"When dawn spreads its paintbrush on the plain, spilling purple... ," Sons of the Pioneers theme for TV show "Wagon Train." Dawn on the mythic Santa Fe Trail, New Mexico, looking toward Raton from Cimarron. -- Clarkphoto. A curmudgeon artist's musings melding metaphors and journalism, for readers in more than 150 countries.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Truck Nation, on the road

How many trucks, what do they cost, how many miles per gallon...So many questions in an eight hour drive down The 40, a river of trucks east and west.

Answers were digital--first Google, of course, looking for sources. Then former student Shannon Helton, who works for the Oklahoma Trucking Association chided me gently for not contacting her, after she read a Facebook post. 

She asked if I was interested in changing careers, nothing that many retired professors get in the business.  Hmmm, I thought. then she started answering questions.  I have her to thank for much of this material which gives an idea of the cope of Truck Nation.

"It's like a whole other world that exists in the shadows," she said. "An industry that keeps our country going and yet the majority of the public takes it for granted."

The I-40 River in the Texas Panhandle
Did you know that Oklahoma has 12,829 licensed tractor-trailers, and 197,980 trailers? She said there are about 3.5 million drivers in the country which might mean about five million semis.

Oklahoma's user fee is $2,593 a year per truck, plus a $993 annual registration fee. There are apportioned tags where they pay taxes for each state they travel in according to how many miles they travel in that state. They pay a flat fee for the state in which they are domiciled. 

 The trucks usually have two fuel tanks, from 200 or 500 gallons each, with 300 being fairly typical. Multiply that by the cost of diesel per gallon which includes lots more taxes, by the number of trucks...and that's a lot of fuel addiction. In 1982 the average miles per gallon was four. In 2006 it was six. Highest reported is close to nine, and as low as 1.7.  The average is between five and 8. Of course it depends on terrain and loads.  By comparison, a military tank with the same diesel engine can average two gallons per mile, one source reported, nothing that is not a typo. Those tires on the 18 wheelers...probably about $500 a tire, with about 15 pounds of steel in each tire. 

Think about all those expenses. I saw one trailer advertising paying drives 39.5 cents a mile. Let's see, that means  if a drive drove 11 straight hours at 70 mph, he/she'd make $304.50 that day. 

Consider the cost of goods you buy. We had a visiting Aussie friend tell us the cost of Aussie wine was the same in Oklahoma as back home. How do they do it?

Now conservatives against big socialist government aren't going to like this but that meddling federal government restricts the number of hours drives can drive. Did you know:
  • Drivers may drive a maximum of 11 hours after 10 consecutive hours off duty.
  • A driver may not drive beyond the 14th hour after coming on duty, following 10 consecutive hours off duty.
  • A driver may not drive after 60/70 hours on duty in 7/8 consecutive days.
  • A driver may restart a 7/8 consecutive day period after taking 34 or more consecutive hours off duty.
  • Drivers using the sleeper berth provision must take at least 8 consecutive hours in the sleeper berth, plus 2 consecutive hours either in the sleeper berth, off duty, or any combination of the two.
I know, that may be more than you want to know, but think about it the next time you travel The 40 or The 35, or around the state. 

Add one note to emphasize how we are Truck Nation. It's also a national security risk. Stop and think. Remember how the grocery shelves clears out in a day or two with this year's blizzard? You could paralyze Oklahoma City, and the grocery shelves would soon empty if you blew up five Interstate bridges: The Canadian on The 40 and on The 35 at Norman, The Cimarron on the 35 north of Guthrie, over Lake Eufaula, and somewhere on the Turner Turnpike. Almost every city is so vulnerable.

All of this written, I find a world of poetry and grace and wonder on the road with the big trucks. Not the Hollywood version of Smokey and the Bandit, but of the real drivers, the different grills and makes and sleepers and cargos and license plates and logos and trailers and truck stops and more.

Keep on truckin'.

Truck Nation, New Mexico, on The 40. Hey, if it's blurry, look how fast I'm going.


  1. Great post. The truckers use loads and loads of fuel. There is a big effort right now to create corridors where liquified natural gas ("lng") would be available for trucks. The cost and emissions savings would be huge, plus it would reduce our dependence on imported oil.

  2. I don t have the time at the moment to fully read your site but I have bookmarked it and also add your RSS feeds. I will be back in a day or two. thanks for a great site. tow truck near me


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.