Joe Buck, Trucker

by Rick Beck


1/18/2003 8:50 AM

Flagstaff was always one of my favorite places to stop. I knew when to save my appetite for the best food. When you are on the road 24/7, you learn where the good food is, like at the Little America Truck Stop right next to one of the Flagstaff exits on Route 40. The restaurant is worth the stop, being set back in the forest among the trees. Having floor to ceiling windows where you get the full affect of the wilderness, the food is great and the prices are reasonable. There are few restaurants where I stop for the view but that's one.

While I entertained thoughts of taking a break there one fine afternoon, the weather had other ideas. There was no talk of storms or foul weather but in the middle of the Rockies you didn't always get any indication of what was to come, until it came.

I was heading into Flagstaff going West and nursing the last few hours of daylight. Kingman was only a few hours further down the highway and while the scenery wasn't much, it was a safer place to spend the night, and once I started seeing signs of snow, I made up my mind I'd wait to stop.

It was mile marker 212 where the first signs of the snow started to show up. By marker 218 there was six inches of snow on the ground and it was coming down hard. I did my usual, cutting my speed, and taking my time. There were a few cars and a few trucks traveling along with me. From time to time, one of the big boys would come sailing passed, slowing down neither for hell nor high snow.

By the time we got to the first Flagstaff exits, there was a foot of snow on the ground. The cars had started to falter and took this chance to get off the road. I was getting reports that there was no snow in Williams, thirty miles west of Flag. No trucks got off for obvious reasons. If it wasn't snowing in Williams than getting there to keep from being snowed in sounded like a good idea at the time.

As we crossed Route 25 to Phoenix, the snow was grabbing at my front axle in such a way that I knew it was high enough to stop me if I didn't keep moving. There were three of us in a line and then a North American called.

"Hey North American, what's up?"

Not wanting to be distracted by the radio, I also didn't want to be rude, since he was calling for me.

"I'm a tad busy right now. Can you call me once we get down off this hill?"

"Uh, yeah, but I'm right behind you and I've never driven in snow before. What do I do?"

I looked into my mirror to see another North American Van Lines bringing up the rear of our line, now four trucks.

"You should have gotten off at Flag," I said. "This is no place to be learning to drive in the snow."

"I've figured that out but you went ahead at Flag. I was following you. I'm having trouble keeping the truck on the road. What should I do?" He asked, more pleaded.

"Jesus!" Came a mysterious voice over my CB. "We got us a rookie bringing up the rear."

"Ease up on the steering wheel. Just let it move. It won't get that far out of line. Keep your speed down, try to stay with us and in our tracks, don't get near the brake or you're going to be having trees for dinner. Get in a gear that feels comfortable and let the gear slow you down if you need to stop. You touch the brake and you'll be following your trailer PDQ. Get off the radio and keep both hands on the wheel. That's it," I said, laying the microphone down beside me just in case he got in trouble.

Just as we started to close in on the bottom of the last big hill, there was a Roadway truck jackknifed to the left and his trailer covered almost the entire highway. The truck ahead of me swerved right, running off onto the shoulder as far as he could go without collecting trees, and I don't know how he cleared the rear of the disabled trailer. I gritted my teeth and tried to stay in his tracks, praying for the best. Just an inch one way or the other would spell disaster, but once again I squeezed through without a scratch.

Thank you guardian angel!

Ten miles up the road we were on dry pavement and there was no sign of snow, only the dark sky above us. We went on to Williams with me getting on the radio once it was safe. "North American, you got your ears on?" I called.

"North American, you out there?" I waited.

"Anybody seen the North American?"

"Rookies!" Came the same mysterious voice on the CB. "He never came around Roadway."

I sat for awhile before taking the exit down into Williams, hoping the NAVL truck would come along. In those days you were forced to go through that city and I'm being generous using that word. You had to stop at every light and after fifteen or twenty wasted minutes, you came back up to Route 40 a hundred yards from where you got off the Interstate. I never once stopped or bought anything in that town, although that was the point of making you go through it.

I knew it was no good looking for North American because he didn't get through. Perhaps vehicles stopped and finished blocking the road and maybe he was just held up and nothing more. It's the kind of thing you let go of when you're out there. You do what you can and you move on. My job was moving freight and if I could help someone along the way, I would, but never at the expensive of doing what I was paid to do.

Remember, all you four-wheelers out there, Keep the shiny side up and the rubber side down. I'll see you on the flip flop.

Joe Buck

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