One Step Forward and Two Steps Back
(the truckers Waltz)

Chapter 6


A couple of weeks later Bill was driving passed the scales and seen Steve’s new Kenworth tied up in an inspection. He drove down to the card lock and waited for him. When Steve drove up to the pumps, he was fuming, “Do you know what, they gave me a warning ticket for having a couple of clearance lights out on the top of the trailer, that’s all they could find, I asked them how the hell they expected me to change them, I don’t have a ladder?”

“Hey, hold on there Steve, don’t get all excited. They didn’t give you a ticket for your tractor; it’s for the trailer. Now the company has to fix it, not you, all it cost you was a little time.”

“Well I guess your right, It’s just when you spend a lot of time and money on your outfit, you hate sitting in the scales while they inspect your outfit.”

“Certainly you do, every one hates it, but think of what would happen if they didn’t, did you see that one outfit that they had taken out of service while you were in there. Good looking out fit, did you hear what they took him off the road for?”

“Yeah, a couple of cracked brake drums on the trailer, I was told.”

“Well think about it, what if you were following him down the road and one of them flew apart and you ran over it and screwed up a couple of tires, or maybe tearing out a couple of air lines or worse. How would you feel about that, or what if one of these pointy little cars hit it and some one got killed? Not a pleasant thought is it? All you need is to have a set of duals, leave a trailer, coming at you down the road and you will think these road checks aren’t to bad and believe me it has happened more than once in the so called good old days.”

“I know, but it’s just the thought,” answered Steve.

“Steve I will give you a little advise, When they pull you into one of these road checks, or they pull you over for anything, don’t get out of your truck with a chip on your shoulder and start yapping off to them, be a little pleasant and you will be surprised just how much more pleasant one of these encounters will be. These people are just doing a job and even the ones with a chip on their shoulders, will soften up. You can get a lot more with honey then you can with vinegar.”

“Hey Steve are you going to have a cup of coffee when you get fueled up?” asked Bill.

“Sure, we might just as well have it here, give me ten minutes to fuel up and I’ll be right in.”

“You bet kid, see you inside.” Bill said and went to park his pickup.

When Steve came in Bill was already drinking his coffee, “Just grab one.” Bill said, “I’ve already paid for it. That outfit that got shut down at the scales looked like a pretty good out fit.”

Steve got his coffee and sat down with Bill. “You know Steve I know how that driver felt when they put him out of service, back there at the scales, its hard to detect a cracked drum when you are doing a pretrip, especially at night. Brakes take a hell of a beating, when you consider that all the heat you generate in the engine to get rolling has to be dissipated through those break drums to get you stopped. You get a little help from the Jake brake, rolling resistance and friction lose, but the brakes do most of it, those break drums heat up and cool down hundreds of times during a trip and every time they do it is taking a toll.”

“Yeah I felt sorry for him, I ran the last 150 miles with him and he seemed like a good guy. How does a guy know when he is going to have trouble with his brake drum’s?”

“Well kid, on your own tractor you should know when you do the brakes, the mechanic or you should check them, don’t take chances if you see any heat checks on the inside, change them; they’re cheap. Brakes are one thing on an out fit that is important; they could save your life.

The trailer, you just have to hope the company you are pulling for does their maintenance routines and keeps the brakes in good shape. If you see, on you’re pretrip that the shoes are getting down, write them up and the next time you pull that trailer make sure they have been done, they should also be doing the drums.”

Bill stopped talking and took a sip of his coffee before continuing, “When I see these guys charging red lights and standing on the brake or driving hard over the top of a hill, I shudder, they are costing some one a lot of money.

When you go over hill, let gravity do the work and doesn’t waste fuel, then skip shift, take two gears at a time. Let mother nature do the work, nothing up sets me more than to follow a truck over a hill watching the smoke rolling out of the stacks as he pulls away with his boot planted in the pump and then see the brake lights come on as soon as he takes his foot off the throttle.”

Bill paused and took another sip out of his coffee, looking out the window as though he was some place else. Steve was just going to say some thing when Bill said, “I remember when I had a little 81 KW Cab Over, my first truck, it had a 250 Cat in for power and no Jake Brake, I was hauling asphalt out east and I was coming down a long hill and thinking that I could save on my tractor brakes, I was using the hand valve using the trailer brakes, you know the old saying, ‘use the company brakes’-------I was just coming around the last corner that led onto a bridge and then up on to a passing lane when I caught up to a car with a holiday trailer. ‘This is all right’ I thought, ‘I’ll just hold back a little bit longer and then I’ll sling shot him up the 3 lane.’

There just happened to be a rest area on our side of the bridge, to the left, at the last minute his turn signal and brake lights came on, he was turning into the rest area just about the time I was going to turn her loose. I stood on the brakes using any brakes I had saved on the truck, getting her pulled down, when I got stopped the tractor brakes were smoking. That was the last time I ever used the hand valve for braking.”

“And those shorts you were wearing that day, I expect,” Steve said, laughing.

“No not that day, but almost, you know kid, I have found that if you use your foot valve and use all your brakes, you use less of them and on ice you have a lot less chance, if you are braking on all wheels, of locking them up.”

“Okay Bill, points well taken, but speaking of ice, what happens when you lock up the Jake on an icy hill and she starts to jack knife on you?”

“You mean besides praying. That’s a trick question because every situation is different. It’s like I say, you have to learn to read the road, experience. One thing I will tell you is to turn off the Jake and use your foot valve. You will have a lot more control and you will be braking with all of your brakes and not just with the ones on the drivers.”

Bill paused and looked at Steve, “At times like those you look for any traction you can find, some times you have to do things that you normally wouldn’t do, like give it some throttle to get your tractor ahead of your load. The center line or the shoulder that might have an accumulation of sand or even fresh snow that has been blown off the beaten track are a good bet. Drivers are like cows, they want to run in the same tracks as every one else, those shiny black strips you see on the pavement aren’t asphalt, they’re ice. Hot tires create ice.”

“Thanks for the advise and coffee, Bill, I had better get my butt in gear or I will miss supper, you take care,” Steve said as he got up and headed for his truck.

“Say hello to Rose for me,” shouted Bill, Steve waved over his shoulder, affirmative as he walked away.

Bill sat there for a couple of minutes thinking, ‘I guess I should have told him to put his teeth in his shirt pocket on icy roads, so he wouldn’t bit his tongue, but I don’t think he wears false teeth, yet.’

When Bill got home, Jeanne had dinner on the table and as he walked into the kitchen she looked at him with a disgusted look and said, “Now just were have you been all afternoon, William Ivors?”

Bill walked over to her, gave her a kiss and smiled, as he took off his coat he said to her, “You know, sweet thing, I don’t think we have to be worried about the next generation of truckers as long as they are as willing to learn and are as good as young Steve James.”

Go to Chapter 7