Love for the Road
My love for the road
started at an early age. When I
was 14 years of age, I watched the big rigs pull out of the shop going
to points unknown to me.
Knowing that their destination
was California, I visualized that as a completely different
country. I had never been out of
East Texas and to think about California and points in between was
beyond my comprehension.
I felt that at one
day I would have my turn at ‘beyond the sun’. I also knew that the only way I would
get there would be to learn how to drive the over the road big rigs.
Going forward, I
learned how to drive; eventually owned my own 18-wheeler; and had a
company that ran multiple tractors and trailers to points west. What was once a dream had become a reality.
During those years,
I kept my driving skills current.
There were trips when a driver was not available and others when
someone needed help. I also
volunteered to fill in for churches on their trips.
I also used my
experience driving 18-wheelers with local charter bus companies in the
Fort Worth/Dallas metroplex. Most of the trips were local and not
more than 2 – 3 days; however, there were trips that lasted up to two
experiences, I found a beauty that is ‘beyond imagination’. Even the deserts in West Texas, New
Mexico, Arizona, and California had their unique beauty. It gave me an opportunity to see the
country; keep the ministry going; and provide support for my family.
Many of our states
across the country have magnificent mountains. Colorado has some very beautiful
mountains, yet they are dangerous.
There are many steep passes, inclines, hills (to the general
public – they are called mountains.)
Some of the hills get up as high as 15,000 feet. That is 15,000 feet above sea
level. For comparison Dallas is
only a little over 3,000 feet above sea level.
You could easily be over 2 miles higher than the
Fort Worth/Dallas area. Aircraft
have to have oxygen for altitudes over 10,000 feet, yet we travel
without any added oxygen assistance.
On these hills, you
have to know when to hold them and when to let them go as the Kenny
Rogers’ country music song communicated. His song is about gambling. I am talking about braking
the coach. We had to learn how
to keep from getting the brakes hot and losing control all together.
Throw in the
inclement weather including Colorado snow, sleet, icy conditions, and
you have an accident looking for a place to happen. Colorado snow is not like regular
snow. It hits your windshield
like a baseball and splatters.
And It is about the same size.
It does not take long to create problems seeing out the
The windshield wipers
are very little help as they ice over.
The ice builds on the wipers; they get farther and farther away
from the windshield. You have to
stop ever so often and break away the ice from the wipers so that they
could reengaged the windshield..
The hill inclines,
especially coming down, add to the dilemma. Care has to be exercised to maintain
control so that there is no danger of going over a cliff. Losing brakes meant that the brakes
had gotten hot – most commonly referred to as mushy or spongy – from
constant use and could no longer be counted on to stop the coach.
Safe run-off ramps
are provided on most of really bad hills in the event a coach or
18-wheeler did lose its brakes.
The pull-offs, however, destroy the bottom of your equipment. BUT better to damage the bottom of
the coach than to take your charter groups over a cliff.
Wolfe Creek in
southern Colorado is one of those hills. I came over Wolfe Creek one night in
an 18-wheeler in the midst of winter.
Our company had a previous driver who lost his rig on Wolfe
Creek and went over a 750 foot cliff to the bottom. Going by that spot was weird to say
The driver that went
over had stopped because he had lost tire traction on the ice. His trailer had slid toward the edge
of the cliff. They got a wrecker
to hold the rear of the trailer thinking that as he pulled off with the
wrecker holding the trailer he could reach solid pavement.
The wrecker was too
small and the wench cable broke.
His unit slipped over the cliff with him sitting in the driver’s
seat. The driver was not killed,
but would be incapacitated for the rest of his life. One of the greatest fears a trucker
faces is becoming incapacitated as a result of an accident.
I was pulling an
empty 42’ flatbed trailer when I drove over Wolfe Creek in the dark of
the night. I was scared and was
driving extremely slow. I even
had to turn my CB radio down.
The drivers behind me were not necessarily complimenting my
driving skills. They wanted to
go faster but could not pass me.
I made it safely down and did not relish ever
doing that again. I met another
company truck at the bottom of the hill. He broke me on the CB to find out how
the hill was.
I explained that it
was rough and that I had slipped a couple of times. His response, “That’s alright; I have
been over it 100s times. I can
The next morning in
Pueblo, CO I went to log in. On
the bulletin board was a notice in big red letters – that driver had
lost it. He had let his unit get
away from him in Pagosa Springs, CO. The load of pipe went through the
rear of his tractor and he was near death.
I am sure he
questioned his comment, “That’s alright; I have been over it 100s
times. I can handle it.” Drivers get over-confident at times
when they travel the same terrain over and over again.
California has some
extremely dangerous passes. The
Highway Department in California took an old line driver who had driven
over Donna Summit for many years.
They had him mark the areas of concern coming down the pass.
At critical points
over the pass, the signs would instruct drivers to let the brakes go so
they could cool down. At other
points the signs instructed drivers to start backing down for curves up
It was a tremendous help
for inexperienced drivers going over Donna Summit. Old line drivers would even watch for
the signs to assist them in going down.
I had all the
requirements needed for over the road driving. I had taught myself to drive while
working for my uncle who had 3 18-wheelers that went to California from
East Texas each week. It was my
job to service the units for the next load. The tractors would have to be moved
about the yard as I made the yard adjustments.
I started getting to
work early each morning and would take one of the tractors down the
highway. I experimented until I
learned how to synchronize the revolutions per minute (rpms) of the engine with the speed and the gear
ratios. It was a lot of starting
and stopping before I learned, but soon I could safely and smoothly go
down the highway shifting gears like a pro.
Later, I had a
wooden pallet company in Houston.
One of my greatest joys was buying my first tractor and trailer
for hauling lumber and the pallets.
It was like I went into the wooden pallet business just so I
could get to the point I would need an 18-wheeler. When I finally got it, I would not
let anyone drive it – I was so proud of it.
My first 18-wheeler
was a 1973 cab over International tractor with a 335 horsepower Cummins
engine. It was equipped with a
Jake Brake, and a 13 Speed Road Ranger transmission. I added two 8’ chrome exhaust stacks
without mufflers. I purchased a
42’ flatbed trailer to haul the lumber and pallets.
With the Jake Brake,
you could actually brake the unit with the
engine. You reduce the fuel feed
to the engine and that would compress the pistons. Bottom line; reduce the fuel to the
engine and the unit drags back.
But when you do
this, you got a muffled ‘budden’ sound from
the engine. Remove the mufflers
and add the twin stacks – it becomes a loud ‘blaadder’
sound many decibels higher than the normal ‘budden’.
If you needed to
pass a 4-wheeler, you ease up to the vehicle in front of you and turn
the Jake on. Let off the fuel
supply and the immediate engine drag goes into effect. The loud ‘blaadder’
without mufflers would cause the people in the vehicle in front of you
to think you are running over them.
They would be scared out of their wits.
We called it a neck
popper as people would spin around to see what was barreling down on
them. They would immediately
pull over and let you go.
That is why you see
signs coming into metropolitan areas saying “No Engine Brakes”. Residents have complained of the
noise in the middle of the night.
18-wheelers coming in and braking down with an engine brake is
much louder than using the standard service brakes.
I kept my commercial
driving license active from those early years and needed only to have a
physical along with a medical certification card to complete the
documentation for driving for Overland Stage. It was a win win. They got an experienced driver and I