Flying J Truck Stop – Albuquerque, New Mexico
A new load assignment sent me 250 miles East to Friona, Texas to pick up a load of meat. Not your normal collection of round streaks, this one. There is always a “piece count” on the Bill of Laden and streaks usually number in the hundreds. In this load, there are exactly 20 pieces and a total weight of 39,000 pounds. These are like whole carcasses of beef, I reckon. Don’t know because the trailer is sealed and I back it into the door sealed and don’t see inside the trailer again until its empty.
I left Albuquerque as soon as possible after making a trip plan, filling out electronic forms and fueling the truck. This is another of those hurry up and wait situations. I arrive at the shipper and drop the empty trailer at 3:30 PM, local time. I am informed that my load might be ready by 1:20 the following morning. That created a conflict with my clock schedule as my ten hours would be up two hours later. I can do an eight hour split, which is another complicated morass of Federally mandated rigamarol. After eight hours of sleeper time, I get back the time I lost at the end of my 14 hour day. I can drive up that time, but to get the remainder of an eleven hour drive-day, I have to break later for two hours – which I did back in the same Flying J in Albuquerque where I had spent 34 hours on another Federal sideshow.
Parked on Interstate 40 exit 236 Near Winslow, Arizona
From there, I manage to make it to a nice roadside park West of Winslow, Arizona where there is not only diagonal truck parking in front, but also a large parking area nearby where someone, somewhere was actually thinking about the problem of truck parking. It is also my chance to fill water bottles.
I got an early start, but West of Flagstaff, all progress came to a halt. At first, all I know is that traffic is stopped for the half mile or so Westward that I can see before the road bends away to the left. There I sat for 10 minutes until I gave up and went “on break”. Wise choice, since I have now been stationary for over an hour.
Two heavy duty wreckers pass on the shoulder. Clearly big trucks are involved. Soon after that, an ambulance flashes by – then Highway Patrol and Sheriffs and an Arizona Department of Transportation truck hauling a big electronic sign that will no doubt soon read “Road Closed Ahead”. I pass information on the situation by satellite link to the Company since there are other trucks about to run into this mess.
Scanning the AM and FM bands finds little in the way of local news. Finally on the hour, the radio tells me that this is a fatal crash involving 2 semis and various autos. Low visibility was mentioned – smoke from a prescribed burn yesterday. Interstate 40 is closed in both directions near the town of Parks and there is no estimate of when traffic will move again. This is a clear indication that I should call home and tell Marilu that I am only delayed and not involved, preferably before she hears news of the fatalities that has now gone National . It comes down to waiting now. Waiting is about 20 percent of my occupation these days and something I am prepared for. After all, I have all the comforts of home – except, of course, indoor plumbing. There is grim comfort in the fact that – with few exceptions – nobody else does, either.
The seats leak air and leave me nose-level to the steering wheel. Running the engine for a few minutes elevates me again. I guess I could sit on the bunk and write on the laptop while glancing out the windshield to see if the situation has changed. Another ambulance just passed…and another.
Yikes! Traffic is moving.
Rest Area San Bernadino County, California
Jump in the seat – now on the floor again – and start the engine. Air pressure is needed not only for the seat elevation, but also to release the brakes. You may have seen TV or movie plots where the bad guys cut the airlines on a truck which subsequently careens out of control with no brakes. Airbrakes actually work the other way around. Cutting the airlines would lock the truck in position until the lines were repaired and pressure was brought up.
But, this means that the road is open again, yes?
No. Around the first bend, I see they are directing all traffic off the Interstate and across the overpass to return us on the Eastbound side. Mention was made on the radio of the alternate route – return to Flagstaff and go North on US 180 to State 64 South back to I 40 on the other side of Parks. About thirty years ago, I took that path on the way to the Grand Canyon and stopped off to go up a ski lift in the summer just to take in the view. There is a good story about that for a later post.
US 180 is a mountain road that passes Humphrey’s Peak, the highest point in Arizona at 12,633 feet. I am at about 6000 feet now. Add to this that all the cars and trucks I was stranded with will be seeking out this same squiggly line on the map. So, I got out the Rand MacNally Road Atlas to look for alternatives (see photo below). You will note the yellow shading on Interstate 40 that tells us this is a designated route for commercial sized vehicles. I can reasonably expect no narrow clearances, extreme turns, low overpasses or load-limited bridges. Notice also the lack of highlighting on US 180 and Hwy 64. The choice is clear. South from Flagstaff down Interstate 17, West to Prescott along 169 and North on 89 to Ash Fork and I 40. All of that is indeed highlighted.
Above: The Road Atlas View of the area in question. The red star is where the accident happened. There were no good options. I took the Southern route.
The third alternative was to wait for I-40 to open again. The last word was an expectation that the road would be closed for “hours”. The Southern route was over 100 miles and easily two hours long, so I did that. I did not attempt any photography because I was late and in unfamiliar territory. There was one exception where the rocks went all scenic:
Above: I believe this was on 89 North of Prescott. You don’t see the scenery come right down to the road like this on Interstates. Had to grab a picture. Notes at the top of the windshield are about the detour route.
Sitting in the door at the receiver – Fresno, California
It worked out well, if you discount the roundabouts (traffic circles – I lost count, but there were at least seven). When a 53-foot goes around a sharp curve, the rear wheels track in a smaller circle closer to the direction turned. Since I must first turn right, then left, then right again I managed to hop the curb with the trailer wheels on the first one. After that, I played “Pigs of the Road” and took my half of the two lanes out of the middle – no problems then. I timed the rig’s arrival at the roundabouts to be alone at the stop sign and straddled the lane separation – start to finish.
There was another truck in trouble around Mile 55, but no injuries I could see, except for the driver’s employment prospects. The tractor and trailer both were showing their bellies to the highway.
I arrived in California with hours to spare for on time delivery (OTD). I had four and a half hours left to start the new load 90 miles away in Delano, CA, but it has dwindled to 2 and a half by the 14 hour clock running down.
Over the Road,