Tuesday, April 14, 2015

It's Been A Year...

Since "IT" happened, April 7, 2014.

I had a load to Avon and head west on I-70, and above Georgetown there were scattered snow showers but no accumulation.  I had checked the CDOT 511 road conditions hotline to see if US-6/Loveland Pass was open.  If Loveland Pass was closed, as we say in the trucking industry, I would have to "go through the hole in the wall", which is Eisenhower Tunnel.  But since Loveland Pass was opened with no chain restrictions, I got off at exit 216 to "go over the top",

As I turned the corner on US-6 at the Loveland Ski Area, the snow started falling hard and fast, almost white-out conditions.  It was a heavy, wet snow, with the temperature sitting at 26 degrees Farenheit; not a good combination.  Warmer, and the snow would melt as you drive on it.  Colder, and the snow would be light and fluffy, easy to drive on or through.  But under these conditions, the snow packs under the tires and turns to ice.  Very difficult to get and maintain traction.   

The next sharp curve was Cabin Corner, where supposedly there was once a cabin, hence the name.  Since it is a hairpin corner, I had to drop my speed.  After I made the corner, the road conditions and traction really went to the dogs.  I was about halfway from Cabin Corner to the Windy Point hairpin when I lost all traction.

There are a lot of "tricks" that we can use to maintain speed and traction, such as slowing down and using lower gears, driving on the shoulder, and kicking in the "power divider", which is the trucking equivalent of four-wheel-drive.  I must know something about what to do, because in the 10 years of driving a fuel tanker, I've only had to put chains on the truck tires eight times, and two of those times were to get out of a customer's parking lot in Keenesburg, which is out on the plains.  He didn't believe in plowing his lot.  I stopped the truck and decided that it would be in my best interest to put on chains, or as we say, "throw iron".

While moving, the truck tires generate heat, and when you stop on snow or ice, the tires will sink down into the ice.  This can be a bad thing, like when you stop in a parking lot and the tires melt down into the snow and you can't get out of the holes the tires created.   Or it can be a good thing, such as sitting on the side of a steep slope, your tires create holes in the snow, and the truck doesn't slide.  However, at that moment, that was not the case.

The snow was loose and slushy enough that the truck started to slide backwards.

When a truck slides forward, the driver may have a chance of being able to steer the truck and work the brakes to keep the truck on the road, or at least where it goes and how fast.  This has happened to me many times.  However, when a truck starts to slide backwards, other than prayer, the truck and driver are at the mercy of gravity, road conditions and the slope of the road towards the shoulders.  On Loveland Pass there are only two ways to go: in towards the mountain or over the edge.

By the Grace of God, the truck slid backwards towards the mountain and into a small cut-out gravelled parking area.  The gravel helped the tractor and trailer tires to grab and stop the backwards slide.  Total distance was about the length of the truck, which is 65 feet long.

I sat there for a while to get my wits about me.  The memory of losing a co-worker a couple of years earlier in a fiery accident that claimed his life was very prevalent in my thoughts: that's not the way I want to die.

It was still snowing and blowing hard, with poor visibilty.  I bundled up, dragged my chains out and chained up the four outside drive tires.  Normally it would take me about 20 minutes, but this time it was closer to an hour.  In all the time I was there, not another single vehicle went by me.

I got to Avon, made my delivery, and head back towards Denver.  Loveland Pass was closed due to adverse conditions, so I had to "go through the hole in the wall".  I reloaded the trailer, made my last delivery, and went home.

God may have given me this job, and He may very well have been protecting me all these years, but I am not one to tempt fate.  I am resolved in not driving the mountains again professionally.  And I haven't.