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Trucking in New Mexico

By James E. Wilmarth

During the early days of trucking in New Mexico, an incident occurred that changed the way trucking operations would be conducted in New Mexico. This single afternoon’s events would set in motion changes that would alter how sleeper operations would be conducted for all time.

This incident happened on a highway in south central New Mexico during the summer of 1940. It was a bright sunny day and the driving team was on a run to Roswell. The equipment in use during those days had the sleeper compartment in the nose of the trailer. One man drove while the other slept. This allowed the truck to run 24-hours a day moving freight over vast distances in the Southwest. There were several drawbacks to having the sleeper in the trailer. The trailer compartment could be freezing in the winter and sweltering in the summer and there was no way to communicate between the trailer and the cab.

About 2 o’clock on that fateful afternoon, the driver noticed something alongside the road. Stopping, he found the body of a magnificent bobcat evidently struck by another vehicle. Thinking the pelt could be worth money, he tossed it into the sleeping compartment in the nose of the trailer. Climbing back into his “office,” he started toward their destination about an hour away.

When the rig reached Roswell, the driver rushed into the terminal to tell his fellow workers about his good fortune. Several spectators quickly gathered about the truck as the driver opened the door to the sleeping compartment. With a scream that turned everyone’s blood to ice water, a very upset bobcat leaped from the trailer. Inside the compartment, on the far side of the sleeper was huddled a rather wild-eyed “sleeping” partner. It seems the bobcat revived shortly after being tossed into the trailer. The bobcat’s screams awakened the person already occupying the compartment. After much scrambling and screeching by both occupants, the two reached standoff positions. The problem was the bobcat took the one nearest to the door. With no way to get out or signal the driver, the victim, with his bed clothes wrapped around himself for protection, faced the bobcat apprehensively for the remainder of the trip.

It is said among the old timers of Navajo Freight Lines, that those two team members never made another trip together. The bobcat was never heard from again, but I am sure he had an exciting tale to tell his grandchildren.

There were several hair-raising adventures associated with sleeping in the front of trailers that helped convince the drivers of the problems. The result of this incident with the bobcat was the single episode that caught the attention of the right people. Within a short time, sleeping compartments were being attached to the cabs of the trucks with only a curtain between the driver and sleeper.

 

La Crónica de Nuevo México 30 (February 1990): 3-4.  Published by the Historical Society of New Mexico and reproduced with their permission.