Friday, October 01, 2010

Tires and Train Wheels

By Alan Burkhart

Since getting laid off in July, I’ve been taking pretty much whatever work I can scrounge up from one week to the next. It hasn’t been all bad. While full-time positions are scarce, there’s always someone who just “needs something done.” I’m not especially proud, so I can keep the bills paid and the lights on.

I’ve done a bit of work for a guy who buys and sells all manner of used equipment (cars, trucks, construction machinery, etc). Since I’m a “professional” driver, I pick up various vehicles at auctions around the Southeast and bring’em back to his business in Mississippi. The pay is pretty good, and usually whatever I’m driving is a decent ride. Usually.


The other day I rode with another driver to Charlotte, NC to pick up a “crane truck.” It’s an old railroad construction vehicle with a small crane and a “man bucket” like those used by utility companies to lift a line technician up to a power line. The truck also has small railroad wheels underneath. These are lowered hydraulically to allow the truck to travel on the railroads just like a train.

So there I was, tooling along I-20 through Tuscaloosa, AL. The MS state line was only 71 miles away. It was early afternoon and I was already thinking about what I was going to fix myself for dinner when I got home. Then all hell broke loose.

TrainWheels_01 The tires had good tread, but the truck had been sitting a long time so dry rot was a factor. All involved felt the old girl would make it home and I wasn’t terribly worried about the tires. The right steering tire blew. It’s always an adventure when this happens with a truck, but in this case it was even more interesting. When the right side lost height due to the blowout, the railroad wheels on that side bit solidly into the asphalt, making the truck almost impossible to steer.

Tire_01 The truck was doing its damndest to rumble off into the steep, 75-foot ditch along this section of I-20 (just west of exit #71, if you’re familiar with Tuscaloosa). I had to turn the wheel a full turn to the left just to keep it straight. I-20 is a fast and busy highway through Tuscaloosa. The speed limit is 70 mph and most folks roll along about 75 or 80.

Funny thing… when I finally got stopped in the breakdown lane, NO ONE was going by me. The whole westbound side just stopped, evidently for fear that the truck was going to spin around to the left due to how I had twisted the steering wheel to hold it straight. Once I was stationary, people started easing on by and in short order all was back to a normal level of mayhem.

Anyway, I got the old bitch girl off the road and into the breakdown lane. The equipment dealer I was working for is a helpful and concerned sort of guy, but in spite of his best efforts it still took 2 hours until a service truck arrived with another tire. Then three and half more hours until I arrived at the equipment dealer’s sale lot. Then a 40 minute drive home. And here I sit, with a cold glass of my own iced tea and relaxing in my comfy “executive” leather office chair. Home never felt so good. :-)

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