Memories of Dad’s Truck Driving
Written by Dana Miller
Those who knew Lyle well would say that he was a truck driver for most of his life and would be correct. If I remember correctly, his first truck driving job was for Uncle LeGrande Miller. He drove a small grain truck, the type with dual wheels on a single rear axle, hauling grain from farmers’ fields to the grain elevators.
My first recollection of Dad’s driving was in the mid-1950’s when he hauled cars out of California to the intermountain west. As a child, it was such a thrill to have that truck parked in front of the house because I could climb all over it. Few things fuel a young boy’s imagination like sitting behind the wheel of a genuine, open-top military jeep. He may have been part owner of the truck, perhaps in partnership with Clairon Allen. The other kids may remember the two car ramps we had kicking around forever.
For most of my childhood, Dad drove for E. A. Miller and Sons’ (E.A.’s) trucking division, Miller Brothers. I believe that Dad and Clairon Allen were E.A.’s first two truck drivers. Although the first truck Dad drove for E.A.’s was gas powered and he pulled a straight deck, steel trailer, he did get one of the first diesel-engine trucks they purchased. The attached photo is dated February 1963. It shows a narrow-nosed, maroon and white Peterbilt with an aluminum sleeper. The trailer is a double deck, aluminum Wilson model that was quite a chore to load. To get cattle into the front, you had to herd them up a ramp in the rear, onto the upper middle deck, then down a ramp into the “nose” of the trailer. When you arrived at your destination, the sequence was reversed. Can you imagine all of the times Dad was up in a trailer, trying to get some ornery livestock to cooperate? More than once he received minor injuries when kicked by a cow or when a cow backed up against a partially closed gate just as Dad was trying to latch it.
During this time, E.A.’s bought most of their cattle from auctions in northern Utah, southwestern Idaho and southern Montana. Most trips could be completed in a single day. If, for example, Lynn Miller was buying cattle at the Idaho Falls auction, he’d call Dad part-way through the auction to let him know he expected to have enough for a full load. Before the I-15 freeway was completed in the late 1960’s, it took about 4 hours to make the 180-mile drive to Idaho Falls. Leaving Hyrum at 1 p.m., Dad arrived in Idaho Falls about the time the auction finished. Once the paperwork, brand inspection and bills of health were all squared away, he’d load and head back to Hyrum, usually getting home around 10 p.m.
Because Mom was such a worrier, Dad kept her pretty well-informed about what time to expect him back in Hyrum. She and one or more of the children, usually drove down to E.A.’s to meet him. Sometimes he would still be on the north side of the building, unloading. At other times, we’d find him at the washout pit, cleaning out his trailer. If he was ahead of schedule, he’d be pulled up to the fuel pumps on the northeast corner of the Miller Brothers building.
It was a real treat to pitch in to help Dad with these trip end chores. Two tasks that I often helped with stand out in my mind. Since the cattle were bought based on live weight, the ranchers would really stuff them with feed and water before the critters went across the auction block and scales. Well, all that food has to come out sometime…usually in the trailer on the way to Hyrum. That meant 2-3 inches of runny cow manure in the bottom of the trailer that had to be scooped and sprayed out. Even though I was young, I could handle a scoop shovel and wasn’t afraid to get dirty. Cache Valley’s cold winters presented another challenge because, in sub-zero temperatures, the manure would freeze solid. We’d work with a long pry bar, breaking the manure into manageable chunks that could then be pushed out of the trailer.
At this time, E.A.’s drivers were expected to keep their own tractor and trailer clean and, characteristically, Dad took great pride in his rig’s appearance. So, once the trailer was all cleaned out, next came washing it inside the shop. My specialty was cleaning the top of the cab and sleeper, exhaust stacks and truck wheels. Because the top of the cab and sleeper was white, it showed the dirt and soot easily. I clearly remember sliding across the top of the cab in the sudsy water, wash mitt on my hand, making sure every square inch got cleaned. Dad was doing the rest of the truck with a long-handled brush and wash mitt plus took care of all the rinsing duties. I don’t ever remember this seeming like work…it was actually fun to hang around with Dad and do what little I could to help.
Getting to “go with Dad on the truck” was one of the biggest thrills of the kids’ lives. If it was summer and we needed to get an early start, Dad usually stopped in Logan to eat breakfast at a small café/pool hall on Center Street, just off Main Street. His and my favorite breakfast was ham and eggs over easy with wheat toast. I can still smell that delicious ham and crispy hash browns. I can’t remember the old cook’s name…it might have been Virgil or Vernon. If our trip took us to Idaho Falls, we often ate lunch at Stan’s across from the livestock auction or, better yet, at the Downey Café on the way home. Dad needed three solid meals a day, a habit that I totally loved at the time but don’t emulate as an adult.
I’m sure each of the kids have some fond memories of their times with Dad on the truck. Let me relate three of my favorites.
- Once, while driving back from picking up a load of cattle in Butte (MT) Dad handed me the .25 caliber pistol he brought back from World War II and had me try to shoot ducks in the ponds near the road as we barreled along at 60 miles per hour. Imagine the sight of a 10-year old boy, hanging out the window firing a semi-automatic weapon at ducks out of season! How many citations would we get in today’s world?
- Another memorable event occurred on the way back from Idaho Falls. At the time, the freeway ended just north of Pocatello, so we had to navigate the crowded city streets. On this day, a convertible with a man and woman in it, pulled along side the trailer at a traffic light. Well, one of the cows had its back end perfectly lined-up with one of the holes in the trailer. Both Dad and I happened to catch the whole thing in the passenger side mirror – a huge spurt of warm manure splashing all over the back seat of that convertible! What could we do??
- From my earliest memory, I wanted Dad to teach me how to drive, a task he was only too happy to undertake. On this particular day, we were headed north on the freshly finished section of freeway between Pocatello and Idaho Falls. Teaching me to drive a little bit at a time, I’d already pretty well mastered sitting between Dad’s legs to steer the truck. By now, he’d get me in position, steering the truck plus running the throttle, then he’d carefully slide out from under me and take the passenger’s seat. Imagine my delight when Uncle Larry and Aunt Edna Hale (who lived in Blackfoot) pulled along side the truck, slowed and expected to wave to Lyle. Instead, here was 12-year old Dana at the wheel! Boy oh boy, was I proud that day!
Dad had a notoriously bad back. I believe he first injured it in his late teens. Truck driving, especially before the days of air ride seats, was bone-jarring plus all of the shoveling made things even worse. Dad interrupted his driving several times to have and recover from back surgery. In the late 1950’s, for example, he was a mechanic at Liljenquist Brothers (owned by Ross and Melvin) service station on the corner of Main and Center in Hyrum. As a 6-8 year old boy, it seemed like heaven to drop by the service station and have Dad buy me a 5-cent candy bar or a 10-cent bottle of pop.
During recovery from another surgery, Lynn Miller (co-owner of E.A. Miller’s) trained Dad to buy cattle. I remember sitting in the Idaho Falls auction arena with Dad, trying to outguess him on the cattle’s weights. I didn’t beat him very often but we both usually guessed within 50-75 pounds of the animal’s weight. Dad was a very good cattle buyer but spending that much of someone else’s money was too stressful for him, so he returned to driving as quickly as his back recovered. Similarly, he was one of Miller Brothers truck dispatchers for a time, scheduling the drivers and making sure everything ran smoothly.
In the early 1970’s, Dad switched from Miller Brothers over to drive for his cousin, Larry Miller (L.W. Miller Transportation). Larry was quite a persuasive person, and Dad was a very good driver, so I’m sure Larry recruited Dad heavily. Larry had gone into partnership with Ivan and Max Miller, hauling cattle and hogs to Tri-Miller Packing Company just a half-mile west of E.A.’s. We were all a little surprised that Dad left E.A.’s after more than a decade. In addition to delivering hogs and cattle to Tri-Miller Pack in Hyrum, Dad’s work for L.W. took him took him over the roads of Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada, Colorado, Nebraska, Kansas, South Dakota, Iowa and Montana. It was not unusual for him to be on the road for a week before his route brought him home again.
In the spring and summer of 1973, I had the pleasure of being Dad’s co-driver. Trying to save money to get married and go to college, truck driving paid more than any other work I could get. Dad was driving #19, a red and white Peterbilt cabover at the time. I still remember our first trip together…I couldn’t really drive a big rig very well but he put me behind the wheel and off we went to California. It was probably three hours later, somewhere around remote Park Valley, Utah before I shifted without grinding the gears. Characteristically, Dad never criticized me, instead just giving me two or three suggestions then letting me figure it out by trial and error.
We had quite the adventures that summer. One load, originating in the remote mountains by Wendover, Nevada, consisted of wild horses trapped by crusty old Gilbert McCullough. We got to go right up into the mountains, using smaller single axle trucks, to where Gilbert trapped the mustangs by a natural spring. In these days before “Wild Horse Annie” and her push to protect all wild horses, the horses were destined for the packing plant in North Platte, Nebraska. Another memorable trip took us to Indiana. On the way there, we spent a night in Chicago, where we got to watch a Chicago Cubs baseball game at historic Wrigley Field. The next day, we drove to Indiana and loaded Holstein calves at an Amish farm. I was so impressed with how Dad interacted with the Amish farmer. Dad was so respectful and gentle that it immediately put the farmer and his family at ease.
Dad’s last driving job was for Miller Brothers Express, a business owned by Kris and Mark Miller, Junior Miller’s sons. Kris and Mark loved Dad and always made sure he had a new tractor even though he mostly drove part-time.