Bill Packard Commentary

Chapter 2: The lobster gig was good

Wed, 03/15/2023 - 2:30pm

The lobster gig was good, but I wanted to haul trailers.  My license would only let me drive a straight truck and there were no truck driving schools back then. I had met an owner operator who hauled poultry to the Boston area and produce back to Maine who agreed to teach me the ins and outs and let me use his truck and trailer to take the test in exchange for me helping him load and unload.  That was the beginning of a great relationship with Tim Terry.

We went to the Boston area four nights a week, delivering early in the morning, reloading with produce at Chelsea Market for delivery in Lewiston.  He was good enough to trust me with his empty truck as much as was practical, I took the test and passed on the first attempt.  I was off to the races.  

I got a job driving for a great guy hauling fish out of O’Hara’s in Rockland and back from Gloucester, Mass.  Of course, I didn’t know how to say NO, so that started trips south.  I really don’t remember exactly where. 

What does stick with me was that I would haul large slabs of frozen fish from Rockland to this place, then go around the other side of the building and load the same product from an earlier trip that had been cut up and packaged for use by the military and haul it back to Mass. or Maine.  I guess it saved labor costs.  Don’t know and didn’t care.  I was on the road. 

The most memorable trip for this owner was a bobtail (no trailer) to the panhandle of Florida to pick up an abandoned trailer left in a field.  The unit on the trailer didn’t run so off to Mobile to get that repaired, then a trip north to Indiana and from there to Newark, N.J.  It was on that trip that I realized a six-cylinder Detroit engine was not cut out for the road, or I wasn’t cut out for it, so I moved to a company hauling. You guessed it: Chickens.  

Richard Moore had pulled his equipment out of Maplewood Poultry, which left lots of loads out of Belfast.  The details are a little foggy now, but as I recall, the truck and trailer were sold to a third party and I had a lease/purchase deal for them.  At any rate, I ended up operating the truck and had a semi regular route to western Massachusetts to Adams supermarkets. 

The route included multiple stops, which represented a lot of work, but I got paid for every stop, so it increased the rate to the truck. 

One time in February 1978, instead of Western Mass., I was on my way to 125th Street in Harlem.  It was snowing. The further south I went, the more it snowed.  In Chelmsford, Mass., I got off the highway and parking in a supermarket parking lot. Called the office and suggested I divert the load to a nearby customer as it was snowing really hard. 

“Just keep going. “was the reply. 

I didn’t.  I stayed in the parking lot and every time I got up it was snowing harder than when I had laid down.  Early the next morning, the snow had let up a little and I ventured out.  Highway 495 was full of stuck cars and trucks and when I got on the Mass Pike, it was clear that things were not going well, so into the first service plaza I went. 

Lo and behold, ther was Don Shields (not the D.J., but his father)  We were monitoring the CB and catching up when a driver said the sun was out in Hartford.  Away we went.  He was lying.  Milford, Conn., was it for the night. 

I delivered a day late in NYC and that was my journey in the Blizzard of 1978.  I guess if you can drive through that, you can pretty much get through anything. 

When I think back, I’m reminded of some advice Richard Moore gave me that changed my way of thinking.

“You’ll have plenty of opportunities to exercise your equipment,” he said. “Be sure you are making money.” 

I’ll just leave it at that, but things did not work out for me at Maplewood.  As I said in the earlier piece, the trucking community was tight-knit, and everyone looked out for each other.  My good friend Tim Terry was hauling out of Penobscot Poultry across town in Belfast and Dick Hodges was looking for owner operators, so there I went.  

In the middle of this, I got married. 

Kathy had an apartment on Sea Street in Camden and even back then, the idea of a trailer truck parked in a driveway in Camden was not popular, but it was tolerated. 

We got married in November having almost no extra money and Tim Terry was my best man.  Given the situation, there was no way that a honeymoon was possible, so I kept on truckin’ while we made plans for a spring honeymoon.  Sort of. 

My folks wintered in Florida near Disneyworld so we thought that would be a great destination.  An old friend Albert French was brokering loads out of Maine, so he got us a load of medical tongue depressors and swabs out of Guilford to Atlanta in the spring and we were on our way to Disney World. I didn’t mention, but most know that Kathy had a five-year-old daughter and even if it’s your honeymoon, you can’t got to Disney World and leave a five-year-old behind. 

A couple of side stories about the five-year-old. 

We made up a bed between the seats in the cab of the truck for her.  First night we stopped, the next morning she told her mother that apparently Dad had been to that place before because in the night two ladies with brown hands and brown faces were looking in the window. 

After we got unloaded in Atlanta, we got a hotel room for the night before we reloaded for Miami. Of course, all of this was very exciting for a five-year-old.  Anyone remember when they cleaned the motel rooms, they would put a paper wrap over the toilet seat?  Tera went racing into the room, looking at everything and came out of the bathroom all excited. 

“The toilet is brand new!  They haven’t even unwrapped it!”  I’m going to end this with us getting ready to load in Atlanta for Miami.  You’ll never guess what we loaded.  Yes.  Frozen chickens.