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February 24, 2017 10:25 AM, EST

The Voice of Mack the Truck Raves About Trucking

Ratzenberger by John Sommers II for TT
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The son of a Texaco truck driver from Bridgeport, Connecticut, actor John Ratzenberger has always had a strong affinity for the industry. So after he became famous as voluble mailman Cliff Clavin in the 1980s sitcom “Cheers” and voicing Hamm the Piggy Bank in the animated “Toy Story” movies, it was natural for Ratzenberger to lend his vocal talents to a truck in “Cars,” another Pixar film.

Speaking Feb. 23 at the 14th Annual Recruitment and Retention conference here, Ratzenberger revealed his truck was going to be a Kenworth until the head of Pixar asked what kind of truck his father, Dezso, had driven. The Hungarian immigrant had been behind the wheels of Mack Trucks all those years.

“They changed it to Mack in honor of my dad,” said Ratzenberger, who called his father his hero.

But the elder Ratzenberger was far from the only trucker to receive praise from the younger.

“Trucks are the blood of America,” Ratzenberger said to an appreciative audience full of carrier executives. “Without 'em, we’re stuck. We’re done. It’s over. … [Truck drivers] are the knights of the road.”

Ratzenberger, who briefly drove a truck, added that if every truck pulled over and stopped for a couple of days, “civilization would grind to a halt.” 

The actor, who will turn 70 in April, said that American culture has gone soft since the 1960s with children being awarded trophies just for showing up, colleges providing safe spaces for students to avoid opposing viewpoints and the loss of once-common mechanical prowess thanks to the elimination of high school shop classes.

In hopes of bringing back the latter, Ratzenberger has a meeting scheduled with new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and a March 29 date to testify before Congress. Alternatively, Ratzenberger hopes that a service organization, such as Kiwanis, will begin shop classes in its facilities.

“America was built by tinkerers,” said Ratzenberger, extolling the virtues of working with one’s hands as he did as a carpenter before and between acting jobs, including at the Woodstock music festival in 1969. “You can’t get common sense out of a book. The only way you can get it is going out there and doing something useful. … Get a skill that no one can take from you. … I’m afraid we’re losing that. That’s one of the reasons it’s becoming so difficult to find [truck] drivers.”

Ratzenberger continued, “[Young people] don’t say, ‘I want the freedom of the open road. I want to be my own boss.’ They don’t want to do that anymore. They want to stay home and play video games. That’s what we’re up against in all industries. … Before anybody takes any elective office in this country, they should be required to assemble a coffee table from Ikea. If they can’t do that, they have no right passing laws that affect me and my family.”