Editor’s note: This story submission tied Stanley Lippard for third place in Overdrive‘s GPS contest giveaway in December 2012. Entrants were asked to describe their worst experience getting lost or finding directions on a haul. Overdrive editors ranked their favorites.
My worst experience in getting lost was as a young Army private stationed in Germany during the ’70s. I was a very inexperienced truck driver with very few and very poor maps, not to mention the language barrier. In January 1971, another soldier and I were dispatched to take two truckloads of supplies to our unit which was training at Grafenwoehr, Germany. Neither of us had been there before; the platoon sergeant gave us some rough directions and added, “You had better grab some tire chains; it will be snowing up in those mountains.”
At the motorpool, we found a gunnysack marked “Chains” and threw it into a truck and left. When we hit the hill country it was snowing and at the first MP checkpoint, we were told we had to chain up before we went any further because there was heavy snow ahead. We pulled the chains out of the gunnysack, and I remember thinking they sure did look small and wondered (never having chained up before) if two sets of chains had to be hooked together in order to go around the huge tires on our 5-ton trucks. Turns out we had grabbed tire chains for a jeep.
The MPs couldn’t believe our stupidity and almost refused to let us go on; however, I was loaded with commodities and my buddy was hauling an electronic surveillance trailer, so they relented. I asked for more detailed directions, but the MPs were in no mood to help us and shouted some directions about what signs to look for. We took off once again with me in the lead. By this time it was snowing heavily and I was having difficulty seeing the signs, which were snow-covered and low to the ground. The road was extremely rough but at least I wasn’t getting stuck.
As I came over the top of a hill, I discovered I was looking straight down (kind of like the Beverslide on “Ice Road Truckers”). I thought there was no way I’d make it down in one piece but had no other option, so away I went. At the bottom of the hill was what appeared to be a skinny bridge and I just prayed no one would be coming from the opposite direction. I hit that so-called bridge and flew out of the truck seat; if those 5 tons would have had steel roofs rather than canvas, I would have broken my neck.
I kept going, wondering why I wasn’t seeing any other traffic. I couldn’t see my buddy behind me because of the snow I was kicking up; I just hoped he was able to make it. It was getting dark and I was scared because I’d gone quite a long ways and didn’t see any signs of the camp. I finally reached a flat spot and stopped, waiting for my buddy to catch up — only he didn’t; he never showed up.
I could see lights in the distance; I didn’t know if it was Grafenwoehr on the Czech border but thought if there were lights, there must be somebody around. Eventually I made it to a gate and the UPs asked me why I was coming in that way and where I had come from. When I told him, the UP freaked out: Somewhere I’d gotten off the main road and got on the tank trails which cut through the hills to get to the firing range — the firing range where tanks would be firing live rounds in less than an hour. I had dodged the bullet, but the experience left me shaken and I vowed to be more careful in the future. Little did I know this was the first of many butt-clenching experiences over the next 41 years as I continued my truck driving.
Epilogue: My buddy who disappeared when he saw me go over the top of the hill had thought I went over a cliff and, rather than follow me, he panicked and locked up the brakes, jackknifed and turned over the electronics trailer. He wasn’t hurt, but it took the MPs all night to find him after I reported him missing.
Affected trucks include model year 2008-2018 Freightliner Cascadia and Western Star 4700, 4900, 5700 and 6900 trucks. DTNA says after hard brake applications, the brake light pressure switch may not activate the brake lights with the light application of the brake pedal.