Commentary: Perspective at 75

Updated Jul 27, 2020

By Stu MacKay: MacKay & Company

Sometime during the last several months, somebody sneaked in and ripped several years’ worth of pages from my calendar. Who, how or why isn’t obvious – but the fact is that the damn thing flipped open to August 2010. Since the first page in this calendar was August 1935, simple arithmetic works out to 75.

The good news: well, we made it. The bad news: where in the world did all this time go?

Looking back from age 75 is akin to staring down both ends of a telescope simultaneously. Some events are probably larger in memory than they actually were at the time, others appear much smaller. It’s the sorting process that’s the challenge, convincing myself that shrinking the importance of the really stupid stuff is objective (although it isn’t). Likewise, exaggerating the importance of the good and/or smart stuff is way too easy.

If I stick to truck-related stuff, by no means am I downplaying the importance of family memories. There’s just no sense in embarrassing them in print. Much the same for my non-truck history. Although there is some residual bitterness resulting from my family home, grade school, junior high school and dad’s business all being demolished (locals describe it as urban removal), we’ll just leave that in the “stupid government decisions” file.

Showering while driving was a concept ahead of its time

In the truck department, breaking in as a very green (pre-Gore, green meant naive) dispatcher in the mid-50s looms large in memory. Two lane roads, 35-foot trailers, underpowered tractors (cherry picker Macks with 15-speed trannies – and all 15 needed), World War II vet drivers and everything on paper (bills of lading, waybills, manifests, dispatch sheets, driver time sheets, maintenance records, etc.). Electronics in the 50s? Two-way radios in the big terminals were about it! We did have a tabulating department – wonder what they did…

Some time in the trucking industry turned out to be pretty good background for a stint at Cummins. The business was a bit different in those days. Grinding 160 hp out of the then C-series Cummins took a 7.4L engine weighing in at 1,600 lbs. Today the little 5.9L ISB will give you up to 275 hp at 960 lbs.

At the other end of the scale was the humongous VT8-430, 15.2L of iron tipping the scales at more than 3,000 lbs. Today the ISM 8.3L hardly breaks a sweat creating the same power output for a thousand pounds less. And one engine option was the compression release lever, which let the driver get the engine spinning before loading it up – activated by a rope from the engine back through the firewall into the cab! (OSHA would love that today!).

There were other fun experiences, like selling truck cab air conditioners that put more cold water than cold air into truck cabs; showering while driving, a concept well ahead of its time. Selling filters that didn’t leak (much) for a little subsidiary (Fleetguard) that later boomed with subsequent great management (post me!). And learning that blue sheet less 20/10/10 and 5 was an acceptable way to price something was an eye-opener, believe me!

Looking back is like staring through both ends of a telescope, simultaneously

And the additional 40-plus years serving this industry has done nothing to diminish my enthusiasm for trucks, engines, parts, service, dealers, distributors, fleet operators – all the ingredients it takes to make this crazy business work.

And, in retrospect, everything today is different – and yet everything is still the same. Trucks are longer, wider, heavier, more powerful and much more expensive – but they still do the same basic job.

Engines are lighter, more powerful, much more sophisticated and also much more expensive – but they do the same basic job.

And the same goes for parts and service – more complicated, certainly, but much the same stuff, just newer.

When we get down to dealers, distributors, fleets – and, yes, clients (now we’re getting down to the real pleasure from my last five-plus decades in this industry) – it’s these people who have really made it fun (OK, not all of them – but certainly most of them). I can still remember being “perp walked” out of a distributor’s business many years ago. But those incidents have been few and far between.

It may take a summit in Washington to start to resolve the differences between the Palestinians and the Israelis – and it might well take the same high level of hand holding to resolve the differences between independent heavy-duty distributors and truck dealers.

It’s been fun to have some very good friends on both sides of the issues – and finding that, in reality, the two separate points of view are really not all that different. I’m not volunteering for the equivalent of George Mitchell’s “middleman” job in the Middle East, by the way, just suggesting that even knotty distribution issues have a way of getting worked out.

Looking forward, who really knows what the next 75 years (or five or 10) might bring. We’ve certainly got to straighten out the mood and focus of this country – and get it back on track in relatively short order.

If we don’t get that job done, it won’t make a damn bit of difference what the truck, engine or distribution businesses look like. From my perspective, it will take the same kind of commitment and dedication that built this industry of ours to rebuild this country of ours. That’s my perspective at 75. Thanks.

Stu MacKay has headed MacKay & Company since its inception in 1968. MacKay & Company serves manufacturers and distribution organizations serving the vehicle, equipment and engine businesses. The company provides its clients with proprietary research and consulting, participation in multi-client studies and its DataMac aftermarket tracking services.

The views expressed in the Guest Editorial are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of Truck Parts & Service magazine.

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