November 03, 1975 12:00 PM

Rich Peterson heads up three corporations, deals with millions of dollars and has traded stock for nine years. He is 20. Peterson started at 11 with $35 saved from his paper route. He invested in dollar stocks, and when they quickly doubled he found himself hooked on the market. Finishing his required high school courses at 14, Peterson wangled a spare room at his old Chicago school and set himself up in an office with a phone and TV set. “Some of the teachers got annoyed, but I gave them a few tips that paid off and that seemed to satisfy them.” With a seat on the Midwest Stock Exchange at 17, Peterson decided to go it alone and started his own company in Chicago. But he found the city “oppressive” and opened a branch in Newport Beach, Calif. where he and his wife, a student nurse, live. “The trouble with money dealers is that they’re so bland. Nobody has fun except me,” says Peterson, who also has had an ulcer since he was 13. For all his success, Peterson claims somewhat ingenuously, “My age has been a deterrent, not an asset. Who wants to hand over their fortunes to a kid to play with?”

Jane Stern was an artist with a degree from Yale in 1971 when a moving van driver came to make a pickup at her house in New Haven. When he swung down out of his cab with a “Howdy Ma’am, Big Mack and I are pleased to make your acquaintance,” the New York City-born Jane recalls thinking at first that he was “some kind of hippie fraud.” But she soon was struck by the easy authority with which he went about his job and his straight-from-the-shoulder speech. He was a kind of revelation after the sophisticated urban types she knew. So the artist took a job as waitress at a Connecticut truck stop to study Middle American truckers up close.

Fired 48 hours later for jawing too much with the clientele, Jane accepted a hitch to Seattle from one of them. In the next three years, she logged 12,000 miles, getting to know scores of the drivers, cooks, waitresses and whores who make up the itinerant life of the highway. “The biggest problem was convincing them I wasn’t a hooker,” explains Jane—who was once chased out of a South Carolina diner-cum-brothel at gunpoint.

Her first book, Trucker, A Portrait of the Last American Cowboy (McGraw-Hill), was published this month and is already into a second printing. It’s a folk history of the highway with profiles of its denizens, their poems and Stern’s own deft photographs. (Some are by her husband, Michael Stern, a filmmaker and aspiring critic.) “I never thought of myself as a writer,” she says of her crisp, natural prose. Jane, who is 29 this month, will travel to “Naked City” (in Roselawn), Ind. next Fourth of July to judge the Mister Nude Trucker contest.

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