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!”
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.”