Outlaws don’t just exist in the old west; they’re unnoticed throughout the highways.
On the military grounds of Fort Riley in Kansas, Doug Smith backs his bright-yellow rig into a dark cave where his enormous glass windows are blacked out with material so he can’t see anything that is going on and is ordered to stay in his cab. With the trailer unhooked, strangers transport it down into the hallow cave and load it up with unidentified cargo. A switch is mounted on the dashboard and connected to explosives attached to the 5th wheel. Smith is ordered to flip the plastic switch if he were to get high jacked transporting the load.
Two shiny, black Suburban’s drive in front of the Big Rig as two ride behind and a helicopter looms above creating a turbulent noise as the blades chop the air. Smith recalls his load being extremely light, as if he were hauling air.
When pulled over for speeding in Pennsylvania, two men dressed in stiff, three-piece suits step out of the Suburban and speak to the police officer while the helicopter radios-in and calms Smith’s nerves by declaring, “Don’t worry about it, driver. Keep going.”
Smith is an Outlaw Trucker. It’s common among Outlaws to have hauled drugs, stolen cars and black market weapons at one time or another. They are known for fudging log books, a federal document that records loads and driving 18-wheelers as if it were stolen.
“This country is beautiful,” says Smith as if he’s referring to a long-lost child. “I’ve seen everything there is to see.”
Diagnosed with a brain tumor in 2005, Smith has up to five seizures a day. He jackknifed his rig on George Washington Bridge in New York when his first seizure occurred.
After leaving the Navy in 1981, he started hitchhiking across the country. Truck drivers picked him up frequently, making him the driver while they caught up on sleepless days and nights in the back. Smith is no stranger to Big Rigs because he grew up with one on an Iowa farm.
Smith lives in downtown Phoenix with his two dogs, Brutus and Max, and considers the canines his children. The Peterbuilt truck he named Jennifer toured Smith more than two million miles across America. Nowadays, Smith spends his days sitting on his historic front porch where bullet holes can be seen sprinkled above the always-open front door.
One truck driver in particular picked Smith up five times in various parts of the country encouraging him to drive a rig to satisfy his love for traveling. Not long after, Smith obtained a chuffer’s license and began hauling bulls for the rodeo in Oklahoma. After two years he saved enough money to buy Jennifer.
“My whole life I’ve worked for myself,” said Smith as he rolls a cigarette and puts it to his lips just below his thick, square-shaped glasses that magnify his blue eyes.
Most Outlaw Truckers aren’t picky about what they haul as long as it pays money. Smith looks down at his brand new grey double Velcro shoes his ex-wife bought him and recalls having hauled nuclear weapons once.
Gypsy, a friend of Smiths, an Outlaw trucker for 40 years, says he is one of the last of the dying breed of Outlaws.
“Back in the day we used to run these highways. We were once known as Angels of the Road and would help out anyone who needed it,” says Gypsy as his green eyes peak out of his gray bearded face.
Gypsy continues to drive a big fancy rig and runs with what most would say are Outlaws. He drives long into the desolate nights when most are slumbering and he doesn’t run at legal speed.
“In this business my brokers want their shipment there yesterday, not tomorrow,” says Gypsy.
Back in the day, black bettys and California turn-arounds, forms of speed, were snorted to get loads where they needed to go. Sleep wasn’t an option because Outlaws don’t get paid to sleep.
“When the wheels stopped so did your money, so you did what you had,” said Gypsy in an unapologetic voice.
Other speedy substances such as white crosses, yellow jackets and cocaine are used for stamina on the road. Smith’s recalls his longest run consisting of driving for five days straight for a $5,000 bonus.
Most Outlaw Truckers travel with a companion to ease the lonely gaps between cities.
A 94-pound border collie named Zack lived off steak and potato meals at grimy truck stops. He never strode into a house his entire life because he preferred the truck and died in Atlanta at the age of 15, curled up, asleep in the back of the rig.
Gypsy puts an ice cold PBR up to his lips and his eyes hold years of distrust as he tells of how he cruises the roads with his chatty girlfriend. Before that he traveled with a tabby cat named Bandit that grew up in his truck for 18 years but passed away in November of 2011.
Outlaw truckers won’t get away with much if they don’t have other drivers looking out for them they look out for one another other by relaying information through their transmitter radios. Weighing stations, or “chicken coops,” often surprise exhausted drivers with random drug testing. There are accommodating drivers who announce over the CB to inform other drivers of screenings so they can slip by after the station has closed.
Another Outlaw who has been driving the highways for 40 years is Rick Gallegos. He says that most new truckers think that an Outlaw Trucker means hauling over-weight loads and using multiple log books.
“Most guys heads would roll if they really knew what a real Outlaw Trucker does,” said Gallegos. “Majority of new truckers don’t even know we exist.”
He remembers running 5,000 miles in 6 days by and thanks the marathon for white crosses.”
In the past he would sneak around every open scale because he grossed 83,000 pounds when most of the states were still 73,280 max legal gross weights. These days, laws are strict and it’s harder to cheat laws.
On a typical day, Gypsy cruises down the road with rock music blaring and his CB radio tuned to channel 19 to make sure there are no cops or open weigh stations ahead of him. He says he’s hauled stolen items but won’t get into the startling details. He runs two log books, which is highly illegal but to make money in the industry you must be willing to push the limits.
Gypsy’s driven the country more than three million miles with no accidents or tickets. He always carries a handgun in his truck because he feels it’s no longer safe to not carry one, yet most regulating companies won’t allow drivers to carry weapons.
Hookers or “lot lizards as truckers refer to them, frequent truck stops looking for a “porch light” above the passenger side door indicating a trucker who wants company. If a hooker were to come up on a truck with the light off, she might be met with a .357 to the face. Gypsy steers clear from lot lizards, claiming they are alcoholics, drug addicts and carry disease.
Short marriages run rampant in the trucker world because haulers are married to their rig. This might explain why all trucks are named after women. Gypsy was reluctant to share the name of his.
Sitting on his porch, the wind blows through Smith’s thin, curly hair that barely covers the front of his head. A whitish scar can be seen running through the middle of his faded tattoo located on his left tricep. It cuts through letters written in ink and was engraved in his arm one night in a bar fight set in Oklahoma, when a local cowboy stabbed him with a machete.
Another battle wound can be seen on Smiths right knee right below his cut-off jean shorts and appeared in 1989 after a bar fight in Memphis. The bout ended on up on the television show, “Cops”.
Smith sets the scene at a bar called the Saloon when ten outlaw truckers and 20 locals got in a rumble. It all started when several locals drove up in a Chevy with the Confederate flag waving from their truck and called Smith a “nigger lover” as he was standing outside with a friend who was black, sporting an afro. Smith ended up with a switchblade lodged under his kneecap as he drove off with it still stuck in his flesh.
Today, less than 5 percent of all truckers are independent, compared to the 60 percent 10 years ago. Big companies have taken taking over, undercutting fuel and freight prices so Outlaws are far and few between.
“If they gave me my license back, I would be driving right now,” said Doug. “I hate being retired. I’m bored to death. “
A DUI ensures a driver will never drive a truck again. Or a brain tumor.