Unsafe On 18 Wheels

Dec 21, 2015
Safety First
Share the story of a time you felt unsafe.

Mountain road.jpg
I drove truck cross-country for many years, we pulled 40 foot refrigerated trailers from Sioux Falls South Dakota loaded with meat. We delivered the meat to Tucson and Phoenix Arizona one week, possibly the next week it was a straight load of hams or sow bellies going to Los Angeles to John Morrels smoke house. I felt unsafe a few times in Los Angeles traffic, everyone travelling 70 MPH in dense fog. You can’t just pull over until they go past.

We always hauled produce back, you loaded produce all along the West Coast. It might be vegetables, fruit, mixed loads of this and that but usually by the time you got loaded you were up near San Francisco. So you came back through Sacramento, the northern way through the mountains.You take the interstate from Sacramento going up over Donner Pass, through Reno and back through Utah, Wyoming, Nebraska, and back to Minnesota and South Dakota where you would unload your eastbound load. We usually checked tires before starting any long downgrade. Donner Summit was a place for that. I blew out a new front tire once just as I started a down grade, so I got stopped quick. Didn’t feel unsafe until I thought about it later, it could have blown half way down.

You learn one thing in mountain driving when your on a long downhill grade such as the Grapevine between Los Angeles and Bakersfield. You always try to keep your speed at maybe 10-15 MPH and just two or three pounds of pressure constantly on your brakes as you come down. You could drive down the longest mountain in the world this way without overheating your brakes. We were always very conscious of watching those brake pressures. Every time you made the trip somebody would come past you at warp speed, smoke and fire pouring off all their brakes. They started down too fast, got excited and started pumping them, when they came down. They always had a few highway patrolman, every light flashing guiding them in and out of traffic, so they wouldn’t run right over a car. I must admit there were times I felt unsafe coming down the Grapevine.

We had a load one time that called for taking some back roads through Arizona on a old two-lane highway that was full of switchbacks. I believe it was called Yarnell Hill “some hill.” You always felt unsafe on that road. With a 40 foot trailer behind, you could almost see your license plates on the back of the trailer, going around a curve.’almost’ Some switch backs were so sharp you almost had to come to a stop as you made the turn. This one stretch of highway had a runaway ramp in case you lost your brakes. A runaway ramp was a long area cut out into the next mountain and it was filled with deep blow sand. The whole idea was a truck losing its brakes would take that runaway ramp and it would plow into that soft sand, only going so far before the truck bogged down and was stuck in the sand, this was a great idea and it worked well.

We always checked our brake lines being conscious of properly working brakes. When talking about feeling unsafe the only time I didn’t feel safe is coming down Yarnell Hill. Something failed in my brakes one trip, I must have been going 70 or 80 miles an hour when I got to the runaway ramp. I wasn’t sinking into the damn sand! There had been freezing rain and that sand was frozen over on top I was headed straight toward a rock wall probably at 60 miles an hour not slowing down a bit. That solid rock wall kept getting bigger, and it was getting closer and closer. Finally that big old heavy truck broke through the frozen sand and I sunk down and stopped just short of slamming into a solid rock wall. My radiator was almost touching the wall. Any clogged heart valves got immediate relief. I will have to admit that is one time when I really felt unsafe.

2 thoughts on “Unsafe On 18 Wheels

  1. Driving a truck – to see the sights of the USA- used to hold a trill to me. Then, I had several friends who did this job. No sights. No rest. No family. Blessings to all those you do. We need you. But not for me.


    • So true and back in my day that money wasn’t that great either. We pretty much lived in the truck. Need a pretty good relationship with your co-driver. Not a recommended life, unless it’s a young couple buying a truck and working together. I guess that’s the way to move the freight today.

      Liked by 1 person

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