This had taken the better part of an hour and I was becoming impatient. I had places to be, namely, on the other side of the tracks! I could see the warehouse where I was supposed to deliver the load of freight. And, I could see the lumpers (the guys who unload trucks when truck drivers like me are too lazy) standing idly by on the dock – waiting.
The ten or eleven drivers lined up behind me were grumbling, complaining about trains in general and bemoaning the lost time. One guy said there was another way into the warehouse a few blocks down, which didn’t cross the tracks. It wasn’t really the truck entrance but it would work, he said. We all agreed we should have chosen that road as the last few cars came into view.
And then the slow moving train stopped, still blocking the crossing.
Ever made a U-turn on a narrow city street with a semi, pulling a 53-ft trailer? No? I hadn’t either at the time. But what I lacked in experience, I made up for in confidence and determination. I know, that’s a classic definition of one who is naïve.
The street was about forty feet wide with a five-foot sidewalk on either side. That gave me around fifty feet – and with a 53-ft trailer, even with the cab turned completely sideways, that wasn’t enough room. To complicate matters, buildings and power poles lined both sides of the street. It appeared I was trapped.
And then I saw the double garage-door style opening in the building on the right, inset into the building by six feet or so.
For those who do not know, when a semi makes a sharp corner, and keeps turning, the trailer will start to go backwards. You can actually drive the truck forward and back the trailer up at the same time. There is a bit of tail swing however, as the end of the trailer does not back straight.
I studied the opening. It was plenty wide enough to allow for the tail swing, and at fourteen feet, it was taller than my trailer. With the extra six feet, I decided there was enough room - if I could time it right and position the trailer exactly where it had to be when it reversed direction.
I should point out that in driving a truck, especially in tight places, there is absolutely no room for error. Misjudging anything will most likely result in some sort of damage, and is known as a preventable accident. Most trucking companies, including the one I worked for at the time, view this as cause for termination. But, I’ve always been more than willing to take a chance. There’s no fun in always playing it safe!
Now, here’s the part that makes driving truck fun. I calculated everything and mapped it out in my mind. I knew where I’d begin my turn, how sharp I had to turn, where the trailer had to be, how I would miss the poles on both sides of the street, and when to pull out of the turn so the blind side of my trailer didn’t slam into the far side of the building. I also knew I could make it – theoretically anyway. The fact remained to be seen if I could actually do it. And, of course, to add to the pressure, I had an audience of all the drivers who were lined up behind me – no doubt every one of them with more experience than I.
It took them only seconds to realize what I was doing – and start jabbering on the CB. Then they started taking bets on whether I would make it or not. How rude!
Despite the skepticism of most of the drivers, things went smoothly and I did make it. (You really didn’t expect me to tell the story if it had turned out badly did you)? As I drove away, the other drivers tried to talk the next guy into turning around as I had done. “No way!” he answered. “That other driver just got lucky.”
In a few minutes, I found the other entrance and was pleased to see the train still blocking the crossing as I backed into the dock. And all the other trucks were still waiting in line too. Then, on the dock, talking to the lumpers, we saw the train start to roll again – the opposite direction. “Those poor drivers,” one lumper said. “They’re still waiting, and that’s a long train.” Then he asked how many cars we thought it had, voicing his opinion that it was between 125 and 150. Not everyone agreed. Some said it was shorter, others just knew it had to be longer.
“Actually,” I spoke up. “192.”