A few years ago, when I was an over-the-road driver, another driver and I were dispatched to a mountainous area with steep passes, up and then down. The other driver was fresh out of driving school – in his first year of driving truck. Now, runaway trucks are nothing to laugh at and can be quite dangerous, but the trick is for the driver to control the truck and not the other way around. The general rule of thumb for descending steep grades is to use the same gear and go the same speed as when climbing the grade, braking only occasionally. Overuse of the brakes will cause them to heat up and not work. Trust me, you don’t want to be going down a mountain pass in an 80,000 truck with no brakes.
We were halfway down a 5-mile grade when I noticed the other driver had grown strangely silent. I checked my mirror and he was still there, but seemed to be gaining on me rather quickly. I asked if he was all right, and in a stressed voice, he said he wasn’t; that he couldn’t slow down. Instantly, I knew what had happened. Although I’m sure they told him in truck-driving school not to ride the brakes, that’s what he had done. I asked if he’d ever driven in mountains before and he told me he hadn’t. He seemed near panic as he added that he’d never even seen mountains before. He’d gotten scared at the top when he saw what we had to go down. Wanting to make sure he went slow enough, he’d used the brakes way too much.
At that moment, I wasn’t too thrilled that he was behind me. I had nowhere to pull off and I certainly wasn’t going to speed up just to get out of his way. Lucky for me, the guy still had enough wherewithal to steer the truck around me. Lucky for him, no oncoming traffic was approaching. Also lucky for him, the rest of the hill was straight and he rode it out. There still was nowhere to stop and we climbed the next grade. At the top, there finally was a pull-off. His brakes should have cooled enough by then but I wanted to make sure before we started down again.
I made a thorough check of the brakes and they were fine – the driver, not so much. He had no desire to get back in the truck. I did manage to convince him to continue on, by telling him I’d let him know on the CB what gear to use, how fast to go, and when to brake. Since both trucks were just alike and we were hauling the same weight, all he had to do was follow what I did. We started down and I talked him through to the bottom. We continued this way, up and down, me giving instructions, for the next 100 miles or so.
Finally, as the steep grades flattened out, we came to a town. Parking at a tiny truck stop, I could smell the brakes on the other truck. Apparently, he’d still been a little overzealous with them, which he readily admitted, saying at the bottom of every grade he’d started losing his brakes again.
The guy was still shaken and sweating profusely. Walking straight to a payphone, he called the company, and quit. The dispatcher did eventually convince him to drive the truck back to the terminal.
I talked to the same dispatcher a few hours later and he wanted to know what had happened with the other driver. “He needs to relax and not use the brakes so much,” I said a little sardonically.
The dispatcher replied that some people have a hard time getting used to driving a semi-truck in mountains but they usually do get the hang of it. “They just need a little time.”
“Okay,” I said, but I wasn’t convinced. Easy for him to say, he hadn’t been the one in front of a runaway truck. “I’d rather they learn before following me down a mountain,” I said.
Oh, did I mention this was my first year of driving truck too? Okay, to be fair, I should point out that I grew up in mountains – and I was quite familiar with the practical application of the saying, “What goes up, must come down.”
Bruce A. Borders, author and songwriter has over 500 songs and 9 books. Over My Dead Body, and The Journey, his latest books, are available on Apple I-Pad®, Amazon Kindle®, Barnes & Noble Nook® and Sony Reader®, Kobo, Diesel Books, and Smashwords. For more information, visit www.bruceaborders.com. See Bruce’s Amazon Author Page at www.amazon.com/author/bruceaborders or view his Smashwords Profile at www.smashwords.com/profile/view/BruceABorders