Back then, everything was better – it was all still made of wood. Whenever there is a crisis in the transport industry, people love to look back to the good old days, a few decades ago, where everything is supposed to have been better.
But those times are often viewed through rose coloured glasses. It is true, there was less traffic, transport prices were higher, petrol and licensing costs were cheaper, and even the weather was better. However, there are a lot of things that were not so wonderful back then that are often forgotten today.
As I started in 1980 with my fresh-off-the-press truck driving licence, the permissible maximum weight was already 38 tonnes. ‘My’ first DAF had a whole 280 hp. That meant: The smallest hill and the speed dropped to the equivalent of a slow jog, even with the accelerator pressed down to the floor. Driving was generally harsh on the calf muscles, basically a full days’ work-out. The clutch was much harder to operate, and you felt as though you wanted to press the accelerator at least another meter into the floor just to get anywhere at all. But that was no help: you practically had time to stop and smell the daisies! Nobody had even heard of cruise control assuming it is a double check.
Take a brake!
Braking or slowing down was even more difficult than accelerating. The brake delay was a lot, lot lower than it is today. Not to mention that you could not brake as often, because the brakes would overheat very quickly, and then stop working. To put it bluntly: after three full brakings, there was no guarantee that you would be able to make a fourth.
And the brakes had to be readjusted frequently. If you did not take care of the drum brake, the tappet would skip and you would be left with a ‘smoking sock’. Central lubrication was for spaceships, truckers had to get the overalls and a grease gun on Saturdays.
At least 95 percent of trucks did not have a high roof. And yet, significantly more truckers travelled in two man teams. It is hard to imagine today how little room there was in a cabin without a high roof for two people. There was no retarder brake, only an exhaust cut-out brake operated with your heel. Air conditioning was a rumour only. It was available in houses in the USA, and that was it.
A continent full of toll gates
Crossing borders took at least one or two hours, even into neighbouring countries like France or the Netherlands. T2 customs papers were required, and you had to check how much diesel you had before leaving the country. The tarpaulin structures on trucks had no curtain systems. Wind made the attempt to keep the tarp on a roof using a plank of wood a particularly interesting prospect. I could go on.
Of course, there are also things that were in fact better back then. I can think of three off the top of my head. Even if the battery was out, it was easy to open and close the windows, and the radio could be operated instantly by anyone, no specialist knowledge required. The price of diesel did go up pretty significantly in the later half of the 70s, from an average of 44 to 58, but that number is in German pennies, not Euro cents!