The darkness engulfed me as I climbed the steps into Dillon. I’d just completed my pretrip inspection by flashlight and needed to drive four hours into Mississippi to pick up my next load. This one would take me into our terminal in Missouri. My trailer was having problems with the refrigerated unit and the mechanics wanted to make sure they got it inhouse to repair it.
I wheeled off the farm onto a major US highway. Suddenly, the second my automated transmission tried to shift, my truck stopped! Right in the MIDDLE of a major highway! I was completely blocking both southbound lanes and the shoulder.
Terror gripped my heart. In the darkness, a southbound vehicle may not see me. I flipped on my emergency flashers and switched into neutral then back to drive. My truck started up again. My overwhelming sense of relief only lasted until my truck began to shift. Then it stopped. Again.
It took ten long, horrifying minutes to coax my 73 foot vehicle to the nearest place out of traffic: the center turn lane. I sat for a few moments until my heart stopped pounding and the blood stopped swishing in my ears. Two trucks roared by southbound and I knew I desperately needed to somehow get to the shoulder.
Surely I could make it.
I switched into drive again and tried to let the truck roll at idle speed across the two southbound lanes. Shifting seemed to be the issue. If I could keep the truck rolling slow enough that it stayed in first gear, maybe I could get it safely to the other shoulder before the next trucks barreled in my direction.
Despite my best efforts, the truck gained speed, tried to shift and stopped. Again I was blocking both southbound lanes. I repeated the switch to neutral-switch back to drive scenario ten times before I finally getting the truck safely out of harm’s way. The shoulder isn’t the safest place but it would have to do.
I immediately put out my emergency triangles, trying desperately to stop shaking as I walked. I needed to determine if the problem was coming from the truck or trailer so I disconnected. I pulled up with my truck and it shifted fine. The process of elimination told the story. The refrigeration unit was not the only malfunctioning piece of equipment on my trailer.
I reattached to my trailer and tried to pull up. Just like before, the moment I my automated transmission pushed in its clutch to shift, the truck and trailer stopped. It had to be the trailer brakes sticking.
I pushed and pulled, knocked on things with a hammer. I inspected everything I possibly could. I yanked. I cursed. Ok, I didn’t curse but only because those words just aren’t in my vocabulary. But I did pray.
Somehow, something that I did released the brakes and I continued on my way. Each time I stopped or turned into an intersection, I held my breath, praying the brakes would not jam.
I made it to my shipper and to our terminal without any further incident. My best pretrip inspection failed to reveal any problems with the brakes and yet, I was placed in a precarious situation.
My company’s equipment is the best in the business. My truck has dozens of safety devices and our trailers cannot be beat. But the fact remains they are mechanical devices and as such, can break down without notice despite our best efforts.
I have hundreds of friends who cover my travels with prayer. For that I am grateful. I have been spared many disasters because of them. It had just never occurred to me that I’d need those prayers pulling out of my own driveway in the middle of a very dark night.
Thank you all for following me on this incredible journey that sometimes produces a moment of terror. Fortunately, those are few and far between.