Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Train Stoppers

My girlfriend and I were cruising around one Friday night when we happened to go through Hampton NE, population 450. There was a bar right off of N. 3rd St that looked interesting so we stopped in.

The place was packed and everyone seemed to be having a good time. After we found a place to sit down, the waitress came by and asked if she could get us a couple glasses of water. We didn't really want to just sit there and drink water, but she was really persistent so we said, "Sure, why not."

She brought us two nearly full water glasses and then stood back to watch. When we finally got around to taking a sip of water, we discovered that the glasses were filled with Vodka! Evidently the whole bar was in on the joke because it brought down the house.

We got to talking with the people there and I said, "It looks like you're having a party here. What are you celebrating tonight besides the water glass joke?" They said, "You're right, we ARE celebrating. We're celebrating our victory over the Burlington Northern Railroad."

At that time, Burlington Northern was running mile long coal trains right through town once a day. They were carrying coal from the mines in Wyoming to the steel mills and power plants around Chicago. They were so heavy that you could feel the ground shake blocks away as the trains went through.

One afternoon a local farmer was pulling a hay wagon from one field on one side of the tracks to another field on the other side of the tracks. Rather than going all the way around to a grade crossing, he just went straight across the tracks to the other side. As the wagon was crossing the tracks, he happened to looked back and saw the signal lights for the trains turn red in both directions. He guessed that the steel frame of the hay wagon had made contact with both rails.

Once across the tracks, he tested this theory. He took a crowbar out of the tool box on the tractor, went back to the tracks, and laid the crowbar across both rails. The lights turned red in both directions. When he removed the crowbar, the lights turned green. Apparently there was a small current running through the rails. This was some kind of safety feature to stop trains if a vehicle was stuck on the tracks and completed the circuit.

That evening at the weekly meeting of the Hampton Volunteer Fire Dept, he shared his discovery. A couple of hours and a couple of six packs later a plan was hatched to stop the coal train.

The next afternoon Herman went about a mile east of town with a crowbar and his CB radio. Fred went about a mile west of town with his CB radio. When Fred saw the train coming, he radioed Herman who laid his crowbar across the tracks.

When the train finally stopped, it was right in the middle of town blocking N. 3rd St. Once it was completely stopped, the rest of the Volunteer Fire Dept climbed into the fire truck, cranked up the siren, and roared up to the grade crossing blocked by the train.

The law states that when a train is stopped and blocking a crossing, the railroad has to break the train to let an emergency vehicle through. The guy in the caboose had to jog almost a half mile to uncouple the train to let the fire truck through.

Once past the crossing, the guys in the fire truck radioed Herman to go ahead and lift the crowbar while they bombed around in the country for a while.

It was a small victory over Burlington Northern, but one the town felt merited a celebration. The water glasses filled with vodka were a bonus.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Early Delivery

It was around noon when I pulled into a large grocery warehouse in Sioux Falls SD with a load of California produce. I parked the truck in front of the main building and checked into the dock foreman's office.

The foreman was having a bad day and seemed annoyed that I was there. He said, "You're not supposed to be here until tomorrow morning. You'll have to wait until I get all these other trucks unloaded before I can get to you. You may have to wait until morning which is when you were supposed to be here anyway."

I was uncharacteristically sanguine about the whole thing because, frankly, I could use the sleep. I went back out to the truck to do a safety check before crawling up into the bunk. I walked around the truck and checked all the tires, springs, and lights. I opened the hood, cleaned the bugs off of the windshield, and checked the oil.

As I was closing the hood, a guy in a suit walked by. He stopped and commented on what a good looking truck I was driving. We talked about the truck for a few minutes and then he asked, "What load do you have for us?" I said, "I have the C.H. Robinson load out of Lodi."

He looked surprised and said, "You're not suppose to be here until tomorrow morning."

"That's what I hear. But I'll tell you what, when I get this truck loaded, I don't fuck around - I get that load delivered!"

He gave me a long look, said nothing, and then walked into the main building. A few minutes later the dock foreman came out. He had a sheepish look on his face and said, "Give me a few minutes to pull that truck out of the first bay and then you can back in there."

"My boss just told me to stop whatever I'm doing and get that Crawford truck unloaded, because that's one driver that doesn't fuck around."


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Police Protection

When I traveled around on my motorcycle, I made it a point to avoid interstate highways. One evening I stopped in a small Indiana town with a park that looked like a good place to spend the night.

The town cop was sitting in his car parked by the curb. I rode up to his car, introduced myself, and said, "I'd like to pitch my tent in your park tonight, but I'm worried about someone messing with my bike. I wonder if you could kind of keep an eye on it as you're making your rounds."

His chest swelled up a bit, his face took on a take-charge air, and he said, "I'd be glad to. Don't worry, you and your bike will be fine."

I pitched my blue nylon tent next to my bike and crawled into my sleeping bag. That night I had police protection that would be the envy of foreign diplomats and rock stars. Whenever I happened to wake up, I could hear the cop slowly cruising by.

When I started putting everything back into my bedroll the next morning, I noticed a sign near the park entrance that read, "NO OVERNIGHT CAMPING".

Monday, August 10, 2015

Pass The Butter

When I was in college I had a friend, Phil, who was in ROTC. One of the ROTC requirements was to spend 6 weeks in the summer training at a regular Army base.

The Army has its own specialized communication protocol with only one rule. A reference to an act of fornication must be included in every verbal phrase. The self-discipline required to resist embracing this protocol was something Phil just didn't have.

A few weeks after Phil returned from this training, his girlfriend invited him to her family's house for dinner. They were all having a nice time until Phil turned to his girlfriend's sister and said, "Could you pass the fuckin' butter?"

The phrase "awkward silence" was invented to describe the next minute. Finally, his girlfriend's father said, "Well, you heard the man, pass him the fuckin' butter."

Everyone laughed, but Phil was still embarrassed. He got up from the table and said, "I'm really sorry - I think I better go."

His girlfriend's father said, "That's OK, Phil, we understand. Sit down and let's finish dinner."

"No, I'd better go. If I stay, I'll probably just fuck up again."

Friday, August 7, 2015

Counting Cows

My grandfather had a large cattle ranch in western Nebraska near the small town of Albion. He was well-known for the outrageous stories he used to tell.

One morning in the town cafe, one of the local guys came up to him and said, "Harry, you run a lot of cattle on your ranch. How on earth do you count them?"

My grandfather replied, "That's a good question! I tried a lot of different ways until I finally found something that works. I get down really low, count their legs, and then divide by four."

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Motorcycle or Car

During one of my motorcycle trips, I stopped to buy gas for my Triumph just off of I-95 in Virginia. I was just about finished when an old guy on a Moto Guzi rode in. He was a retired doctor returning from a visit to his daughter in North Carolina. He and his bike both had that well-used, but well-maintained look.

We had just finished gassing our bikes when a guy pulled in on a new Harley Davidson Electra Glide. This thing was sporting every Harley accessory available.

It had big fenders, fancy fiberglass saddle bags, and two cb radio antennas. The handlebars had streamers coming out of the ends and the mud flaps were reflector enhanced. The big windshield and white-wall tires were a nice touch, but it was the extra lights that really set it apart. It had enough lights to make a Vegas casino envious.

The old doc walked over to this "Geezer Glide", looked at it for a few minutes, and then asked the guy, "If you wanted a car, why didn't you just BUY a car?" 

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Out Of Miles

When I started driving trucks long distances, I worked for a company in Omaha that contract-hauled for the Armour Meat Co. It was a new, exciting experience for me and I relished it.

In a relatively short time, I started getting high priority loads. I learned later that I had developed a reputation for reliability. It seems that I was one of the few drivers that could deliver to the west coast without getting waylaid by the whorehouses and casinos in Nevada.

I was paid by the mile, which was the standard for this type of driving. When I compared the miles I was reporting vs. what I was paid, I found I was getting paid significantly fewer miles than I had actually driven.

My next high priority load after this discovery was one that HAD to be in L.A. early Monday morning. I was ahead of schedule when I pulled into a Barstow truck stop on Sunday evening.

I called the dispatcher and told him, "I'm stuck in Barstow and can't go any farther. I just ran out of miles."

"Ran out of miles? What do you mean you ran out of miles?"

"I drove the same number of miles I was paid for my last trip to L.A. and I'm not there yet."

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

80 On 80

I used to work for Bob Crawford, a retired truck fleet owner in Omaha NE. He kept one truck after he retired and I drove it for him. It was one of the best looking trucks on the road and had a Cat engine with so much power, it was almost like driving a car.

Occasionally Bob would take a trip with me from Omaha to the west coast. On one of those trips, we were going through Wyoming on a 100 mile stretch of I-80 called "Elk Mountain", which was well above 7,000 feet. The weather was clear, the road had been recently re-paved, and the big Cat engine was really cranking hard.

That engine would get really quiet when it was running at max load. About the only thing you could hear was the muffled whine of the turbo through the twin chrome stacks. We had been cruising along like this for a while when Bob turned to me and said, "Dave, why are we going so slow?" I said, "Bob, look at the speedometer."

The speedometer needle on that 60' long, 13' 6" high, 80,000 lb truck was sitting right on 80mph.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Monkey's Ass

Somewhere around the age of 40, my hair started getting thin on top. I didn't really pay much attention to it until my wife, Lan, pointed it out.

I was sitting on the living room couch reading when Lan came up behind me. She put her arms on my shoulders and her head next to mine.

It was all quite cozy and romantic until she stood up and said, "You know your hair is getting thin on top. It kind of makes the top of your head look like a monkey's ass."

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Steel Hauler

Gary Indiana, a gritty industrial city just outside Chicago, was home to a number of large steel mills. I rolled into Gary on a Sunday evening to load steel the next morning.

I parked at a large truck stop just off of I-80 to get some sleep. Just as I was getting out of my truck to do a safety check, the driver of the Mack parked next to me came back to her truck.

Maggie was a tough old gal around 60 with gray hair in a pony tail, a weathered face, and mischievous eyes. She and her husband had been hauling steel together for many years. When he died of a heart attack a couple of years earlier, Maggie just kept on trucking.

She had a treasure trove of great stories about adventures with her husband. We stood around swapping stories until dark and then climbed into our trucks to get some sleep.

It wasn't long before the whores started coming around. One of them knocked on Maggie's door and said, "Want a little pussy?" She stuck her head out the window and said, "No thanks, Hon. I've got one of my own."

The Switchblade

I was headed out of San Diego late at night on I-8 to load produce in Nogales, Arizona. About 70 miles east of San Diego, I saw a car stopped beside the road with the hood up and smoke coming out of the engine.

I stopped the truck, grabbed my flashlight, and ran back to see if I could help. When I got to the car it turned out to be a black Cadillac limo.

Standing next to the open hood were three guys who looked like mobsters right out of Central Casting. They were all wearing black suits, black ties, dark gray shirts and had rough, unsmiling faces.

I looked under the hood with my flashlight to see what was causing the smoke. It turned out the AC compressor had seized up and the belt was slipping. I explained this to the group and said, "I could cut the belt so you could be on your way. I have some side cutters in the tool box in my truck - give me a few minutes and I'll go get them."

One of the guys reached into his pocket, pulled out a switchblade, flicked the blade open, and asked, "Will this work?" I said. "I'm sure it will."

I took the razor sharp knife and easily cut the belt. I returned the knife and told them they should be OK until they got the compressor fixed - they'd just have to roll the windows down.

I acknowledged their grudgingly offered thanks and walked back to the truck savoring how I had skewed their view of the world. They were stranded in the desert late at night and a hippy truck driver had saved their ass.