In the Path of Mother Nature

Tim Barton
Equipment Editor
[email protected]

The Kansas City sky is cold and blue, like a cowboy love song. There is a breeze out of the northwest, blowing the blue sky in front of it, slowly changing the melody of winter’s song from plaintive, clear-eyed ballad to a stormy, driving rocker.

My wagon is full except for the last pallet, hidden somewhere in the refinery. Twenty-one pallets in half an hour and two hours waiting for the last one. They don’t see the enormous gray-black clouds coming over the horizon. The first snowflake drifts down on to the dock. I need to get out of Dodge.

Loaded and rolling eastbound, I am caught in high wind and snow; snow like an avalanche, snow like a cold wet rock wrapped in rawhide.

The roads stays clear for a hundred miles but the wind catches my van and shoves it here and there among the little cars. I’m like a big dog running in a herd of cats. I’d be in the ditch by now if my trailer were empty.

The road swings around to the southeast and pushes me in the right direction for a while. I can see the pavement but my turbo is telling me I have lost traction coming back around to the east. Now the wind is broadside, holding me in the granny lane, giving my drives little time to find a toehold before the trailer slides between two four-wheelers in the hammer lane then comes back and slides again. How long we have been on this black ice I cannot say. Maybe 10 miles, crawling on all fours, all 18s, everyone trying to grip the road down through the seat, sucking the upholstery up, wishing it were pavement, looking for an exit that will not appear.

I hit Florence, Mo., two long hours and 20 miles later with howling wind gusts of 60 to 70 mph. Buried alive in my bunk, the heat full on, the throttle stoked, I fall asleep in the lot and hope the morning will bring a plow. No one will be going anywhere until this storm is gone and they dig us out.

About 3 o’clock my eyes come open. There is something wrong. I can’t place it for a few seconds. Then I know. My truck has shut down. It is colder in here and I have to do something or I will freeze. Out of the bunk, I turn the key off and put on three layers. I have no food, no light and no source of heat. One look in my tanks tells me I have 300 gallons of jelly. The little café is a long 100 yards away through three feet of snow.

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A driver pulling doubles is hitting on the waitress, a good way to spend a blizzard. She is looking at me and it goes back and forth for a while. All there is to do is drink coffee and wait for dawn. The wreckers and road crews will be out then and maybe they can thaw my Cat. It is 5 o’clock. The doubles guy and the waitress go outside to see if her car will move. Her shift is over.

About 6 a.m. the roadman comes and we wade through the drifts to my truck. He finds enough wood to build two fires, one under each tank. The fire melts the snow and turns the slop to mud even in the freezing cold. I try to fire up my Cat every half hour or so for the next few hours, but nothing has broken loose.

The fire is nowhere near the elbows and the filters. He calls a wrecker who wastes three cans of ether, squirting it into my air intake while I pop the clutch as he pulls me down a farm road headed west. Nothing. I don’t like all that ether in my truck but there doesn’t seem to be another way. Still, it’s a rookie thing to do. Nothing happens.

I call the boss and they tow me to a dealership and put the truck inside. By next morning it’s running. I call a taxi from the motel to get back to my truck. When I come out, the doubles guy is coming out of a room at the other end of the motel, getting into the waitress’s car.

A breeze returns the sky to a bright blue.

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