At the Route I-70 Truck Stop here, where a score of 18 wheelers sat parked most of the afternoon, the talk today was about one thing only: The nationwide independent truckers' strike and what to do about it.
Amid rumors of rock-throwing and scattered violence, the drivers here shared a general uneasiness over the strike and seemed sharply divided over whether they should join it.
Glenn McCauley, a 44-year-old driver for Pittsburgh machinery company, vowed that he was going to continue working because "jobs are hard to come by."
On the other hand, Robert Rushing, a 48-year-old driver for a Clinton, Ky., steel firm, said he sympathized with his 100,000 independent colleagues and made plans to return home immediately to sit out the strike.
Eddie Chase said he was going to park his rig in Richmond as soon as he got there and join a picket line "with rocks in both hands."
"If it takes a trip to the woodpile to get other guys off the road," he declared, "then that's what we'll have to do."
Today was the first day of the strike, which was called to protest the Reagan administration's 5-cent per gallon increase in the gasoline tax and increased highway user fees, which go into effect April 1.
At this truck stop, one of the busiest on the East Coast, where an average of 35,000 gallons of diesel fuel is pumped each day, business was down considerably. As CB radios crackled with unconfirmed rumors of snipers shooting bullets and hurling stones at truckers who didn't heed the strike, some truckers, as a security precaution, said they planned to stop driving at night.
Maryland State Police, bracing for possible outbreaks of violence, doubled patrols today on heavily traveled truck routes in the western part of the state. They investigated two reports of gunfire near Cumberland, but were unable to verify either of them.
They also received a report that someone had dropped cinderblocks onto Rte. 40 from an overpass. Police said they picked up several chunks of stone, but were unable to determine whether they were dropped from the overpass or fell from a truck.
In the most serious report, a driver said his front tire was shot out by a person wielding a gun in a passing car. Police said they examined the tire and found a puncture mark, but said it was caused by normal wear.
"The last thing we want to do is artificially inflate the problem," said Dan McCarthy, spokesman for the state police. "What we have are unconfirmed incidents. As we see it, the situation is perfectly calm throughout the state."
At the Route I-70 Truck Stop, things were a bit too quiet, as far as its employes were concerned. "I don't think we'll pump half as much gas as we normally do," said manager Millard Bolyard, who estimated that business from independent truckers was down 90 percent. Waitresses seemed to feel the pinch as well. "I usually get $25 or $30 in tips a day," said Carolyn Clem. "I probably won't get half that today."
Doug Myers, a 49-year-old driver for KH Transport, a Dayton, Md., firm, said he would return home to sit out the strike because "I feel for these guys. I know what they're going through, and it's rough." A spokesman for KH Transport today said about half of the company's truckers had decided to wait out the strike.
Of all the drivers here, Eddie Chase of Chattanooga, Tenn., seemed the most militant. "I just can't afford to have my taxes go up from $268 a year to $1,800," said Chase, who was hauling a load of government cheese from Wisconsin to Richmond when the strike was called. "Somehow or another we're going to get our point across . . . . The public will start feeling it when there's no food in the supermarkets.
"All we want is justice," he said.