Didn't get an entry in last week, as it was a holiday. I got all three days off at home, the weather was great, and I was busy, out riding Miss Velvet all over creation. Not to mention the fact that I really didn't have anything to write about, either. Routine weeks are just that -- routine -- and I don't want to bore you, my loyal and beloved readers, with endless and useless details like, "picked up load here and delivered it there. Then I picked up another load. . . blah, blah, blah." Who needs that??!!!
This week, though, was anything but routine, as it seemed like I wasn't going to be able to get from point 'A' to point 'B' at all. For awhile there, it looked like every tire on my rig was either going to blow out, or go flat! Have you heard the old saying that "bad things come in three's?" Well, it's true, and sometimes they come in fours (or maybe fives). "When it rains, it pours." Yeah. Right. But it wasn't raining, at least.
I was grinding my way up I-75 in Kentucky, enroute to deliver another heavy-ass load of huge paper rolls -- what I refer to as "King Kong's Toilet Paper" -- to one of our loyal customers in Ohio. I was somewhere between Richmond, KY and Lexington, rolling as fast as I could, to build up enough steam to conquer the next hill, when I spotted a metal something lying at the edge of the road. At that speed, I didn't get a really good look at it, so suffice it to say that it was a piece of junk lying there. It appeared to be cylindrical, with a round flange on the end of it. That's all I observed before I hit it.
I was just coming out of a curve and evasive action wasn't an option at that moment. I had another truck right beside me, on my left. I moved over that way a little, but it wasn't much at all. To my right was the shoulder and the offending piece of junk. Try to straddle it?? No way. It was lying partway on the shoulder, with one end out in the road, and likely would be kicked up and tossed up under my tractor, where it could maybe punch a hole in a fuel tank, or the oil pan, take out an air line, or any number of any other nasty things you can imagine. Besides, my load of paper rolls was decidedly top-heavy, as they load those things standing up on their ends. Any attempt at swerving with that load would almost certainly result in my rolling the truck over on its side, which could be hazardous to my own health, to say the least. Swerving was definitely off the table. So, I ran the thing over, having nowhere to go, in order to avoid it. My right steer tire hit it, dead-on.
Have you ever seen a heavy truck tire blow? 110 pounds per square inch is an ENORMOUS amount of air pressure. Much, much more than the 35 pounds, plus or minus, in the average 4-wheeler tire. Truck tires don't give a polite "pop" when they go; they literally explode right off the rim. My steer blew out with a "BOOM!" that sounded like a shotgun going off, at point-blank range. Instantly, I became very busy behind that wheel, as the truck lurched to the right and the right front corner dove downward. I had a death grip on the steering wheel, seesawing it back and forth frantically, struggling to stay away from the truck beside me, as well as to not let it sway all the way onto the lower shoulder. At 65 mph, I would have landed upside down, probably, if that had happened. Keep it straight as possible, don't let it yank that wheel from your hands, foot off the accelerator, don't touch that freakin' brake pedal at all!! Let it slow down gradually on its own. Pull out the 4-way flasher handle. Tire smoke from the right corner, blue-white, stunk like hell. Wobbling all over the place; blown tire slapping the body work over there, then a ripping sound and no more slapping, as something tore loose. Speed coming down now; wobbling not as severe. Stay off that flippin' brake, Dawg!!! Speed down, down, down; hopping up and down like a pogo stick back in the 50's. Down to 35, 30, 25, 20. Clutch chattering like a jackhammer, trying to stall. Press the clutch pedal in and start easing it over, very gradually, onto the shoulder now. A lurch as I leave the roadway pavement; truck stays upright. 15, 10, 5 mph; start easing the brakes on now and bring it to a smooth (relatively speaking) stop. Pry fingers from steering wheel. Throw it in neutral and pop the parking brake.
"WHEWWWWWWWW!!!" Said a little prayer, thanking the Guy Up Above for guiding my hands on that steering wheel! Heart still hammering like a piledriver. Unbuckle seat belt and yank armrest up. Get up and go into sleeper, to use my "emergency bottle" before I go in my pants!!! I couldn't see my own face of course, but I wager that it was white as a sheet right about then. Believe me, THAT will scare the dickens out of the bravest driver out there!! And anyone who claims that it don't scare them is either lying through their teeth, or is completely insane!!
Once I had recovered somewhat, I sent a Qualcomm message, informing dispatch of my dilemma. Then turned on my CB and began asking other drivers where the hell I was, mile-marker-wise, so I could give my location to the shop when I called them. A passing driver told me I was at the 99.4 yardstick. I thanked him and called the shop, who put me in touch with a local road service provider. I wondered if the guy who came out would be my friend Lori's son-in-law, Danny. Couldn't remember the name of the outfit he worked for, but I was definitely in his neck of the woods.
While I waited, I got out and assessed the damage. Steer tire, of course, was dog-meat. Shredded, looking like a hand grenade had gone off in it and hanging partially off the rim, still smoking a little bit. The fibreglass body panel between the right steps and the fender was AWOL. Ripped away by the flapping steer tire when it blew. I walked the length of the truck. Outer drive tires were bulging, but with it down on the front corner, the way it was sitting on the shoulder, and the weight of my load pressing on it, I didn't pay a lot of attention to them. They didn't look flat, under the circumstances, and were still seated on their rims. The steer tire was #1 on my mind right then, and I was still coming down off my adrenaline high, so my brain wasn't exactly 100% functional anyway. Trailer tires looked okay. Back inside, I noticed that the steering wheel was slightly bent, doubtlessly from my frantic efforts to control the truck. I tugged around on it and managed to straighten it up pretty well. Made a note to let the shop check it next time I'm at the yard. Likely nothing wrong at all, but just to be safe, I will do so.
The guy came and put a new steer tire on. Rim was okay. And it wasn't Danny at all, but I gave him five bucks anyway, for his supper. Those road service guys work hard and have a very dangerous job themselves, working out on that shoulder like they do, in every kind of weather imaginable, so I appreciate them all. The dude left and I started 'er up, put 'er in gear and headed north once again.
I hadn't even quite got to Lexington before I heard another bang, not as loud this time, and saw rubber pieces flying from my right front outer trailer tire. I knew then that it had likely been damaged by running over the same piece of metal junk from hell that had blown my steer tire. Well, I had a spare for that one and I could move on, slowly, and hopefully make the Pilot at exit 129, where I knew they had a shop. I pulled in there, went inside and told them what had happened, filled out a work order, then proceeded to wait an hour and a half before they could get me into their bay.
When I pulled it in, the guy in charge noticed that my two outer drive tires were also flat, although they weren't blown out at all. Damaged and leaked slowly down while I was on that shoulder, probably, I knew. One piece of metal junk had killed four (4) tires, in one fell swoop. Thus my remark about bad things coming in fours. The Mother Of All Chain Reactions. I ate my supper while they worked on it. If I'd been an owner/operator, I'd likely have been crying, with fuel prices on top of tire prices. As it was, I still wanted to know where that piece of metal with my name on it had come from, whose truck it had fallen off of, so I could personally take the thing and ram it up his posterior. And I wouldn't have been too awfully concerned about how well it fit, either! Turn it sideways and rotate it three or four times, for good measure!! But, of course, I'll never carry out that empty threat. Nobody's going to solve that whodunit in this lifetime.
All-in-all, I'd killed three and a half hours on tire replacement. No, I didn't have to worry about that crazy Cincinnati rush hour now, but as I motored up I-71, another thought hit me: Would the place still be open this late?? Could I still deliver my load that night? Hmmmmmmm. I pulled off in the first rest area I came to, which was only about 40 miles from my destination. I asked dispatch first, and, as usual, those people who act like they know everything didn't know at all. I called the customer. "We shut down receiving at ten o'clock," the guy that answered told me. "Well, it's 9:30 now and I'm still 40 miles away," I replied. "I won't make it up there before you shut it down." "Nope," he agreed. "Bring it in at seven in the morning." I hung up, informed dispatch, and climbed in my bunk shortly thereafter.
The rest of last week went routinely, thank God. Surely now I won't have any more flat tires for a LONG time! I think I had more than my share of them in that one afternoon! One bright note was that I confirmed that I will get my third week of vacation this year. I wasn't sure how to interpret the policy, but I passed my 10th year, officially, this past April and now I'm starting on my 11th year, so I get another week. And this time, NO DOCTOR APPOINTMENTS!!! Already got all that squared away, except my physical, which is the middle of June. I set it up for the middle of August, while it's still full summer and full Velvet-riding weather out!! Yay!!! Hooray!!!