"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...Traveling "The 40," part one

I-40, New Mexico

 I've probably spent more time on what is now I-40 than any other highway. I traveled it before it was I-40 when it was Route 66, while it was under construction, and uncountable times since, especially between Oklahoma and New Mexico.

Most recently and increasingly, I'm fascinated by what I've come to call "Truck Nation." My wife hates traveling the road because of the big rigs, and I'll admit, it is much more heavily traveled than some other interstates, but still, a day on I-40 is exhilarating to the imagination.

I have two games on the road--mapping the different license plates, and counting the trucks per mile. That's where this article comes from. Based on several trips, I can safely estimate that during daylight there are about 10 semi-trucks barreling along every mile of I-40 between here and Albuquerque--on one side. 

If you double it, that means there are roughly 1,000 semis on that stretch of road right now, and every hour--not counting  the ones in truck stops or parked alongside the road. Multiply that times all the Interstates, especially in heavily populated areas, and boggles the mind.

Consider the costs. Consider the people. Consider the jobs. Consider the cargos. Consider the food in the grocery stories. Consider the finances and incomes and environment and sociology and families.

Writer Larry McMurtry has traveled many of them and written about them in "Roads." http://www.amazon.com/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=larry+mcmurtry+roadsWhile he hasn't traveled I-40, he has "The 35," as he calls them all as specific names. Makes sense, because he compares them, not to America's railroads, but to America's rivers for delivering commerce--like the Missouri, the Mississippi, the Ohio.

And traveling The 40, you have to conclude that Ike's brainstorm of a national defense highway network is no longer that. In fact, we don't need Interstates for cars. The main reason for Interstates? Modern rivers for semi-trucks.

If you want to know what it's like driving one of these modern day river boats, here's the best source. My favorite writer, John McPhee http://www.amazon.com/John-McPhee/e/B000AQ4582/ref=ntt_athr_dp_pel_pop_1in his book "Uncommon Carriers," fulfills every boys dream of stepping up in such a cab. In both the initial and concluding essays in the book, McPhee crossed the United States on two different trips with Don Ainsworth, the driver  an 80,000-pound eighteen-wheeler--a gleaming chemical tank carrier. What skill and adventure.

As I was heading home recently, somewhere west of Sana Rosa, I started wondering about the the costs and the numbers.

The exclamation point came up the railroad behind Burlington Northern Santa Fe (that name is obscene to me--it's the Santa Fe) locomotives and a container train....heading for more trucks.

If it's a little blurry, consider the conditions  when it was taken. While between me and it, more trucks...

So i stopped at an Oklahoma company  truck stop, Love's, to get a sandwich and gas up. Doesn't that tell you how Truck Nation is dominant. More questions to be answered.


  1. I lived in Oklahoma City and worked in Weatherford and drove I40 every day for years and saw and heard about all sorts of stuff.

    My favorite was the old Winnebago that supposedly had hookers. It was parked at various truck stops up and down I40. I don't know if it was true or not but it made a great story.

    Then there were the semi trucks traveling between the Pantex plant in Amarillo (where nuclear weapons are fabricated) and the nuclear plant in Oak Ridge, escorted front and back by vans containing very serious looking guys. All traveling at about 55 mph.

    Lots of stories about I40. Some might even contain a grain of truth.

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