Posted on 02/05/2016 at 03:19 PM by Dena Boelter
Winter Adventures and Lessoned Learned
Ned back at you once again. Thought we would talk about winter adventures you may encounter as a professional driver. Anyone who has spent a few years on the road probably has some good stories and circumstances that taught them a few things.
Winter driving can provide interesting challenges, adventures, and can teach some hard lessons. I figured I would share a story with you, along with the lessons I have learned.
It was 1987 or 1988. I know because I was driving the first new truck I had ever been assigned, a 1987 KW conventional.
My dispatcher called and had a hot load from Des Moines to St Louis. The load was to be ready late in the day and had to deliver by 7am the next day. Piece of cake, normally. However, we had a big winter storm coming up from Missouri. Several inches of snow and blizzard conditions were forecast for Missouri, Eastern Iowa, and Western Illinois.
By that year, I had 9 years on the road and was pretty confident in my winter driving skills, so when the load was ready at 5, I hooked to the trailer and headed out. I no longer remember when I hit the snow, but by Mt. Pleasant, it was coming down heavy. My route was 218 south to Donnellson, then south on 394 through Argyle, then across the St. Francisville toll bridge and on south to 61. At that time, the Avenue of the Saints had a few stretches complete in Missouri and 380 in Iowa, but that was all.
All was good up to Argyle. I have never been and big fan of CB radios, but generally did have mine on when traveling through bad weather. I was just South of Argyle and heard something about a truck that spun out on the big hill just north of the bridge and that the road was blocked. After confirming that the road was impassable ahead, I reworked my route. I decided to head east, then planned to take 218 to 61 into Missouri. It was a bit farther, but it was also the only way, and I had that hot load. By that point in my career, I had decided that for me, it was better to run through the falling snow, as long as visibility was manageable.
It was dicey going south on 61. Snow was heavy and there were sections of whiteout for ¼ mile stretches. I was probably 3 to 5 miles north of Taylor, and was feeling pretty good about myself. Then I hit the open flat just north of Taylor, and the whiteout hit hard and did not let up. I may have been down to 10mph. All I know is the truck cab tipped to the right and I knew I had started to leave the road and was in the median. I turned the wheel left and floored the accelerator, but the ground was soft and the snow was deep and wet. I spun out. Crap! It took only a quick assessment for me to realize I was there until daylight. This was before cell phones, Qualcomm, 24/7 dispatch, road service, or anything like that. So, I hit the bunk. I normally slept with my head on the driver’s side of the bunk, but the truck was slanted downward in that direction, so I slept the other direction. Did not sleep much anyway.
At daylight, I got up and saw that another truck was off the road about ½ mile ahead of me and there was a wrecker there pulling him out. I walked down to them and asked the wrecker operator if he could pull me out next. He agreed, and soon I was out. I paid the $150 bill with cash and headed down to the Taylor truck stop to call dispatch and have some breakfast.
After getting back on the road, the snow was clearing up. It was slow going, but nothing like the night before. I delivered the load by 11am and given the weather, which had hit St. Louis as well, nothing was said.
A few weeks later, my boss asked me what happened to that wrecker bill I had paid. I told him that since they charged the driver any damage up to $750, I had not bothered to turn it in for reimbursement. He told me that if they (the company) were going to send me out in a blizzard, and tell me I had a hot load, they would not expect me to pay for running off the road in a white out.
So, all was well that ended well. But I did learn a couple things. First, whiteouts are nothing to mess with. Like I said before, if visibility is manageable, that is one thing. No matter what, always adjust your speed when you find yourself in adverse road conditions. If you cannot see, get off the road to a safe place, and soon.
I never have been one to dodge blame. If I mess up, I fess up. If you are truly doing your best, most good companies will have your back.
Be safe out there!