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Modern Living: Voices on the Road

4 minute read

A raspy voice shatters the static, like the roar of a Mack truck rolling by a Volkswagen: “Breaker, break to any westbound diesel. Is the chicken coop open up ahead?” The answer crackles back from the cab of an 18-wheeler lumbering across Indiana: “It’s open and the hen is inside the little white church.”

Though an outsider might think that the truck drivers had designs on Farmer Brown’s henhouse, they are actually talking about a roadside weighing station (“little white church”) equipped with scales (“chicken coops”) and manned by state inspectors (“hens”).

They are speaking hi the new highway patois of Citizen’s Band radio, a shortwave system now open to public use.

Since last year, thousands of drivers have bought CB sets; the fad is most popular in the Midwest.

They often use their radios to avoid inspectors and cops, relay messages home, and call for help in case of accident. Mostly they use CB to gab away the lonely miles. Despite union and federal regulations aimed at limiting driving time, many solo truckers push on for 14 hours per day. CB, they say, helps them to stay alert. It is even replacing the pep pills (“road aspirins”) frequently used on long hauls.

Unlicensed Ears. CB is safer than drugs and the price is right: the standard set is only $150. Avoiding just a few overweight fines pays for the radio.

“There ain’t no way I can make money if I do everything legal,” confesses CB Trucker Bill Hostetter, who revs his big van out of Peoria, Ill.

Although the FCC requires CB licenses ($20 per set) and call numbers, few truckers bother with such details.

Their unlicensed “ears,” or antennas, waggle from their cabs, picking up signals about 15 miles away. In lieu of call numbers, truckers prefer more personal “handles.” These nicknames rip through the air waves, sounding like the cast of Looney Tunes; Woodpecker tears by hi the night with his co-driver Stogie; Number One Nose Picker noses ahead of his good buddy Squirrel. Not to be outhandled, other truckers are known as Popper Stopper, Bootlegger, Mule Skinner and Silver Fox. Even the handful of women truckers enter the naming game. Granny Go Go, Lovey Dovey and Truckin’ Mama barrel on down the highway with the boys.

Aggravator is by far the best-known woman, burning up the CB waves with nonstop chatter. “She’s built like a gorilla,” says one trucker. “And her husband Earthquake ain’t never said a word on the air.” In many cases, CB pals never meet or learn each other’s real names.

One of the terms heard most frequently on truckers’ CB is “smokey bear”—the highway patrolman. The air waves virtually stutter with cries of “Breaker, break!” (the standard shortwave request to cut in on a channel) when a smokey sets up his radar. “You better get green stamps [cash] ready,” warns a gruff voice on the Indiana toll road. One trooper even ticketed a trucker for urinating by the roadside. That cop’s handle is now Fly Inspector. A more common offense is riding overweight, which can result hi a fine of several hundred dollars. Some gutsy drivers sneak around weigh stations on secondary roads. If nabbed, an outlaw driver can be jailed as well as fined. As the CB network widens, however, the number of fines grows smaller.

Surprisingly, the truckers’ talk is generally cuss-free—and not because of the FCC regulations against swearing on radio. Perhaps the most jarring words dirtying the air waves belch from Number One Nose Picker: “That mother truckin’ fud pucker!” screams Picker when a “four-wheeler” (passenger car) gets in his way. Most are family men who still refer to their wives as “the better half.” GOD is MY CO-PILOT signs often dangle above the dashboard.

Lately the drivers have made their networks more elaborate by establishing “base stations” in the homes of friends along the highways. Chet Haas, 64, monitors and relays national weather and road reports to passing trucks from his house on the Indiana toll road. Truck stops, too, are getting on the CB wave length, urging drivers low on gas to come in for a fill-up. At the Quaker State Plaza on Interstate 80 in Pennsylvania, employees with handles like Flip Dizzy, Blondie and Squirt hear from customers regularly. “Get that coffee hot, honey,” orders a trucker through the static. ” ‘Cause I’m only two miles away.”

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