(editor’s note: as far as I know, this is the final installment of Fran’s adventures. Maybe he can provide others in September or November when I get my final weeks of vacation).
This was the beginning of a really sticky situation. I deadheaded with the White to Winterhaven for a load north, and I figured to be home somewhere in the Boston/NY area, but situations like plans are often subject to change. I got to Winterhaven no sweat, and when I pulled up into the parking area, it was loaded with rigs.
I asked the broker for a run north and he smiled a little and other drivers started giving me the old hoots and hollers. The broker told me to sit tight, but there were no runs. The growers weren’t picking fruit. I thought maybe they were kidding me, but they weren’t … it seems that there was a steel workers strike up north, and none of the growers were picking fruit because they couldn’t get the cans for their fruit juice packing. I immediately got on the phone to Jimmy and told him about it, and told him that I was coming home dead head. He said “No, wait there a while,” that sometimes these strikes only lasted a day or so, and then we’d wind up dead heading all over the country. “Wait it out.” Yeah. That strike lasted another six days! I thought I’d go mad with that country western music, the b/s from the road drivers who talked trucks, trucks, and trucks, and loads, and which of the waitresses in the diner were … ah … “friendly.” The endless card games, the occasional fights (never lasted long … the broker just mentioned the word cops, and they calmed down fast. Yeah, forty odd raunchy drivers and about a half dozen waitresses, many of them old enough to be their mothers.
And believe me, those girls/ladies really knew how to handle those mopes. I was going out of my mind day after day with no movement, grabbing as many newspapers as I could find, and looking for something else to read. But this too came to an end, and the old cowbell rang, and the drivers poured into that little office. I ducked under a few armpits, and yelled at the broker “I’ll take anything going northeast.” The broker looked at me and asked, “Albany?” I yelled back at him “Hell yes.” He signed out the paper work, sent me over to the Baby Juice farm and they loaded me up with crates of oranges and grapefruit, and off I went. (So many wanted runs westerly, so I was one of the first out of there, and what a sigh of relief). I had called Jimmy and filled him in. He was a little surprised that I didn’t ask Boston or NY, but I told him I wanted to be sure I got the hell out of there, so he said OK.
The White was still the same uncomfortable dog that it had always been, but there was no time factor involved here so I could drive at my own pace. Which was verrry carefully with this rolling junk heap. I still made good time into Albany. Got there the following day late in the PM, but still got unloaded and back out, deadheading to CT.
Biggest problem that I foresaw right away was the hard packed snow and patch ice on the route south along the track of Storm King mountain, which looked down on the vast Hudson River. This was not a straight downhill run, (there were straight stretches of course, but quite a few curves and in places entire sheets of black ice, which were worrisome, but I tried to maintain a steady and modest speed. There was also a very large and bright moon out and visibility was quite good, but the suddenness with which some curves appeared gave me the willies. I tried to brake slightly when I saw a particularly large patch of ice, and then ease off of it, thru the curve, Traffic both ways was very light. There came a point however when the roadbed itself steepened which increased my speed a bit, and I had to watch for this. I thanked God for that moon though. Then came the jolt. That wasn’t another car. It was my trailer coming around behind me and beginning the initial situation of a jack knife. If I suddenly slammed on the brakes I’d jack, and the entire rig would go over the side, toward the Hudson below. So I did my little toe dance with a tap on the brake, and then a touch of gas pedal, then a touch of the little handle on the wheel which controlled the brake for the trailer. I admit it … I was scared stiff.
Fortunately there was no traffic coming up toward me, so I tried to keep a steady pace once the roadway straightened out into a downhill drive.
Now it was still a downhill run but not as severe as it had been. As I got lower on the mountain road I saw a very large area to my right that had been plowed and apparently used as a parking area for the large steel diner deep into the lot, with a few cars parked around it. I had about had it by this time with the tension and fear, and I deserved a coffee and some food, so I sidled up to the entry to the parking area, and as it all sloped downhill toward the diner, I thought that if I drove down close I might have trouble with spinning my wheels to get back to the roadway, so I parked the rig parallel with the diner but right at the edge of the travel part of the roadway. I jumped out and started walking toward the diner and saw a guy come out and suddenly he was running toward me and waving his hands frantically.
And yeah there it came—the rig from Hell sliding sideways down the slope of the parking area right toward the diner! I ran like a madman to the rig, jumped in and started it up to pull it away when it abruptly stopped of its own accord. Right smack in the middle of the parking area. I thought, “to hell with it, let these folks dodge around me.” I needed a break. I went in and ordered a big breakfast of eggs and bacon and pancakes, and slurped the coffee, and it was one of the best meals I ever had.
I rested and soothed my fluttering heart, and had more coffee, and just hung out there for a good half hour. Time to go and I got in, swore a few curses at the beast, and headed up slope … no problem. Got down to main highway portion and it was home free all the way back to CT.
Left the rig by the Coffee Pot, and got my own car from the alleyway where I usually kept it, went home and got a sound sleep. I didn’t hear from Jimmy til afternoon, and I went to the “office” and he asked me if I’d had any trouble along the way. I said “Nah … just routine.” (I felt like kicking him you know where.) But later on I told him that I didn’t like that tractor. He agreed, but he said that we gotta use what we got.
And so it happened that once again I had to drive that rig that I was sure was possessed, and it would be my final run for him. He was surprised that the strike had lasted as long as it did, but he complimented me on grabbing that run to Albany, because there were no closer ones.