I’ve mentioned a few times here that I spent two years immediately after leaving the Marine Corps as a cross country truck driver. CDL, 18 wheeler, the Bear with the most rolling along coast to coast.

During those two years, a lot of things happened that could be blog fodder, if looked at in the right way.

I’ve got two different types of trucker stories to share.

I’ve got the ones that I personally saw or did and thought “WTF”, and then there are the ones that were told to me in truckstops by other truckers over a cup of coffee that sounded great, but who knows if they’re real or not?

Hence, Tales from the Truckstop.

On this lazy Friday I’d like to share one story in particular, a story that I can personally verify as having actually happened.

It remains in my mind as one of the biggest “WTF” moments of my life. 

It was a fine, sunny summer day in Illinois. I was driving my skunk truck north, rolling along I-57 after having spent a hellish morning making deliveries and pickups in the back alleys of St. Louis, on the west side of the river.

I was heading on north through southern Illinois, heading generally towards Chicago, but my intention was to cut over towards and around Indianapolis before reaching the I-80 corridor and barrelling on through to my eventual destination, a pet food processing plant near Allentown, Pennsylvania.

Perfectly placed along my path is the oasis of truck stop heaven known as Effingham, Illinois.

Effingham is to truck stops as Wal-Mart is to rednecks.

What I’m saying is, you see a LOT of bad flannel and too tight tube tops over stretch shorts in flourescent colors.

Oh, wait, no that’s not it. Oh well, whatever.

Back then they had a Petro travel center, a Flying J, two of the biggest truck stop chains around, and a ton of smaller mom and pop outfits all around that area. Acres of parking lots around central trucker facilities, facilities so large they had their own movie theater for truckers, I think at the Petro.

Yeah, that’s right, after a long day of trucking most truckers sleep in their trucks, they don’t get motel rooms. But you still want a nice meal, a shower, a place to relax and watch TV or movies, and socialise. The really big truck stops not only have the “free shower with fill up for truckers” that is pretty standard, but they’ve got movie theaters in the truck stop, TV rooms with stadium seating, massive video arcades and you name it.

Basically, a big truck stop is kinda like a massive shared apartment where your roomates work different shifts. You pop in, get a meal, take a shower, do your laundry, sit down and chill out watching a movie, hit the gym, and then back out to your truck for some sleep before hitting the road.

These days, what with satellite phones and internet and cheap laptops and T1 connections to the truck, it truly is a good representation of college dorm life. Minus the booze.

Effingham is a trucker mecca. As a major crossroads for over the road travel, with multiple main highways running through or nearby, at any given time hundreds if not thousands of trucks can be found parked amongst the lots with more trucks going in and out all the time.

I decided to take a break for a bit, get some rest and let my hours roll over on my log before I hit the next stretch of road. The US government regulates how may hours a professional driver is allowed to drive in a given 24 hours period, you have to maintain a continuous rolling logbook clearly listing start location, stop location, time spent driving, miles driven, and hours not driving, subject to audit by the DOT at anytime. You get audited and are found in violation, your ass is grass. But that’s another story, and it never happened to me. :)

I decide to roll into the Petro at Effingham, my favorite of the chains. I like their food, used to have a really nice beef brisket on the menu.

As I’m rolling into the big truck entrance following the continuous stream of trucks, I do notice one of the trucks heading out.

It was a big yellow semi, one of the trucks run by JB Hunt.

JB Hunt was famous back then, around ’95, for having some of the most inexperienced and ignorant drivers on the road. True story or industry myth? Who knows?

I noticed this one in particular because I saw that the small side accessory panel door was open, and flapping in the breeze as he drove out the gate.

Note: Not the exact truck, photo is just to show you what door I mean.

The little accessory area there is for holding tools, tire thumpers, road flares and emergency signs, rags, that kind of stuff. It’s got a lock, and typically they open on side hinges like any other door. It’s not accessible from inside the truck.

Like I said, as I’m driving in, he’s driving out, and I notice his side accessory door flapping away.

I keep going in, not much I can do, what, I’m gonna flag him down? Chase him down the highway?

But one thing I CAN do is try and raise him on the CB.

I, like all other truckers, had a CB radio in the cab. I normally kept mine off, because truckers in my experience were for the most part illiterate, ignorant hate filled bigots. Not exactly the kind of people I felt like sharing a nice, lively debate with.

You still needed a CB, because most large companies used them in the shipping/receiving office to tell trucks when a dock door was open, and which one to back into.

Anyway, I flip on my CB to try and raise Mr. JB Hunt truck, when right away I hear another trucker break in and say something along the lines of, “Hey JB, you got a side door flapping there, son.”

Okay, mission accomplished, someone let the poor guy know already. Time to gather my shit and head in for a shower.

I’m parked and getting my stuff together, towel and shampoo kit, clean clothes, but the CB is still on in the cab.

I’m not really paying attention to it, I’d just forgotten to turn it right back off.

Suddenly, I hear this excited voice break in the channel, yelling “Holy shit, JB get your ass back in your truck!”

What?

Next thing I hear, literally the next thing is a different voice yelling “What the hell is he doing outside the truck?”

A brief pause.

“OMIGOD HE FELL OFF!!!!”

The radio went bugnuts after that.

I sat for a while listening to the panic, the screams, the confusion and uproar, but it was all a mess, no useful data buried in the noise, and after I started hearing sirens out on the highway roaring southbound, I shrugged and headed indoors.

Here is the story as pieced together by all the folks in the truckstop after the fact, with the assistance of some nice Highway Patrol fellas that were kinda curious wtf he mighta been thinking.

It turned out that good old Mr. JB Hunt driver, heading south from Effingham on I-57 at a high rate of speed, heard his fellow trucker warn him that his side panel door was swinging in the breeze.

At this point, a few miles away from the next exit and apparently having the f’ing Hope Diamond or something in his side panel that he just COULDN’T risk falling out, what he decided to do was place his rig on cruise control, open his driver door, and, while standing there and hanging onto his door frame and the steering wheel, swung his body out of the truck on the driver side and tried to kick the door closed.

Apparently, he took a few really good kicks at it and couldn’t quite reach, so he reaaaaaaally extended himself out there… and fell off his f’ing truck.

The truck, of course, was on cruise control, and blithely unaware of the fact it was now a flying dutchman, a rolling engine of death, doing 65 mph southbound down I-57.

Picture this with me, as I relive that moment in my minds’ eye.

A fully loaded 18 wheeler, dingy faded yellow, 80,000 pounds (40 tons) of steel and rubber, barrelling on down the interstate at 65 mph… with nobody at the wheel.

Just, holy shit.

Inevitably, not long after the idiot fell off, the truck drifted to the right, caught a bump, jack-knifed and flipped, coming apart in a nice graceful tumble down the right shoulder of the interstate, flinging debris and customer product into the treeline. 

Now, obviously I never got to follow up and find out the whole story, but at the time, the driver was being reported as okay, banged up and scraped bad, but basically fine.

Forever after, I will be driving along, and I’ll see somebody do something stupid on the road, and it will remind me of the all time stupidest driver I have ever seen or heard of in my entire life that managed to walk away from his accident.

I’ll remember that excited, anxious voice on the CB for the rest of my days.

“OMIGOD HE FELL OFF.”

That, and of course my immediate thought… “What a f#&(ing idiot.”

26 Responses to “Tales from the Truckstop”
  1. Analogue says:

    Holy cow, that’s funny.

    Ever thought of writing a truck stories book? Your tone is perfect for this length of story. Think James Herriott of truckers…

  2. Ndiayne says:

    Oh wow, the horror stories of dispatch (from the trucker end)!

    I work in moving military household and baggage moves overseas, so we do a lot of business with companies like JB Hunt and SAIA, etc. Thankfully we’ve not had anything like that happen recently (although we did have a shipment get hijacked by pirates last summer). I don’t even want to think about having to tell some Major “I’m sorry sir, but your HHG got ruined because the driver of the truck FELL OUT.” >.<

  3. Katsiya says:

    You know, just when you think you’ve seen/heard about the stupidest, most inane, dumbest person in the world… then the world steps up to the challenge and gives you one that surpasses such things.

    Though I will have to admit, getting out of your moving truck (or any moving vehicle for that matter) to try and kick a swinging panel close while at those speeds… that takes a special brand of stupidity. I mean, Darwin Award levels of stupidity.

    I also gather that no one else was hurt by his stupidity, save for his company and those he was delivering the stuff for. If one is to do something stupid, it is always best to minimize the collateral damage. Then you would only be stupid and not a stupid crazed maniac.

  4. Aggrazel says:

    I used to work for a telephone company.

    Usually at least once a year, somewhere in our city some jackass would go driving down the road in a dump truck with the bucket up, and wipe out service to an entire neighborhood.

  5. Kaethir says:

    yeah that’s me speechless.

  6. Barid says:

    Kinda puts all those idiots you’ve pugged with in LFD into perspective, don’t it. (By “you” I mean anyone reading this.)

  7. Moonstalker says:

    @ Aggrazel: At least “once” a year?

    They’ve improved.

  8. Maritime says:

    I feel that a B.J and the Bear joke needs to be made, but I am failing to come up with one. Any ideas?

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B._J._and_the_Bear

  9. Minos says:

    But didn’t Bruce Willis do something like that in a movie? Obviously JB thought he was at least as badass.

    @Aggrazel: So dump truck:overhead lines::backhoe:buried lines ?

    btw, BBB, your mobile theme works great!

  10. Tesh says:

    Hmm… now I’m pondering shirt and meme ideas. Not being a raider, I don’t know… is there anything this could correlate to in WoW? Oculus or something?

  11. Minos says:

    @Tesh: I like the idea of someone hanging off the side of one of those drakes, but I don’t want to think about what they’d be fiddling with. “OMIGOD HE FELL OFF!!!!” could work there, though. Or in that same vein, maybe a Traveller’s Tundra Mammoth barreling down a road at some settlement with its former rider lying on the ground in its wake?

  12. Aggrazel says:

    Yeah backhoes … don’t get me started on backhoes…

  13. dorgol says:

    The mental image of that truck flying down the road completely unmanned was quite terrifying. I don’t care how many years ago it was, I’m just thankful / hopeful no one got seriously injured by the driver’s ineptitude.

  14. Wes says:

    Can you imagine his bosses reaction? lol

  15. Nighwhisp says:

    I know that guy, he tanked Forge of Souls the other day. . .

  16. Dechion says:

    People like that usually end up with a Darwin Award named after them.

    Thanks for the laughs today BBB, I needed it. =)

  17. bigbearbutt says:

    Ndiayne, on behalf of myself and every other military person I knew in the service, thank you wholeheartedly for all that you do. One of the biggest nightmares for any active duty person is being away when their family back home has problems, and one of the most common problems is being away at a new duty station while your family back home has to pack everything up and move out to join you… or to other family when they just CAN’T join you overseas. What a nightmare. Every time I ever had a move, the professional and brilliant way it was handled by offices such as yours just amazed me, and left me grateful. Thank you.

  18. bigbearbutt says:

    Katsiya, Dorgol, that was one of the biggest concerns at the truck stop, because obviously, EVERYONE wanted to know if the interstate was blocked and if so, how bad and for how long. Also, during the entire thing, we kept getting news updates because truckers were continuously coming in that had JUST driven past and that’s all anyone could talk about.

    Nobody was hurt AT ALL. The truck did not crack up on the actual interstate, it started in the right hand lane, it stayed in the right lane, and then it drifted further over to the right, and when it jack-knifed it swung completely over onto the shoulder, which was fairly steep, so it went straight down the embankment and off the road where it, basically, disintegrated into a pinwheel.

    From what i heard, the devastation was insane. If it had done that actually ON the road, it would have been a full scale disaster. As it is, it still sends shivers down my spine thinking about something like that on the road with me when I’m, say, passing a truck on the left.

    I tried to find a news story about it on the internet to link to, but apparently, since there weren’t any deaths, it just doesn’t come up. I’m kinda bummed. I wanted a screenshot so you’d know it happened. :(

  19. Darth Solo says:

    “OMIGOD SHE FELL OFF.”

    That’s what we all thought when our healer fell off the edge of the cliff in Halls of Reflection during the last part of the script when everybody’s running away from Arthas.

    The funny thing is that we managed to finish the script (all 3 waves) without a healer and only 2 dps died until the end, myself included.

    Anyway, thanks for the awesome story and I’m relieved that no one was hurt. I hope that moron lost his job.

  20. angry anon says:

    TRUE JB HUNT Story

    Most people don’t know this but JB Hunt Galactic HQ is in Bentonville Arkansas… (well Fayetville… but so close to Bentonville side it’s litterally 2 miles from center of town)

    Anyhoo, I say this because Bentonville is Galactic HQ of another big company Wal Mart – Thats right two gems of modern american corporate excellence within two miles of each other … in the MIDDLE OF NOWHERE Arkansas

    I was in a meeting describing a new software product. Neat product but obviously I was not getting my neat software saves you time story… I couldn’t figure out why they could not “get it”l…

    At a break in the presentation ( this was a C level meeting the CFO and COO were both there allong with some of the potential “users”), the subject of prior employment came up. At that point all of the potential “users”, and there were 5 of them, announced how they hated to work computer systems at Wal Mart. I asked them why and they immediately said because we had to be the “STAR” all the time.

    The STAR? i asked puzzeled…

    They said yeah! you know during the wal mart cheer someone has to be the “STAR” between WAL and MART…

    Right as the CFO and COO get back in the conference room ALL of THESE 30 something Arkansas ladies immediately jump up flinging their arms out wide imitating a “star” yelling at me “you know like this!” all as one without que like coordinated choreography…

    At that point I said to the sales dude… I think we are done here… I closed the meeting right then right there… funny he never sold any computer software to JB Hunt…

  21. Adlib says:

    Wow. I know the exact exit you’re talking about (I’m from Indiana and have driven out that way on I-70 a lot). They may still have that Flying J there since we were just out that way a few weeks ago, but I didn’t specifically notice. Anyway, trucks used to make me more nervous on the road than they do now, but now that I’ve heard that…just wow. A little more nervous from now on!

    Also, I had a friend who drove for JB Hunt back in the day, but he was an in-town guy, I think. Definitely not over the road. So there was at least ONE good JB Hunt driver! (Heard they had excellent benefits though)

  22. Ndiayne says:

    Just doing my job! I’m from a big military background (raised outside a popular base here in the southeast), so having the chance to help servicemembers out is pretty awesome. It’s really more thank YOU for being willing to serve our country. :)

  23. Cold says:

    I know this exact place too. I grew up about 45mins South in Souther, IL. That interchange in Effingham is crazy and there are more trucks there than bees in a busy hive! I always wondered if gaming is viable as a trucker, during offtimes.

    thanks for the crazy images. Great storytelling too.

  24. njdss4 says:

    *wipes tears from his eyes because he’s laughing so hard* What an idiot! I can’t believe this guy thought it was a good idea to hang onto the side of his truck while it was going 65 just to close a little storage door. PULL OVER FOR 1 MINUTE YOU IMPATIENT FOOL! Haha great story though, because at least nobody got hurt.

  25. Evil Sheep says:

    I spent over 10 years on the road, and I passed through (and stopped in) Effingham more times that I can count. As I was reading this story, I realized I had heard about it years ago from other drivers (e.g,; “Right over there is where that idiot JB Hunt driver fell off his truck”). And tbh, it’s as funny now as it was then.

    You need to write more of these trucker stories, great tone. And even with 2 years on the road, you should have enough stories to fill a book.

    And now a joke that all truckers (present or past) will appreciate:

    What Do You Get When JB Hunt Leaves A Truck Stop?

    Two Parking Spaces!

  26. Stupid Mage says:

    When I read these stories I automatically hear them with a Jack Burton voice…

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