Thursday, January 29, 2009
  This Weekend Only - Big Trucks on Ice!
   Get your tickets now!

Last week we repowered a load that was running late. We met the other truck just south of Nashville, and had to get the load to Calumet City, Il (just south of Chicago) by morning - no stopping. It was a critical load for an important customer, and it couldn't be late. It wasn't long after we crossed the line into Kentucky that the rain started. With temperatures below freezing we soon had a glaze of ice on the road and on the truck. Now the Parkways in Kentucky were originally toll roads, but the tolls have since been removed, and they don't get the kind of upkeep they used to. They are rough rides in the best of weather, but with ice... well, we must have looked like a pig on ice-skates. Mike was driving, and we slowed it down to a safer speed (not that any speed is really safe on ice), but we couldn't afford to shut down. By the time we got out of the freezing rain somewhere in Southern Indiana our truck was coated with 3/4 of an inch of ice. The rain had turned to snow, and the snow was sticking to the ice on our truck. By the time we got to Illinois we looked like the abominable snow truck. We made the delivery about an hour late, but we got it there. 

It was overcast and a little snowy in Chicago, and after we unloaded we had to head north through the city to pick up a load just across the Wisconsin sate line. Traffic wasn't too bad, and we don't go through Chicago very often (we avoid it whenever possible) so I got to do a little sightseeing - the Sears Tower, St Mary of the Angels Church, etc... Whatever I could catch a glimpse of from the freeway. I'd love to get up there some time when we have time to stop, Chicago is a city I'd love to visit. I want to visit the Field Museum and see Tyrannosaurus Sue especially. I was born just north of Chicago at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center base hospital, and I've always been curious about the Second City. It has a fascinating history - fires, the mob, The Manhattan Project, mysterious tunnel systems, Blago and Obama, and so on. And it just looks like a neat place to visit.

Once we got our load picked up and got out of The Big Windy we had to head to Ft. Worth, TX. But the big ice storm was only getting started. We ran back into snow just south of Chicago, and I was driving at that point. At first it wasn't bad, but it didn't take too long for the roads to start getting covered. The radio had reports of ice and accidents all over Missouri and Oklahoma, and our company sent out a message that they had issued a mandatory shutdown of all company trucks on I-44 through most of Missouri and Oklahoma. About 30 miles from St. Louis, as the snow picked up and the roads were so covered I was having trouble telling where the lanes were, I decided that the weather was too nasty and I found a spot to park at a rest area. 

Now, the load we were on was for the same important customer as the load we saved the night before, and it didn't have much time on it. Shutting down was sure to make us late, but our route took us across I-44, which was under a mandatory shutdown anyway. Of course it didn't matter that we would have had to have stopped on the other side of St. Louis - not two hours after I shut down we started getting messages from dispatch wanting to know why we weren't moving. Yeah, I could have eased it on through St. Louis, but then I would have been in the ice on the other side looking for a place to park with all the other trucks that were ordered to shut down. Seemed smarter to me to stop where there was parking available. The last thing I wanted to do was to end up parked in a ditch like some of the other trucks we passed jackknifed or on their sides.

Anyway, we were only stopped about three and a half hours before Mike finished his ten hour break and was legal to drive again, so he got us moving. I'm much more cautious than he is, but then he's had more experience than me. We cruised on through St. Louis just as the morning traffic was starting to put in an appearance. The roads were slick and snow-covered and there was no way to tell where the lanes were because the lines were hidden by the snow. Watching the four wheelers (trucker slang for cars) slip and slide in and out around the big trucks was like watching a suspense thriller - you know something dreadful is about to happen, you're just not sure who's gonna go first or which direction it's gonna come from.






Once we were safely out of St. Louis I went back to sleep and didn't wake up again till we were in Oklahoma. Now Oklahoma got some of the worst of it. The interstate was clear by the time I got up, the plow and salt trucks had been out working hard, but we had to get off the interstate and head south on US-69.

Once I woke up, Mike had some stories for me about his adventures that night, including how he had pulled into a Pilot Truck Stop just south of St. Louis. That truck stop was new, and it had been built on a hill with a steep slope leading from the entrance down to the fuel islands. Going into that pilot you have to make a left turn and go down the hill to the 6 fuel islands. Mike  made his way to the last fuel island, and he felt his trailer slide a little as he turned down that slick slope, but he let off the brakes and accelerated a little to get his truck back in front of his trailer and threaded right on between the diesel pumps to a safe stop. There were two other trucks behind him, and the next truck in line made his turn, only when his trailer slid he hit the brakes, and as his tractor stopped his trailer kept going swinging him around sideways and blocking all of the other fuel lanes. Amid a lot of ribbing and helpful suggestions over the CB, the unlucky trucker tried to back his rig up and get it angled to pull through the island, but the hill was too slick and his trailer too heavy. Every time he started to make progress his trailer would slide down the hill again. Eventually he ended up pointing up the hill with his trailer toward the pumps. Somebody suggested he just back between the pumps, and that's what he did, with the store manager standing there watching with a snow shovel tossed over his shoulder and an amused and long-suffering look on his face. A lot of work just for a cup of coffee. Most of a week later and Mike is still laughing every time he thinks about it. I wish I'd been awake to see it.

I was awake to see the truck that had been cut in half by a bridge abutment. It was I-44 in Oklahoma just before we got off at Big Cabin. The truck looked like it had been heading East and had lost control on the ice. His trailer came around and slammed into the bridge pillar, breaking clean in two and scattering huge rolls of paper across the highway. One of those rolls was all the way over on our side of the road. And that wasn't the only truck wreck we saw, though it was the most memorable. There were plenty of other rigs that had gone off the road and were in the median or in the ditch.

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US-69 runs down through the Muskogee Indian reservation, and it's usually a pretty drive, and a good road, but the folks down there just don't get enough snow to justify having a large fleet of plows. The few plows they have just couldn't keep up with the snow and ice, and the roads were in pretty bad shape. The right lane in each direction had ruts made by all the big trucks that had passed through, so the going wasn't too bad for us, but those ruts are too widely spaced for cars, so the four wheelers where having a tough time of it. The left lane was loose snow and ice, and every time a truck got impatient and passed in that lane it kicked up a flurry of snow and slush  that made it nearly impossible to see. Mike and I were making bets over whether or not any given speed demon would actually make it around the line of slow moving traffic, but they all did amazingly enough. All we could do was take it slow and easy. The landscape was covered by a thick coat of ice that glittered in the sun like the whole world had been remade in glass. Foot-long icicles hung from the roadsigns and power lines. It was a beautiful sight to see even if it was scary to drive in. 

But we made it to Ft. Worth in one piece, and got our load delivered. After we delivered we had to head over toward Sulphur Springs, TX to pick up our next load, and we ran into freezing fog. The fog was slowly coating everything in white frosting, and it made the trees look like a  confectioner's whimsy - or one of those impossibly pretty scenes from a Christmas Card. But the fog didn't last long. Our load got changed and we ended up having to go up to DeQueen, Arkansas to pick up a load of frozen chicken from the Pilgrim's Pride plant there. 

On the way north we stopped at SRT's yard in Texarkana to fuel up and get a new battery put in the reefer unit on the trailer we were hauling. The yard was full of trucks and trailers, and most of them were waiting to get into the shop. Now, trucks and trailers that are on a load are supposed to have priority, and we didn't have much time to get to DeQueen to get our load on time, but a battery should have been a ten minute job, tops. We ended up sitting on the yard for two hours while Mike went 10 rounds with dispatch and the shop foreman trying to get that simple job done. He wrote up the trailer and dropped the form off with the shop. He told them we were under a load and didn't have a lot of time, and was told in return that they would "get to it eventually". So he went over to dispatch and told our dispatcher what the trouble was, and she called over to the shop and told them to move us to the top of the list. They told her that our trailer was due for a regular maintenance, and that they didn't have time for it because there were too many other trucks that needed work. But none of those other trucks were on a load, and we couldn't just swap for another trailer because every single empty reefer trailer on the yard was in line to get work done on it. 

Our dispatcher told Mike that she had told the shop to drop what they were doing and get us moving so we could get our load on time, and told Mike who to talk to at the shop. So Mike went back to the shop... and well, it went on like this for a while before they finally got the work done and got us out of there. By the time it was all said and done, Mike was ready to chew up horseshoes and spit out nails. And after all that hurry and frustration we got to DeQueen only to find out that the plant had been shut down by the ice storm the day before and our load was going to be 6 hours late because they were still trying to get caught up. 

So we finally got to sit still for a couple of hours and get caught up on sleep - though the smell that permeates the air around a chicken processing plant is not conducive to pleasant dreams - yuk!

And once again, we were on a load that had no time for goofing around. They wanted it in Nashville at 6am that next morning, but because the plant was running late we didn't get it delivered until nearly 11am. From there we repowered yet another late load and got it back down to Ft. Worth, then repowered another load headed for Florida. This one had two stops on it, the first stop was just outside Jacksonville, Florida on Sunday morning, the second one was south of Tampa, on Monday morning. So we spent Sunday, after our first delivery, driving past Tampa - on Sunday... Superbowl Sunday! Traffic was pretty thick, but it wasn't the nightmare we thought it would be. We stopped at a rest area to sleep for the night, and woke up to pouring rain on Monday morning, but that's OK... I'll take a tropical downpour over ice and snow anyday!!

So we're due for some home time and R&R next week, and looking forward to it. 

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I'm a 34 year old wife, truck driver, writer, and photographer with a love of adventure and travel. I am a Libertarian, and a total sci-fi geek. I studied archaeology at Auburn University.

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