LOST HIGHWAY

Updated: Feb 16

AMERICAN ROAD GHOSTS



"The years keep flying by like the highline poles."


Times may change, but one thing in trucking that still remains the same is that the road is still the road. Miles are traveled from behind the wheel, second by second, minute by minute, and hour by hour. The men and women who delivered America from decades gone by are never forgotten at Semi Freaks. The trucks of yesteryear were once state-of-the-art machines, and were a truckers home-away-from-home, the same as today's modern haulers. Prior to the deregulation of trucking in 1980 and STAA Act in '82, there were strict length laws and the "Cab-Over-Engine" trucks dominated the US Interstates. COE trucks were mostly shorter chassis trucks to offer more cargo in the trailers and also to give more maneuverability in the big cities. By having the driver sit above the engine and eliminating the hood, meant more space or length savings on a semi truck. Once the length laws were relaxed after deregulation, the cabover trucks were all but earmarked for extinction in the American class 8 market.



From a time period beginning around the 1950's - 1980's Cabover trucks reigned supreme on the American Interstates. There were no less than a dozen manufacturers vying for market share - each one designed, developed, and sold cabover truck models. As one example, and probably* the true origin of COE trucks lies at the foot of the Freightliner Corporation. Freightliner was born out of the necessity for lightweight, specialized trucks to run the Pacific Northwest for the Consolidated Freightways Corp (CF). The CF founder, Leland James, went to various manufacturers at the time to accommodate CF's design needs, only they never found a manufacturer that could meet the criteria they sought for their CF fleet.

James took matters into his own hands to solve their truck needs, so he hand selected a group of company mechanics and they set out to re-tool existing Fageol trucks into trucks that met their needs. By modifying the truck cabs to ride above the front axle, they gained valuable cargo space to meet the length laws. They built an all-aluminum cab for weight savings as well. Their new engineering developments ended up with a COE truck that was able to pull longer trailers over the mountains in the Pacific Northwest. They were so successful in their endeavors, that soon after, other trucking companies began ordering new trucks from CF. FREIGHTLINER Corporation (derived from the Consolidated Freightways name) was est. in 1942. FREIGHTLINER only manufactured COE trucks from their inception and that lasted for more than 30 years. Their first conventional truck (truck with a hood) was offered in late '75. Ironically, the company that offered only COE trucks from their beginning, now leads the industry today with conventional trucks!

There are millions of truckers in the US today that have never driven a COE truck. There also are millions of dinosaur bones that have been discovered - each fossil bone indicating a vibrant past of a long ago species. Although it's not that uncommon to see a 1967 Kenworth K100 rolling into a truck show as it would be to see a Tyrannosaurus Rex at a Love's fuel island - it's someday going to be similar. We here at SEMI FREAKS are making certain that trucking's past is never forgotten, and the COE trucks especially. SEMI FREAKS is reviving American trucking's past in every conceivable way. If we could, we would have our own time machine that will take us back to any Skelly's Truck Stop, with the flick of a switch. Since that isn't possible (yet) we rely on vintage photos and archival elements of the COE fossil record in order to preserve the past. in order to COE trucks live here in spirit, as well as at our Humane Society For Trucks where we keep many cabover trucks alive and well.

There are plenty of older drivers (now retired) that drove COE trucks for millions of miles over their career as professional truckers. Ray O'Hanesian comes to the top-of-mind. Ray ordered a 1958 "Bullnose" Kenworth /KDC925C (even though Kenworth stopped making those particular models in 1957, they built him one special). Special it was, as Ray drove that KW over 6 million accident-free miles all the way into the mid-2000's! So Ray may be King of the Road in the cabover class, there were hundreds of thousands of drivers who made cabovers their preferred trucks. Some drivers hated them, but most loved them. As a kid growing up, my childhood was filled with COE trucks; toys, games, model kits, magazines (like Overdrive and Owner Operator), movies - cabovers were all over the streets and highways.

Full disclosure - we are FREAKS for cabover trucks, we don't discriminate. Please look through the galleries and behold the majestic metal machines known as the cabover semi trucks. Study the character from manufacturer to manufacture. In the golden era of trucking, there was a constant tug-of-war was being waged from the many truck makers. Lighter trucks, more powerful diesel engines, air-ride suspensions, bold styling, creature comforts like air conditioning - you name it, something was being developed and innovated into the COE class 8 trucks.

What a glorious era it was. Each COE truck on the road had something notable or signature about it. The engineers and designers of the day were in a new age. The 50's saw the advent of the US Interstate Highway System, and the sleeper trucks took off when new freeways connected the coasts as the "over-the-road" era begun. The 60's ushered in the space race, and new manufacturing techniques and manufacturers were able to develop better aerodynamic properties, lightweight materials, and integrated sleeper berths were the new standard. The chosen vocation of being a professional trucker was becoming very popular. Team drivers were now common as the demand in the manufacturing / goods and services sectors were booming. Truck manufacturers were setting the pace for the future. The COE trucks were dominant in the market. FREIGHTLINER developed the first ever integrated "double sleeper" berth on their flagship WFT cabover model. They introduced the new double-bunk as the"Vanliner." The industry took notice. The Vanliner was soon followed by Kenworth and their introduction of a 110" double-bunk sleeper in their cabover K-100 series. The KW now had a bigger double-bunk - the tug-of-war continued! Today, virtually every truck for the past few decades has standard double sized sleepers.

"The years keep flying by like the highline poles." That lyric from Merle Haggard's White Line Fever song sums up the trucking industry of today.

There are only a small handful of semi truck manufacturers in comparison to only a few decades ago. In the US, some do still build COE trucks, but mainly for the European and International markets, or specialty vehicle segments. Europe still is predominantly reliant on the cabover style of truck, mainly because of the old, if not ancient infrastructure of the cities, and lack of a US type of Interstate systems, due in part to the geography. We salute the European and International cabovers delivering freight to the masses. Volvo and Scania being the top Euro manufactures (they make some nice cabover semi trucks)! Volvo bought the American Mack Trucks brand in 2000, so there are tentacles to the American cabovers of the past whenever you see a European Volvo. Before that merger, Volvo bought White/GMC Trucks in the late 80's. Prior to that buy-out, GMC purchased White Trucks, so the class 8 manufacturing sector was being absorbed by bigger nameplates as the market shrank. Sadly, the "golden era" of American trucking, and the cabover trucks have long past. The last exit came and went. If you spot a cabover truck on the interstate today - take a picture of it - it's basically a ghost of the road - believe in ghosts!

Being a SEMI FREAK means that you have a passion for all things truck. If you like the modern haulers of today, there is a lot to like, technology has made today's trucker jobs quite nice compared to the past. After all, truckers from every decade deliver everything you can think of and they have done it, and still do it