Thursday, December 2, 2010

Have blizzard bag will travel

Winter time is here and it doesn’t take much – a slick road, a gust of wind or you or someone else doing something stupid like going too fast for conditions – to put you in the ditch. Nobody wants to pay $2,000 to get a $900 load pulled out.

Actually, that two grand number could be a best-case scenario. That’s assuming you didn’t tear up your truck, cause property damage, or take someone out with you. A simple slide-off could be a nightmare. You’ve heard the expression, “the road was so bad you had to make a reservation to get in the ditch?”

Actually, it’s like “you need a reservation to get pulled out of the ditch.”

What if they can’t get to you quickly? You’re at the mercy of the troopers to see that you get shelter somewhere. Your truck is 10 miles away in a snow bank and you are stuck in a motel if you are lucky. If it’s a company truck, you are liable to be fired, with a black mark on your record. If you are an owner-operator, you are going to be sweating bullets because that’s what o/o’s do.

I’ve been out there a lot of winters and only had one incident. That was where another driver was going 60. The rest of us were doing 25 in a snow squall, and this Billy Big Rigger took out six of us in front of a dozen witnesses. My wife, Geri, was with me. We didn’t leave the road and although our Pete was a little beat up, it was drivable. After all the paperwork the next exit was two miles away. It was Snowshoe, PA.

After breakfast the sun came out and Geri and I headed for the house – and body shop – knowing we’d be off the rest of the winter and speculating about the settlement that was coming.

I’ve been fortunate to have never had a job or lease where I “had” to get the load there as scheduled. I remember back before cell phones when conditions started getting bad and I would get in somewhere to wait it out. There would be drivers lined up in the phone rooms calling in to see if they could park it. My theory was, why call in now and argue with someone in a nice warm office? I’d wait until morning and call and tell them what I did.

I don’t ever remember catching any flack over this. On the other hand, I felt for those guys (some union drivers) with their daycabs pulling a set of joints being told “if the road ain’t closed, why are you calling?”

My method of operation was always quit early, and get in somewhere while there were parking spots left. About 95 percent of the time it would be better by morning. By then they would have cleaned up the roads, and the salt and chemicals had done their job. We got a wet road, and you could truck along at the speed limit kicking up a rooster tail of salt spray.

Only thing to slow you down is backing off while passing the wreckers that are pulling those guys out of the ditch that just had to make it through.

My advice: Always carry a “blizzard bag” and stock it with stuff you can eat, but not something you really like. That way it will be there when you need it. Quit early when you know it’s miserable conditions ahead.

With today’s technology tracking, the weather is easy. Back in the day, the CB radio was a handy tool. If you kept hearing about stuff like “road shut down ahead of you,” hey, I’m looking for a place to land. And preferably a place with a cafĂ© and bar. If not, just a safe spot. I got my blizzard bag – and these days my toys, like laptop, TV/DVD.

Cool your jets, it’ll be better in the morning, I promise. But if you see a flock of geese migrating to the south and instead of flying they are walking down the shoulder of the interstate, you may want to rethink that.