Oklahoma resident Johnny Basham has been driving trucks for 34 years and he knows when he needs to stop and sleep and when he feels good enough to drive, but the latest Hours of Service rules have taken his knowledge and wisdom away by mandating when he must rest, or he loses time and miles, he said in an interview with The Trucker.
“The 14-hour rule is aggravating to comply with,” Basham said. “Face it, I’m getting older — no, I’m old. You spend 30 years acclimating your body to its biological clock and then the government in their infinite wisdom changes the rule and you’re supposed to change your body clock in a few months.”
Basham said he’s never had an accident in 34 years of driving and he won’t break the rules.
“My system must work,” he continued. “You’re told you’ve got 14 hours. I’m used to going 8 to 9 hours and taking a nap. Now I lose hours because I’m not going to drive sleepy.
“[The rule] is a safety issue in the wrong way,” he said. “There ain’t no perfect rules, the rules we lived by for 50-60 years worked. The new rule just doesn’t make sense. Why don’t you have this little rule that says if you’re tired and sleepy go to bed? There’s no freight out here worth hurting somebody over.”
And Basham has some issues with the persons who write the rules and regulations.
“Our licensing requirements are knowledge based, written by a bunch of ladies who’ve never been in a truck,” he said. “One of the men who wrote the rules thought we had bathrooms in the trucks,” when Basham and others wanted to know how they were supposed to stay in their bunk 10 straight hours when Mother Nature calls.
Basham said he hauls hazmat, which he’s pretty much done his whole driving career and thinks that the new hazmat rules are “aggravating and expensive and a joke.”
“Do you honestly think that an Arab would come over here, go to school, hire on with a company and hope they got a load?” he asked. “They’ll go to a truck stop and stick a .38 in a driver’s head and take the truck. It ain’t like an airplane; anybody can drive a truck. Killing people on the road is not his concern, it’s getting the publicity when he does” kill people with the load.
Basham, an owner-operator leased to OFS, drives regional mostly in Kansas, Oklahoma, Mississippi, Arkansas, and Texas. He’s usually out two or three days and then home, “kind of in and out two or three times a week,” he said. “Our loads are time sensitive not driving sensitive. I’m a senior driver. I’ve been here off and on for 10 years.”
The company runs three to five trucks and Basham drives the oldest truck on the lot by choice.
“I drive a ’99 Freightliner with 1.2 million miles on it. I can have any truck in the fleet,” he said, “I just have to tell my boss. I like it because it pulls good and runs good and most of the systems I can fix if they break. Guys today don’t know how to fix trucks. Two-thirds of the problems are because the trucks are old.”
Basham spent eight years and four months as a weapons technician in the Air Force. He spent five years and four months of that time overseas, including one year in Vietnam where he loaded bombs and maintained air armament systems, and “getting drunk and chasing women,” he said with a grin.
Before the military he worked at a factory and after he left the military he got into trucking.
“I came off the road a few times, for a year once; I guess it just gets in your blood,” Basham explained. “Personally I think without trucks the U.S. would be like a third world country [we’re in better shape] with the infrastructure although it’s not being very well maintained, but it’s there.”
Basham is diabetic but not insulin dependent, but does have to be careful what he eats. While speaking with The Trucker he had a nice big breakfast that he said he gets to eat about once a week when his blood sugar levels are good and his blood pressure is OK. He keeps snacks in his truck like bananas, and other fruits, and nuts and eats a sit-down meal about once a day.
“I work hard at the diabetes — you have to,” he said. “It’s getting more and more stringent to pass the physical. I take an annual physical as long as I fit within the prescribed limits of that physical that’s all I’ve got to do. I have to take mine annually where everyone else has to take it every two years.”
Back home in Del City, Okla., Basham has a girlfriend who is a former trucker herself. She’s disabled after breaking her leg and injuring her ankle in a truck wreck. Neither wants to marry at their ages.
Basham has three grown children and two grandsons, ages six years and one year. One of his sons just joined the National Guard working hazmat clean-up. They all live in Alabama and he gets to see them every two or three months when he visits his mother too.
Besides spending time with his family on his time off he, “fiddles around” doing carpentry, helps friends, and pretty much works all the time, he said.
Basham said he’s seen a change in drivers over the years.
“Younger guys are a lot less patient,” he said, “and take less pride in what they do. They have pride in the equipment, but not in what they do. Now there are exceptions to all the rules.”
The Trucker asked Basham how long he planned to drive a truck.
“Until I can’t — physically and mentally — when I’m incapable,” he answered. “I’m like most of these old guys — like I said, it gets in your blood — I guess. We’ve got a guy who drives, he’s 74 [years old]; he doesn’t have to work. He doesn’t drive hazmat. I like working for the little outfits for the same reason I hate the way government regulates.”
He said government tries to put a square peg in a round hole.
“I guess I’m pretty much a square peg for a round hole,” he added.
Barb Kampbell of The Trucker staff can be reached for comment at email@example.com.