1916 ad from West Steel Casting of Cleveland. It says “The handwriting on the wall.” In the background, a mysterious hand has written, “Wooden wheels are doomed for heavy trucks.” Some 75 years later, you could have substituted “manual slack adjusters” and re-run the ad.

Finally, if you long for the good, old days of less government scrutiny and regulation of trucking, consider the following: “According to chairman William Sohier, commissioner Joseph Synan and engineer Arthur Dean, of the Massachusetts Highway Commission, trucks are to blame for the bad state of roads. They claim that the only solution is another tax on [trucks]…”

That was a CCJ news item from June 1916.

From what I can see of the past 90 years, players have come and gone, but the song remains the same. Play on, kick the tempo up a notch, and have a great Holiday Season – see you in 2002.

Paul Richards is editor of Commercial Carrier Journal. E-mail prichards@eTrucker.com.