Letters to the editor

Copyright 2001 FleetWatch magazine and FleetWatch On-Line.

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September 2001





In America's darkest hour, the trucking industry of the USA opened its heart and came to the fore magnificently in helping not only those in New York and Washington D.C. but the entire country. By their actions, members of this industry proved to be corporate citizens of the highest order. FleetWatch managing editor, Patrick O'Leary, pieces together a few of their actions to bring our readers this special report on how, when the whole world came to a stop on that fateful day on September 11th, American truckers kept on rolling.

Work crews lift a fire truck from the debris of the collapsed World Trade Center in Lower Manhattan. Hundreds of firefighters who tried to save thousands trapped in the center's two towers following the terrorist attack went missing in the rubble.
 (AP Photo/Charles Krupa. Sourced from PictureNet)

NOW IS THE TIME FOR OUR NATION to come together and the entire trucking industry stands with President Bush in our commitment to ensure that America continues to move forward during the trying days ahead."

These words of Bill Canary, interim president and CEO of the American Trucking Associations, were spoken on that terrible day on September 11th when two hijacked planes flew into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in New York, another into the Pentagon in Washington D.C. and a fourth crashed in Pennsylvannia after, it seems, a brave attempt by passengers to overcome the hijackers.

Canary went on to urge that all commercial trucks drive with their lights on and, if possible, to place the American flag on their trucks to signify the trucking industry's united stand with President Bush and all Americans.

Never more proud
And the trucking industry responded in grand style. As ATA media relations director Mike Russell says: "I was never more proud to represent the trucking industry than I was on September 11th when I could look out one side of the ATA headquarters and see the black smoke billowing from the Pentagon and then look out the other side and see 18 wheelers still moving the nation's freight." 

Bill Overstreet, 49, of Salt Lake City, Utah, adjusts an American flag on the truck he drivers for Ken Wood Trucking out of Selalia. He was just one of thousands of American truckers who responded to the ATA's call for truckers to place the American flag on their trucks to signify the trucking industry's united stand with President Bush and all Americans.
(Photograph by Jeff Malet, Los Angeles)

It is a tribute to American truckers that they quickly gathered their wits about them to act positively rather than be immobilised by the tragic event. Jim Johnston, president of the Owner Operator Independent Drivers Association, says that within minutes after the first airplane crashed into the World Trade Center in New York, they started receiving phone calls from professional trucker members asking how they could help the victims.

"They offered to make themselves and their equipment available to transport emergency supplies that might be needed by the emergency personnel at the sites in New York and Washington, D.C."

The Pennsylvania Motor Truck Association asked members to let it know if they had drivers or equipment available to donate for transportation of relief supplies if necessary, while many New Jersey trucking companies recalled their drivers and were standing by to provide emergency deliveries to beleaguered Manhattan. Emergency officials also asked for refrigerated trailers for use as temporary morgues and the New Jersey Motor Truck Association was among those asking members to help in this regard.

Two brand names which symbolised America - the World Trade Centre and a Coke truck - were together destroyed on the fateful day. The terrorists succeeded in hitting at the heart of the American psyche.
(Photo by Steven Hirsch of Sygma)

Hauling away the rubble
Truck manufacturers also came forward with the Volvo Group offering the use of Volvo and Mack heavy-duty trucks and construction equipment - at the company's expense - to New York City for its ongoing emergency rescue and recovery operations. Others also offered their rigs to haul away the rubble of the collapsed towers.

And it wasn't only services that the industry came forward with. ATA member Yellow Corporation quickly donated $100 000 to the Red Cross' Disaster Relief Fund and other members supplied plenty of support in the search and rescue effort. Truckers were also among those who lined up at hospitals to donate blood.

This was the immediate response - and the enthusiasm continued unabated over the following days with trucks rolling in with supplies to the scarred section of Lower Manhattan while others were there to haul away the rubble.

In fact, such was the response from the industry that the government had to step in after a few days to ask the trucking industry to help stem to tide of trucks loaded with donations. Americans from all over the USA had opened their hearts with donations of food, clothes and other goods and truckers, who had volunteered their services to haul the goods, were arriving in New York to warehouses and donation assembly points which were full.

Throughout the USA, truckers like these responded to the crisis by putting on hold their own emotions and feelings and going all out to keep the wheels of the economy turning while America struggled to find a way forward through the turmoil.

We've got to get there
Gail Toth, executive director of the New Jersey Motor Truck Association, says she had trucking companies calling her saying they had loads of donations but didn't know where to go. "The carriers said I have a load of this. I have a load of that. We've got to get there. On the other hand, we had the receivers of the donations such as the Red Cross, the Salvation Army and the Federal Emergency Management Adminsitration all saying they had no more room."

Came the 18th of September and Toth says trucks full of goods were waiting all over the metropolitan area while many more were still on the way. "They're all over the place," she said.

She then contacted as many trucking organisations as she could asking them to pass onto their members that they shouldn't pick up any more donations. By that time, the authorities had designated five metropolitan warehouses to accept incoming donations but there was still a backlog of trucks to be unloaded - and more were on the way.

It may sound a hassle but it was a good hassle to deal with. As Toth says: "The trucking industry has stood up and done an excellent job. Inbetween doing their regular work, they've been volunteering left and right all over the place doing all kinds of loads."

Without doubt, the trucking industry of America had responded to the call of ATA interim president and CEO to "ensure that America continues to move forward during the trying days ahead."

In a telephone chat with FleetWatch editor Patrick O'Leary about a week after the blasts, ATA media relations director Mike Russell said the trucking industry had performed exceptionally and not only in delivering donations to the affected areas.

We did it
"With all air traffic grounded, it was up to the trucks to carry the loads. They took on the US Mail; they took on some of the goods from FedEx which would normally have gone by air; they took on everything and in doing so, kept the wheels of America rolling. This has been a test - and a testament - to the versatility of the trucking industry and its ability to adapt to changing needs. We are the firewall. If we don't do it, there's no-one behind us. And we did it." 

He also complimented the truck drivers many of whom, he says, are former military men. "They have that extra determination and focus to ensure that the task that needed to be done was done."

This perhaps explains how the trucks got through when chaos reined on all sides. Soon after the blast, all bridges and tunnels in and out of New York were closed and all truck traffic was literally brought to a halt in the New York area. Yet the truckers somehow managed to keep the wheels rolling.

Whether it was transporting relief supplies or keeping America's freight moving when her airspace was closed, trucking proven the vital role it plays in society.

By their actions, the truckers of America proved that when the call for help goes out, they are there to answer the call - unstintingly and without reservation. For that, they must be saluted and as kindred spirits, FleetWatch salutes you one and all from across the ocean in South Africa.


Our cover trucker Kevin Marino symbolises the determination of the American trucking industry to stand behind its President and its country during this time of crisis.
(Photo by Jeff Malet, Los Angeles. Sourced from PictureNet)


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