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Trucking Country

Trucking Country: The Road to America's Wal-Mart Economy

Shane Hamilton
Copyright Date: 2008
Pages: 344
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  • Book Info
    Trucking Country
    Book Description:

    Trucking Countryis a social history of long-haul trucking that explores the contentious politics of free-market capitalism in post-World War II America. Shane Hamilton paints an eye-opening portrait of the rural highways of the American heartland, and in doing so explains why working-class populist voters are drawn to conservative politicians who seemingly don't represent their financial interests.

    Hamilton challenges the popular notion of "red state" conservatism as a devil's bargain between culturally conservative rural workers and economically conservative demagogues in the Republican Party. The roots of rural conservatism, Hamilton demonstrates, took hold long before the culture wars and free-market fanaticism of the 1990s. As Hamilton shows, truckers helped build an economic order that brought low-priced consumer goods to a greater number of Americans. They piloted the big rigs that linked America's factory farms and agribusiness food processors to suburban supermarkets across the country.

    Trucking Countryis the gripping account of truckers whose support of post-New Deal free enterprise was so virulent that it sparked violent highway blockades in the 1970s. It's the story of "bandit" drivers who inspired country songwriters and Hollywood filmmakers to celebrate the "last American cowboy," and of ordinary blue-collar workers who helped make possible the deregulatory policies of Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan and set the stage for Wal-Mart to become America's most powerful corporation in today's low-price, low-wage economy.

    eISBN: 978-1-4008-2879-1
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Transportation Studies

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Illustrations and Tables
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    (pp. 1-12)

    Armed with bricks, knives, and shotguns, angry bands of truck drivers roamed the nation’s highways in the summer of 1979, shattering windshields and slashing fellow truckers’ tires. Governors of nine states summoned National Guard troops as escalating violence caused one death and dozens of injuries. Though most remained peaceful, as many as 75,000 truckers blockaded interstates, encircled fuel pumps, parked their rigs at home, or otherwise tried to shut down the nation’s highway transportation system. Many refused to haul milk, meat, fruit, and vegetables, provoking panic buying sprees in suburban supermarkets. Midwestern meatpacking factories laid off workers and produce rotted...

  6. CHAPTER ONE Food and Power in the New Deal, 1933–42
    (pp. 13-42)

    “The city-dweller or poet who regards the cow as a symbol of bucolic serenity,” declared U.S. Circuit Court judge Jerome Frank in 1941, “is indeed naïve.” Presiding over an acrimonious legal battle involving the price of milk, Frank noted that the liquid gently coaxed from a cow’s udder might be “indispensable to human health,” but it was also responsible for “provoking as much human strife and nastiness as strong alcoholic beverages.” Frank had witnessed such nastiness firsthand as a member of the “Brains Trust” in Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal administration. As legal counsel for the Agricultural Adjustment Administration (AAA), Frank...

  7. CHAPTER TWO Chaos, Control, and Country Trucking, 1933–42
    (pp. 43-68)

    The irresistible dream of being an “independent” trucker was the central dramatic theme of the first major trucking film,They Drive by Night,released by Warner Brothers in 1940. Joe and Paul Fabrini, played by George Raft and Humphrey Bogart, are two “wildcat” truckers seeking a living hauling farm produce in California’s Imperial Valley. Driving a straight truck (“no speedway special”) purchased on credit, the Fabrinis struggle to find enough loads of apples and melons to keep the finance company from repossessing their machine. The prospects are grim; the brothers rely on a San Francisco produce broker to send loads...

  8. CHAPTER THREE Food Fights in War and Peace, 1942–52
    (pp. 69-98)

    Charles F. Brannan was trained as a lawyer and dressed like a banker, but as secretary of agriculture from 1948 through 1952, he engineered one of the century’s most vigorous attacks on corporate power in the farm and food economy. Brannan embodied the spirit of New Deal economic liberalism, having arrived in Washington in 1935 as an attorney for the Department of Agriculture’s Resettlement Administration and later serving as a regional director of the Farm Security Administration—two left-leaning agencies reviled by conservatives for attempting to boost the economic and political power of poor white and black farmers. After his...

  9. CHAPTER FOUR Trucking Culture and Politics in the Agribusiness Era, 1953–61
    (pp. 99-134)

    Robert Vandivier’s first experience as a truck driver came before he was tall enough to see over the steering wheel, hauling skim milk and grain to feed the livestock on his parents’ southern Indiana farm during the Depression. After serving briefly in World War II, he was on the verge of making a down payment on a farm when a local trucker advertised a sale on several used trucks. Without any knowledge of the livestock hauling business, Vandivier soon found himself running a ten-truck operation, hauling sheep, hogs, and cattle from the Midwest to New Jersey and West Virginia. Lawrence...

  10. CHAPTER FIVE Beef Trusts and Asphalt Cowboys
    (pp. 135-162)

    In October 1953, Bob Douthitt of Huntington Park, California, penned an angry diatribe to Secretary of Agriculture Ezra Taft Benson. The retail price of beef was skyrocketing even as cattle farmers saw their profits plummeting, and Douthitt was certain Benson could do something about it: “Men who work for a living can’t pay such prices.… What can you do between the cattle men and the Butchers? Get busy or get out [of office].” Benson ordered economists in the Agricultural Marketing Service to investigate the beef price spread. As the study progressed, both farmers and consumer advocates encouraged the USDA to...

  11. CHAPTER SIX The Milkman and the Milk Hauler
    (pp. 163-186)

    In September 1960, forty Indianapolis milkmen invaded a local supermarket, commandeered all of its shopping carts, and jammed the aisles to protest the store’s policy of underselling home-delivered milk by 28 cents per gallon. As the Indianapolis milkmen realized, chain supermarkets relied upon cheap milk to lure waves of suburbanites into their stores at least once per week; by using milk as a “loss leader,” however, the stores priced the organized milkmen out of the Indianapolis dairy market. The livelihoods of these Teamster drivers were on the line as they confronted the customers who, like millions of other Americans in...

  12. CHAPTER SEVEN Agrarian Trucking Culture and Deregulatory Capitalism, 1960–80
    (pp. 187-232)

    Born in 1933, Mike Parkhurst grew up hoping to be a journalist. He instead found himself behind the wheel of a milk truck after graduating from high school. Soon he was hauling watermelons, potatoes, fertilizer, and paper on irregular routes from Ohio to Florida to cities on the East Coast, and by 1953 Parkhurst had saved up enough money to buy a used F-7 Ford tractor and a thirty-three-foot trailer. He soon discovered constraints to the “independence” of the owner-operator trucker; one morning he awoke to a pounding on his cab door at 6 am in Mansfield, Ohio, where a...

    (pp. 233-238)

    The neopopulist sentiments that ignited the trucker protests of the 1970s helped to sweep Ronald Reagan into the presidency in 1981. Fed up with the failed economic policies of the Nixon, Ford, and Carter administrations, independent truckers were among those who firmly believed that Reagan had an answer to stagflation. Robert Thompson of Whiteville, Tennessee, explained toOverdrivemagazine that “the economy hasn’t been too good the past year,” and that he expected Reagan “to be better.” Richard Mumford of Monongahela, Pennsylvania, agreed, noting that “the price of just about everything is killing us,” and that Reagan also seemed likely...

  14. APPENDIX A Note on Quantitative Data Sources
    (pp. 239-242)
    (pp. 243-250)
  16. NOTES
    (pp. 251-292)
  17. INDEX
    (pp. 293-306)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 307-308)