June 7, 2023

‘The dark of the moon on the 6th of June’


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Today is June 6, the fictional anniversary of the convoy in the beloved C.W. McCall song, rolled out as a protest on important issues in trucking. “Convoy,” published in 1976, tells the story of truckers driving cross-country to fight against an imposed speed limit and paper logs.

While the group and their pilgrimage are fictional, the story is based on real issues and protests from that time. And although it might sound like something ripped from today’s headlines, in 1976, truckers faced challenges similar to those truckers face today.

The song topped both country and pop charts in the next year and sold more than 2 million copies, according to Rolling Stone. While the artist credited with the song is known as C.W. McCall, that is actually a character made up by William Dale Fries Jr. The character was created during Fries’ tenure at an advertising agency in Omaha, Nebraska, for jingles that had a country twang. The first C.W. McCall jingle, “Old Home Filler-Up an’ Keep on a-Truckin’ Café,” became so popular that Fries teamed up with another musician, Chip Davis, to create a full album.

“Convoy” was the second song released on C.W. McCall’s debut album, “Wolf Creek Pass. It spent six weeks at No. 1 on the country charts, according to Rolling Stone. The magazine even put it on its list of 100 Greatest Country Songs of All-Time at No. 98. A total of 10 C.W. McCall albums were published from 1975 to 2003, but none was as popular as “Convoy.”

Bill Fries Jr. died last year on April 1, at the age of 93. 

While the song was popular with truck drivers because of the issues it addressed — issues still relevant today — they also gravitated toward the song because it’s filled with CB radio jargon that truckers of yesteryear often love. The lyrics of “Convoy” from start to finish are filled with terminology that non-CB users would need a glossary to understand.

The song is mostly spoken word, with drivers communicating with one another on CB to organize their protest.

Here are some of our favorite lyrics and the meaning behind them: 

“Ah, breaker one-nine, this here’s the Rubber Duck/You gotta copy on me, Pig Pen, c’mon?/Ah, yeah, 10-4, Pig Pen, for sure, for sure/By golly, it’s clean clear to Flag Town, c’mon/Yeah, that’s a big 10-4 there, Pig Pen/Yeah, we definitely got the front door, good buddy/Mercy sake’s alive, looks like we got us a convoy.”

“Breaker one-nine” is a common way for radio users to start speaking on Channel 19, which is known as the channel for truckers on CB radio. In this case, Rubber Duck and Pig Pen are the call names of two of the drivers in the fictional convoy, which makes it that much more fun.

While these terms are the better-known phrases in the song, there are plenty of others that pop culture doesn’t tap quite as much. 

“Was the dark of the moon on the sixth of June/In a Kenworth pullin’ logs/Cab-over Pete with a reefer on/And a Jimmy haulin’ hogs/We is headin’ for bear on I-one-O/Bout a mile outta Shaky Town/I says, ‘Pig Pen, this here’s the Rubber Duck’/‘And I’m about to put the hammer down.’”

“The dark of the moon” is meant literally, describing the night of a new moon, when light reflecting off the moon is not visible. “Cab-over Pete” describes the driver of a specific type of truck cab that is flat and lays directly over the engine.

The term “bear” appears in the song quite a bit and is a name for police officers, more specifically state troopers. “Hogs” also comes up, which refers to highway patrol officers. 

“Well, we rolled up Interstate 44/Like a rocket-sled on rails/We tore up all of our swindle sheets/And left ’em sitting on the scales/By the time we hit that Chi-town/Them bears was a-gettin’ smart/They’d brought up some reinforcements/From the Illinois National Guard/There’s armored cars, and tanks, and Jeeps/And rigs of every size/Yeah, them chicken coops was full of bears/And choppers filled the skies/Well, we shot the line and we went for broke/With a thousand screamin’ trucks/And eleven long-haired Friends a’ Jesus in a chartreuse microbus.”

C.W. McCall goes on to describe how members of the convoy tore up their paper logs, known as “swindle sheets” and left them at weigh-in stations, or “chicken coops.” It also seems at this point, the convoy was joined by a group of Christian hippies in a small bus.

The song mentions a “suicide jockey,” meaning a truck hauling a dangerous substance or an explosive. The protest tale ends with the convoy breaking through tolls without paying and making it to their final destination.

It certainly is a fun tune that truckers and nontruckers alike have appreciated, and one that shows that history often repeats itself.

FreightWaves Classics articles look at various aspects of the transportation industry’s history. Click here to subscribe to our newsletter!

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