Remembering the Alamo at TTMA

In 1836, people from various parts of the United States and a few from foreign countries gathered together in San Antonio.

They included people from Kentucky, Tennessee, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Vermont, New York, Missouri, and Illinois. They also came from Germany, Scotland, England, and Africa. They gathered in a limestone and wooden compound called the Alamo to fight for Texas independence.

The 188 defenders inside the Alamo faced overwhelming odds. How overwhelming? Early in the siege, in a letter pleading for reinforcements, Commander William Barrett Travis wrote these words:

“To the People of Texas & All Americans in the World, Fellow citizens & compatriots. I am besieged by a thousand or more of the Mexicans under Santa Anna. I have sustained a continual Bombardment & cannonade for 24 hours & have not lost a man. The enemy has demanded a surrender at discretion; otherwise, the garrison is to be put to the sword. I have answered the demand with a cannon shot, & our flag still waves proudly from the walls. I shall never surrender or retreat.”

In 2008, another group of people from throughout the United States — and some from overseas — gathered in a far different limestone and wooden compound a few miles from the Alamo in San Antonio. The compound that housed the 65th annual Truck Trailer Manufacturers Association convention was a resort, not a refuge. As far as we can tell, all of the shooting was confined to the golf course and tennis courts. And the stakes, while important, were not a matter of life and death.

Yet those who attended the convention in the Alamo City probably could justify feeling besieged. They can find reasons for it in their sales reports. It's written in their financial statements. And it's in their face whenever they catch the reports from most national news media.

If they expected a respite from the drumbeat of negative news while attending the TTMA convention, they found some, but not much, in the words of the two analysts who were featured speakers. Don Reynolds, president of 21st Century Forecasting, told his audience to expect 12 months or more of a challenging economy. Ken Vieth, senior partner at ACT Research, also described a slow trailer market and a soft economy. However, he offered more reason for optimism. Yes, trailer production is down, he said. Yes, the economic forces that drive demand for truck trailers are down. But fleets are aging, and trailers are older on average than at any time in recent years, Vieth said. The good news is that stage is being set for a robust rebound in trailer demand when customer confidence begins to strengthen.

For combat-hardened veterans of the trailer manufacturing industry, bad economic news is old news. They have seen this before, and have lived to tell about it. Even more, survivors of these boom-and-bust cycles have emerged from past wars stronger and wiser.

If there was a siege mentality at this year's TTMA convention, it was the same type of mentality that Travis showed — firing his cannon when asked to surrender. That kind of thinking could be found in formal presentations as well as private conversations. Investment in new products and services for the trailer manufacturing industry continues, as evidenced by the 12 supplier companies that participated in the annual TTMA associate member presentations (see coverage, Page 26). Suppliers to the trailer manufacturing industry are looking past the near-term tightness in the market and are investing in the long-term future of trailer manufacturing.

But it's more than just the suppliers who are looking ahead — trailer manufacturers are, too. Reviewing what happened at this year's convention, we couldn't help but think of a discussion we had with a trailer executive who enthusiastically told us about some of the research and development his company is conducting. Because of these efforts, his company will be producing trailers that will cost less to build and will be more economical for the customer to operate. From his perspective and that of many other trailer manufacturers, there is determination to overcome every obstacle and to celebrate every victory.

It was a dark day in Texas history when the Alamo fell. Some pundits said the cause was lost. But that was before the Battle of San Jacinto six weeks later — an 18-minute skirmish in which Texas won its independence. Surprising how quickly things can turn around.

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