Mike Parkhurst: Leading the Last Cowboys

"Overdrive--The Voice of the American Trucker," proclaims the magazine's cover; "The Price of Truth $1.50." Below this modest legend appears a full color photograph of a gleaming Peterbilt, or Kenworth, or a White Freightliner, with all chrome bumpers and wheels and stacks, always accompanied by a busty young model very scantily attired.

Its pages are filled with material for independent, over-the-road truckers, the owner/operators whose shutdowns last winter briefly paralyzed the trucking industry and led to outbreaks of violence nationwide.

There are articles about every aspect of trucking: equipment reviews about engines and transmissions; pictures of prettily built trucks of every make and model; stories about trucking, and articles about how to get ahead in the business.

The tone of the magazine is consciously directed at a certain image of the American independent trucker: "the last of America's pioneers," Overdrive calls him. He is tough but gentle, this man; he is filled with wanderlust and a craving for adventure, but he's still good to the wife and kids at home. He's free and American, and a crafty yankee through and through.

Yet Overdrive is more than a simple trade journal, and has been for its entire 13-year existence. It has established a minor reputation as a muckraking investigative journal concerned with all aspects of long-distance transportation and trucking.


The magazine was started in 1961 by an ex-trucker named Mike Parkhurst. Parkhurst came to some national prominence during the shutdowns last winter. Whether or not the truckers' strike actually originated with Parkhurst and his staff, as some suspect, they spent a lot of time and money coordinating it, keeping information going to the striking drivers, and attempting to convince them to hold out for more complete concessions from the government.

Parkhurst is a young, energetic-looking fellow who might be best described as a radical capitalist. He believes passionately in free enterprise, and would like to see the trucking industry freed from the restraints of governmental regulation to allow owner/operators to compete with large trucking fleets.

Parkhurst's goal is admirable if extremely difficult: he would like to organize independent truckers, those renegade cowboys of American commerce, to work together for their own interests.

He began driving trucks when he was 18 years old, picking up milk for a wholesale company. When he was 20, he bought his own tractor-trailer rig. Over the next few years, he hauled various commodities, including produce, furniture and comic books, to various parts of the country. He joined and left the International Brotherhood of Teamsters twice during that time.

After ten years of driving, Parkhurst says he was sick of the "harassment" suffered by drivers on the road from police, the government, large companies and citizens, and he hoped to start an association of truckers to work together against such problems. He started Overdrive as a means of reaching truckers, of establishing a platform on which to base the organization.

Parkhurst first sent flyers to truckstops, asking truckers to respond with their ideas for a new magazine. He intended to publish something more serious and businesslike than the "gossip sheets" that had been around previously.

After getting a favorable resporise, he published the first issue of Overdrive in September 1961. Twenty-five hundred copies were mailed out free to truck stops around the country; the owners were told to sell them for a dime, keep the proceeds, and reorder. By December of that year Parkhurst ran an edition of 16,000.

Parkhurst's association of truckers finally got off the ground in November of 1966. Roadmasters is a "voluntary association of concerned truckers," Parkhurst says, but "not a union." Five classes of membership are offered to owner/operators and company drivers, with benefits ranging from life and disability insurance to round-the-clock legal assistance for members in trouble with the law.

Roadmasters has gone to court a number of times in truckers' behalf, winning cases ranging as far afield as the recent abolition of the Iowa state justice of the peace system. In 1967, Roadmasters challenged the con-stitutionality of the Interstate Commerce Commission, which regulates national trucking.

Last December Roadmasters was the first organization for truckers to endorse the national shutdowns, and according to Overdrive it "spent more money and man hours coordinating truckers than all other groups of truckers combined."