Memories #7: Million Dollar Mistake


Truckdrivers don’t get enough exercise; they usually end up with bad backs and atrophied leg muscles. That’s why, after driving truck for many years, I decided to start walking the 8K or so, round trip, everyday to work, and I’ve never been sorry. Everything from petting a young fawn to confronting two bear has happened in the woods on my walks. Toting a good 50 lbs of books, thermos, jacket, lunch, etc., and trying to keep ahead of the mosquito hoard, kept me in pretty good shape.

Well, one hot afternoon I left for work after instructing each family member to stay far away from the melting blob on the wall we called the fusebox, ironically, because it was the greatest fire hazard there ever was–and had no fuses in it. I had temporarily hot-wired it, because we had a new breaker box coming to replace it in a day or so. What can I say, we needed juice!

When I was about midway between my house and the reporting building in area 6, I heard the city siren go off; turning, I could see a column of black smoke rising from behind the trees–RIGHT WHERE MY HOUSE WOULD BE!

It was so hot that day, that out on those open hills it felt like a blast furnace. Still I ran with that pack full tilt all the way to the buildings. I grabbed the phone and called… it kept ringing…FINALLY! Jody, my wife answered. The fire had been at an old contractor’s trailer on the edge of town–right in line with my house.

It was a good thing I didn’t run the other way, toward home. I might have decided to stay, and they would of had to pay another driver time-and-a-half to fill my spot. Or was it? Turns out that before the night was over, my reporting to work would cost them a million dollars.

To pay for that new breaker box (to never have to buy another fuse!), Jody and I had agreed that if any overtime was offered, I would take it. So it was that night.

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever driven for long, long periods before, but every trucker knows how time slows down behind the wheel, and on really long trips (like the 16 hours in the saddle I was pulling), it was accomplished mostly on auto-pilot.

And that’s where I was at 4:00 AM the next morning, auto-pilot. I had just pulled the snorting, metal beast up onto the rock dump, and backed up alongside the cat. The catskinner, surprisingly awake, guided me back with his flashlight and then flipped it off.I raised the box for the umpteenth time that night, only this time, it came too close to a power line. There was a tremendous explosion (waking us all up), and a huge fireball that lit up the whole sky as 100,000+ Volts fried my truck, instantly blowing out the windshield and gauges, as well as a rear tire and the Halon System. I just sat in the seat without touching anything metal (I found out later, that might’ve saved my life), and I wouldn’t get down until an electrician said it was safe.

So they had to call up an electrician at 4:30 in the morning and have him come out to work. Meanwhile, the insides of the front tires were somehow burning, and I began to get a bad feeling about them. I grabbed the steering wheel and held on tight and, sure enough, one tire blew, and then the other. These are those giant wheels for the biggest truck we had,(240 ton), and when they blow, the whole front end drops down a couple of feet, and the noise…well, let’s just say people from Hoyt Lakes, Biwabik, Aurora, and even Embarrass have told me they heard it.

By now there were firetrucks, and foremen, most of my crew, and even Barry Grivette, the Head Cheese was there. The electrician arrived, assessed the situation, had the power line shut down over his phone, touched the truck, and gave me the all-clear. I crawled down to everyone clapping and even Barry gave me a hug. It had been 40 or 45 minutes since I’d been zapped, and now, only after I was safely down, the tires burst into flames and soon the whole truck was engulfed.

None of it was my fault, and if anything, by the way Barry was hugging me, I might have been able to sue them, but I’ll just go with the honor of holding the record for the number of blow-outs on one truck.

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