My dad freaked out. We weren’t going that fast when the old dump truck struggled out onto the road some distance ahead of us and it was a simple matter to just let off the gas and coast for a bit while the old truck worked its way up through the gears to the posted 35mph limit. The road in front of the construction site was a mess of mud and gravel and although I am sure my father didn’t appreciate the muddy spray on the otherwise clean flanks of his Delta 88, he seemed rather unbothered about the whole event – at least until we finally closed the distance and drew up behind the big truck. It was then he read the scene in front of him and jumped hard on the brakes. As the old truck rumbled away he turned to me and asked “Did you see that?”
At fourteen years of age, I was already getting some wheel time. It had started a year or so earlier when, on the way home from church, I had asked to drive. There was a pull-out about a mile from our house and my father had stopped there and allowed me to take the wheel. I had required a lot of help at first, but week after week we stopped at the same point, then at another a little further away, then at another place even further from home and eventually I was allowed to drive the entire 9 miles with minimal assistance. Naturally, I didn’t get to drive everywhere, and so I wasn’t behind the wheel that fateful day, but even so it became a learning opportunity.
I had seen the truck lumber out onto the road, it was an old dump truck from the 1950s that looked to be in poor shape and saw the muddy tracks and gravel it dragged out onto the roadway, but other than the mud, which my father had been bothered little by, I did not see any other danger. My dad, however, had. As we had pulled up behind the old truck he had made note of any loose dirt and gravel that might fall from the truck onto the road, but pebbles and sticks falling off old trucks was par for the course in our neck of the woods. It was the other thing he saw that was the real cause of his alarm – a large rock wedged into the space between the old truck’s dual tires.
David, they say, slew the mighty Goliath with just a few small rocks flung from a simple leather sling. The threat we faced that day relies upon the same principle, only replace “small rocks” with “15 pound stone cannonball” and “leather sling” with “high speed centrifuge.” At just thirty five miles an hour, the forces on that stone must have been tremendous. There was no way it would just plop out onto the road, it was going to come out with real velocity and Lord help anyone unlucky enough to be in its way. At the end of the road, the old truck pulled into a gravel pit and my father followed it in and apprised the driver of the situation. I watched as the driver knocked it loose with a hammer and we went on our way.
For whatever reason, I’ve been thinking a lot about safety this week. The road is a busy place and the situation changes from minute to minute. Even a bare and dry road has flaws, dips and bumps, pavement patches and tar snakes, ruts, ridges and rills. Add to this, any number of other obstacles: flying litter, the squashed bodies of dead animals, broken bits of cars, construction debris and even tools – virtually anything that a person who works out of their truck may have forgotten to secure, and the threat factor gets turned up to 11.
In my last article, I talked a little about the changes I need to make in order to become a better driver and I was happy to see that some of you took that as a challenge to be honest with yourselves about your own self improvement as well. This time, I want to talk about the tricks of the trade – the “life hacks” as the kids call them these days – that we rely upon every time we slide behind the wheel. I know you have them. So, show us what you are made of TTAC, share your tricks and help us all be safer out there.
Thomas Kreutzer currently lives in Buffalo, New York with his wife and three children but has spent most of his adult life overseas. He has lived in Japan for 9 years, Jamaica for 2 and spent almost 5 years as a US Merchant Mariner serving primarily in the Pacific. A long time auto and motorcycle enthusiast he has pursued his hobbies whenever possible. He also enjoys writing and public speaking where, according to his wife, his favorite subject is himself.