Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Hop In, Let's Go...

Hey, last week I talked about the time I drove a truck over the road. It was back in 1988 and 1989. I drove for JB Hunt out of their Oklahoma City terminal.
I was a young man back then and more than anything I wanted to see this country from one end to the other. I wanted to travel and the only way I could do that and still make a living was to drive a truck. And so it started.
I’ve driven from Bangor, Maine to Los Angeles and was able to see almost everything in between. I’ve seen both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, been through the rocky mountains, and the nightmare traffic of Downtown Chicago. I’ve seen the Statue of Liberty and the Twin Towers in New York. I stopped off long enough to see Niagara Falls on my way to a Ford plant in Detroit. Twice I drove through the Chesapeake Bay tunnel-bridge. Believe me when I say it’s a little freaky driving a semi underneath the Atlantic Ocean in the waters of Chesapeake Bay. I’ve seen the arch in St. Louis, and the Painted Desert in Arizona. I came within fifty miles of the Grand Canyon but because I was on my way to Columbus, Ohio and on a tight schedule I didn’t have time to stop. I even got caught in a blizzard west of Gallup, New Mexico one night. That sucked.
I came through it all pretty much unscathed but there was one time I really thought maybe my number had been called. I was hauling a load of beer from some brewery somewhere or another to a distributor somewhere on the east coast. I’d been driving all day long by the time I got to Ashville, North Carolina and thought about calling it a day but decided to push on a little longer. A little outside of Ashville on I-40 there’s a mountain called ‘Black Mountain.” Not really much of a mountain, 4,000 ft. or so. But there was an exit where all truckers were required to pull off the hi-way to look over this huge billboard that had the map of the road ahead as well as where the “run away truck ramps” were located along the way. There were two of them. Truckers were warned not to exceed something like 30 mph. and not to shift above third gear. Yeah right.
Hell, I wasn’t scared of some stupid hill. I mean, just last week I’d been in the Rockies and had no problem. Big difference though. That trip I was hauling Styrofoam plates that weighed just over 7,000 lbs. The load combined with the weight of the truck (25,000 lbs.) made for a gross weight of something like 32,000 lbs., no problem. With this load of beer I was rolling down the hi-way right at 65,000 lbs. I probably should have considered that before starting down that stupid hill that day.
It started out okay I guess. I took off and grabbed second gear. No problem. I shifted into third gear and stayed there for a while but decided to catch fourth and speed up a little. Still, things were going well. Not much of a grade and hell, it was four lanes all the way. I was pretty sure they were over-reacting with the whole scare tactic thing. I grabbed fifth and sixth gear and by now was running along at a very smooth 55 mph. No problem. By the time I passed the first run away truck ramp I was probably doing about 60 mph. and hit the brakes to slow it down to about 45 mph. Still no problem. But now the hill got a little steeper and before I knew it I was back up to 60. I hit the brakes again about the same time I passed the last run away ramp. I started to notice a burning smell and looked out the rear-view mirror and noticed blue smoke pouring off the trailer brakes. Uh oh, it wasn’t long before all the wheels on the truck had that same blue smoke boiling off them.
I had gotten my brakes hot and by now they were completely useless. Ever hear that song “Wolf Creek Pass?” Yeah, it was kind of like that. Hitting the brakes was kind of like stepping on a plum. By the time I got to the bottom of the hill I was probably going 75 or 80 mph. and luckily, traffic was pretty light so I was able to stay in the passing lane the rest of the way down. When I got to the bottom I just coasted to the side of the road and sit there for about half an hour. Yeah, I was really scared that time.
Check out my web-site this week, I’ve posted several videos about trucking and if you’d like, post a comment or two at rm235.blogspot.com or e-mail me at: kevinmcginty@sbcglobal.net

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