Adam decided to ride with me this week. Little did we know it would be Delores’s last run. So the cool part of all of this was that Adam and I started out with that truck, brand new, waaay back in June of 2016. I mean, we had to peel the plastic off of the floor and seats – that kind of new. She only had 900 miles when we took our first trip. So last week, on a random whim, or… maybe it wasn’t so random (hello, truck gods), Adam asked me to scoop him up in the middle of my next run. So I did. And so he was with me when Delores took her last run, too. And so we’ve come full circle.
The way this all played out? I had it planned out, and the folks at work had me set up for a great long, holiday weekend on the road, because they’re awesome like that. A quick overnight run to Minnesota. Then back to Wisconsin (where I scooped up Adam). Then head right back out to Tennessee, drop, hook, head to North Carolina. A delivery, another drop, a hook, and head back home. I’d probably be home, sleeping in my own bed on Wednesday night. And I had it all trip-planned. Hours, miles, where I’d be spending my nights, everything. And then I hooked to a trailer that had two clearance lights burned out.
Now, here’s the thing. Looking back on this situation, I wish I’d have done any number of things differently. Started at a different service shop (sorry, Love’s, but I might be over you), left after my 2-hour wait turned into 3-1/2 hours, I don’t know. But I ended up taking a 10-hour break there after only driving 60 miles that day because this is how it went: I was told it was a 2-hour wait to get my lights fixed. Okay, pretty standard, and really not bad for the start of a holiday weekend. 2 hours later I was told another hour and a half. At this point, if I leave, I start over at a new shop with a new wait time, in the back of the line. So I stay. An hour and a half later I’m told 30 minutes. 30 minutes later I’m told 10 minutes.
FIVE hours later I’m in the shop. And guess what? They don’t have the damn lights to replace my broken ones. Umm. Excuse me!? After waiting five hours? Ohmygosh. While I fume and try to figure out what to do next, he checks the power going to the lights. And now guess what? It’s actually a wiring issue and they can’t work on it there. I called a couple of shops down the road – one doesn’t have a mechanic on duty that can work on wiring, and the other is an 8+ hour wait, and by that time the mechanic that can work on wiring will be gone home. So I surrender, take my 10-hour break there and decide to take off later that night, suddenly switching to driving through the nights because of this whole debacle. But I’ve got Adam with me and we make the most of it. I grabbed as much sleep as I could and we got rolling at like 9pm or something stupid like that. We caffeinated, he played DJ, read me internet jokes and the top 10 ways to conserve water at home (which, by the way, were all common sense or pretty dumb). But whatever, it was like having a live podcast sitting next to me, who also happens to be handsome and have a great voice that I could listen to for hours (which I totally did). And I made it those 622 miles I needed to make with a couple of hours to spare.
Next, drop trailer, hook to new trailer, drive down road, scale my load (I need to take a brief tangent about this in a moment), park truck, visit Starbucks for some decaf coffee and chill time, back to truck, sleep and drive through the night again.
The tangent: I scaled my load, and while it was all legal and okay to go, my steers were pretty heavy, which I’d been struggling with for a long time with this truck. I decided it was a good time, once and for all, to play with moving my 5th wheel (which is quite a process, aka pain in the arse) to see if I can get my weight more evenly distributed. After a couple of tries, I think I got it figured out. My 5th wheel was finally in a good spot! Yay! Little did I know not even 40 miles later I’d be sitting on the side of the road with a dead truck.
So as we planned, I got some sleep, woke up and hit the road. I think it was like 10pm or something, again, stupid like that. I approached Monteagle pass, which is kind of an infamous climb in Tennessee along I-24. I pulled off at the required truck pull-off where there are big, colorful, intimidating lite-brite-style signs alerting you exactly where all the emergency truck ramps are (like if your brakes fail and you are going 100 down a mountain and need to slow down like right now – you can take one of these ramps, which are designed to slow your truck in this exact situation, like right now. They usually head uphill and are a deep gravel or sand. Yeah, scary as heck). So anyway, I start heading down the 6% grade, got into a low gear, about to settle into a nice, steady slow descent and right away, from, I *think*, somewhere on the passenger side, kind of by my steer tire, I hear a “flap-flap-flap-flap” sound, exclaim to Adam, “what the hell is that noise?” as I’m already braking and heading toward the shoulder. He says, “no idea,” and even before I get the truck to a complete stop, my red “STOP” alarm pops on, beeps once, and the truck just shuts off. I roll to a stop, thankfully safely off the road.
Four-ways on, safety vest on, I get out, pop the hood, and my first observation is that I have almost no coolant left. I don’t see it leaking anywhere, and I recently got a new radiator, so it can’t be that, I hope! Something isn’t right here. I think about dumping my one bottle of coolant in there, but change my mind because the level in my reservoir is still dropping. I get my safety triangles out and set them up behind the truck, counting my paces to be sure they’re placed properly. 4 paces, 10 feet. 40 paces, 100 feet. 40 more paces, 100 more feet. Then I trudge back through the dark alongside my truck as the milky way twinkles and shimmers above me. By the time I get back to my opened hood, the coolant reservoir is completely empty.
Back in the truck I make the late-night, holiday-weekend call to our after hours line and I’m instantly getting help. I’m given a number to try for a 24-hour mechanic, so I hang up and dial the number with fingers crossed that they’re not closed for the weekend. He answers! After asking some questions he tells me he’ll be out to me in an hour, which he is.
After looking everything over, then dumping like 10 gallons of water and coolant into my reservoir, he shows me some bad signs. Gray, bubbly oil, steam coming out of hoses, something dripping out of my exhaust, and an almost empty coolant reservoir (!). Again. Then he explains that it’s not leaking out onto the ground and answers the question I was asking myself when I first opened the hood: “Where’s all my coolant going?” The answer? The motor. That’s where. And that’s not good. I asked him what the best-case scenerio is here, and he shakes his head and says, “there is no best-case scenerio here.” He mentioned something about a crack in a head gasket and an engine rebuild and things of the sort, and I don’t know a ton about mechanical things, but I do know that an engine rebuild is not a small deal. Like, at all.
After the roadside diagnosis in the middle of the night, it turns into a rush. He’s got a secure dirt lot at the bottom of the hill (about 6 miles away), and I’ve still got my one little bottle of 50/50 coolant mix. He says we gotta go if we want to avoid a tow and get it down there before the coolant burns off… or whatever the heck it’s doing. Getting guzzled by my engine? Whatever.
I literally run all 84 paces behind the truck to gather my triangles, run 84 paces back, toss them on the floor of the truck cab, and I’m soon following the mechanic’s pickup truck down the mountain. The truck is running really rough, the big, scary red stop alarm on my dash is blinking and honking at me and smoke is billowing out behind me. A car passes me and is flashing his lights at me. “I know, I know,” I say out loud.
As we approach the exit to the dirt lot destination, I step on the fuel pedal and get no response. Then it chugs a few more times, then nothing, then a few more chugs. I chug, clunk, and practically coast into that little lot, and once I come to a stop the smoke (or steam?) surrounds the truck and is blowing in through the vents on the dash. It was quite a crazy experience. But we made it.
Once the truck was safely parked, Adam and I gathered our things and he got a ride from the mechanic back up the big hill to the little town of Monteagle, Tennessee. Adam booked a room at the Super 8 and the mechanic came back down the hill for me. For now, the plan was to sit tight and wait to see what to do the next day when people were awake and decisions could be made.
So now it’s the next day – Monday – Labor Day. While Adam and I sat on a hotel bed watching “Dumb & Dumber,” weekend dispatch back at home was working with maintenance, safety, and I’m sure a bunch of other people to get a plan in place for us. Because, again, they’re awesome like that. The plan? Adam and I sit tight. They are going to tow a temporary truck from Wisconsin out to us in Tennessee, then grab my dead truck and haul it back to Wisconsin and we’d stay on the current load and deliver it a couple of days late. And that’s what we did.
There’s not a whole lot to do in Monteagle, TN, to be honest. There’s no public transportation (I mean, not a single Uber or Lyft, even), no movie theater, no coffee shop, and there’s tons of great trails, but all of them were too far away. So we visited a fun BBQ restaurant, the Waffle House to play cards, a hippie store, I went for a couple of short runs (and got a little touch of heat exhaustion), and we lazed in bed watching stupid TV. I was antsy, wanting to be driving, to be moving, to be working, but I tried to just relax and appreciate the unfortunate break.
Two days later, on Wednesday, we waited in the lobby of the hotel until a big tow truck came up the off ramp of the highway towing a gray truck with the big “MC” on the front. What a welcome sight! Our ticket home!
We tossed our stuff inside, and while doing a pre-trip inspection I discovered a visor light burned out. Well… the truck started up and ran, so we had that going for us… but that visor light was going to require a visit to a shop, and I didn’t have a ton of time to spare once again. We had to get rolling if I had any chance of meeting my *new* delivery time. There was one service shop between where we were and Chattanooga, TN. A Love’s. Greeeaaaat. Well… we tried to call to see if they had the part (see? I learned from that frustrating experience earlier!), but they took a message and said they’d call back. They didn’t. We ended up at a Volvo dealership and they fixed us up in a couple of hours. And there I was, driving through the night – again – and made it to my delivery a couple of hours before my appointment time, but just about out of hours.
But whew. We were back on track. I felt a little off from my sleep schedule jumping around so much, but we did eventually make it home on Saturday afternoon. It was a long week, and we survived. But sadly, poor Delores did not. When we arrived at the Volvo dealership where we park our truck, I pulled up next to Delores (that’s where they towed the truck to from Tennessee) and gathered up all of my belongings from inside and stashed it all in the temp truck I was currently in. I have to say, it was a little sad. I get attached to things – I mean, especially when I name them. Delores really was a good truck, and I’ll miss her, but as I like to say, “onward.” I’ll be in a new truck soon. It was definitely an unfortunate situation, and I’m sure the fix is not going to be a pretty one. So it’s a big bummer, but I’m really thankful that I work with a good bunch of folks that can carry their drivers through stuff like this. Breakdowns happen, and they’re not fun, but I felt like it went as smoothly as it could. So, thanks to all of you that were involved!
Tonight I love (duh) Delores. I’ll miss her!