The Life, Death, and Resurrection Of My Truck Driving Career

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The Persian Conversion's Comment
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Hello everyone. I've been offline for a little while and I'd like to share the story of what happened to me over the past several days. Hopefully, hearing about my mistakes will help at least one other new driver. This is going to be a long read, so grab a cup of coffee and get cozy...

So I’ve been driving for about 2 months now, and last Tuesday, June 30th 2015, I totally wrecked my truck.

I had just loaded a 48,000 lb load of lumber (2x12 rough-cut boards) in Princeton, Idaho, and my mission was to take the load back to our yard in Missoula, drop it there for someone else to take to its final destination in Iowa, then take my much-needed home time after 4 1/2 weeks on the road.

When they first loaded me, I checked to make sure all the lumber was packed as tightly as they could get it on the truck (it was rough cut and the pieces were oddly shaped, so it wasn’t as tight as, say, uniformly finished 2x4s), then I strapped down the load relatively loosely and drove slowly over to their scale. I was a couple hundred pounds overweight, so I drove back to the loading area and they took off some of the lumber. At this point I knew my weight was going to be okay, so I strapped it down as tight as I could get it this time, then drove back across the scale. About 78,000—good to go.

After weighing, I drove to the other side of their yard where the tarping station was. For those who don’t drive a flatbed, a tarping station is a kind of catwalk with stairs leading up to it that you park alongside. There is a harness you wear which attaches to a rope that can slide back and forth across the length of the trailer. You then step out on this hydraulic ramp that slowly lowered you onto your load. This allows you to safely work up there.

I tarped the load nice and tight and went around and re-tightened all my straps. At this point I called in to dispatch to let them know I was about to head out, brought my logbook up to date, drank a bottle or two of water, and drove towards the gate.

This lumber yard is located along Route 6 in Idaho. Leaving the yard, I had two options: I could go left to US-95, which would take me north to Coeur d’Alene where I would get on I-90 east back towards Missoula, or I could go right on ID-6 which would connect with ID-3 towards St. Maries and on up to its junction with I-90 (about 20-25 miles east of where US-95 would have joined with it). Both routes would take approximately the same amount of time. US-95 was a longer route, but it was a straight shot up on a relatively easy road with minimal hills and curves. The other route was 17 miles shorter, but ran through much more mountainous, curvy terrain, which would make it slower… and more dangerous.

I actually spent a good minute contemplating what I should do, but I knew my company always preferred for us to take the shortest reasonable route. I knew other drivers in our company had pretty much always taken that route before, and having driven for 2 months without incident, I was feeling pretty over-confident. So, even though something in my gut was telling me to go west, I instead headed east.

I took my time, not in any rush, because all I had to do was drop the trailer at the yard sometime that day. Missoula was about 3 hours away and it was about noon at that point. Within the first few miles, ID-6 took me up a grade which slowed me down to about 20 mph, then it began to descend through a series of almost constant back and forth curves.

I was playing with the jakes on the way down, alternating between full and second position, trying to keep the truck around 30-35 mph which, due to my over-confidence and lack of experience at the time, seemed to be a good speed for those turns. My plan was to get through the mountains to the next town and stop for my first load check. Unfortunately, I never got that chance.

As I neared the bottom, about 20 miles from where I had loaded, I came out of a right-hand curve and started into the next left-hand curve. As soon as I started going around it, I simultaneously heard a loud cracking or popping sound coming from behind me, and felt a sudden jerk of the truck towards the right. Within a split-second, the truck was leaning to the outside of the turn, and the next thing I knew, the truck was sliding on its passenger side.

At that moment, I don’t remember feeling any fear. I didn’t scream, I didn’t shut my eyes. My life didn’t flash before my eyes either. In fact, the only thought I can remember having was something along the lines of, “aww, crap. I guess just lost my job.”

As I gripped the wheel and dangled over the passenger seat, the truck slid for a second until it fell into a shallow ditch along the side of the road, then the top of the tractor slammed into the side of mountain which I was driving next to. The windshield shattered, dirt spewed into the cab, my belongings were flying all over the place, and I was just hanging on for dear life. The noise was incredible. In fact, the entire experience was pretty overwhelming. It was almost as if my brain couldn’t handle so much sensory overload all at once, so it just reverted back to basic survival mode and stopped thinking. I was merely an observer, not an active participant in what was taking place all around me. It was surreal.

Logbook:

A written or electronic record of a driver's duty status which must be maintained at all times. The driver records the amount of time spent driving, on-duty not driving, in the sleeper berth, or off duty. The enforcement of the Hours Of Service Rules (HOS) are based upon the entries put in a driver's logbook.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

OOS:

When a violation by either a driver or company is confirmed, an out-of-service order removes either the driver or the vehicle from the roadway until the violation is corrected.

The Persian Conversion's Comment
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Let me pause here for a moment to express one simple truth which I believe now more than ever: SEAT BELTS DO SAVE LIVES. Had I not been wearing my seatbelt, I would have been flung down into the passenger side of the cab the moment the truck flipped, and I would have been wedged in there when it hit the wall. When you look at the pictures below, you will clearly see why that would have been a bad thing. As it was, the seatbelt kept me suspended up in the driver’s side, off the ground, and away from the worst of the impact.

As soon as everything came to a stop and settled down, my brain kick-started back up again and forced me into action. I could hear the engine still running, so I reached over to shut it off. At first I couldn’t reach it, so I undid my seatbelt and held on to the steering wheel to keep from falling. I was then able to reach up and turn the key. The next thing I did was try to open the driver’s door, which was now facing towards the sky. The metal was too bent to get it open, so I rolled down the window (I now understand why the driver’s window in my 2013 truck was a manual roll-down type instead of an electric one!) and climbed straight up and out of the truck.

Another truck had just stopped behind me, and as I was climbing out, I waved to him as he came running over. He told me to sit down and he moved his finger back and forth in front of my face for me to follow with my eyes. I felt fine, just a little dazed, and I told him so. He said he was going back to his truck to call his company on the radio (apparently there was zero cellular service in that area), and he said they would get in touch with my company. As he ran back, I began to survey the wreckage.

The air was still dusty in the sunlight. My lumber was all over the place. Much of it was still underneath the trailer, which was actually completely upside down, but there was a good portion which had been strewn all over the road. Some of it was even further up past the tractor, I suppose having slid downhill after the impact. The tractor was probably at about a 120-degree angle, so there was some twisting between the tractor and the trailer. There was a small dripping sound coming from the driver’s side diesel tank. I came around in front of the tractor and saw that the entire top of the sleeper was flattened, and you could hardly see through the narrowed gap where the windshield used to be.

I walked over and asked the other driver if he had any triangles I could use, and he gave them to me. I then walked to the nearest curves behind and ahead of the crash and put triangles out to warn other oncoming traffic to slow down.

Around that time, another motorist came up from the opposite direction and stopped to help. He gave me some water from a cooler in his truck and together we began pulling the lumber off the road and stacking it along the side so future vehicles could start to get through. Then I sat down on a bucket which had until a few minutes ago been holding my trailer’s chain binders and began waiting for the police and a wrecking crew to show up.

I looked down and saw some blood on the front of my lower leg, just above my ankle (I was wearing shorts and low-cut socks at the time). I could also see the beginnings of some bruises on my left knee the inside of my left thigh, my left bicep, and I could feel some soreness around the left side of my neck where the seat belt had held me back. I don’t know why it was only my left side that seemed to take any damage. I was asked if I needed any medical help or an ambulance, but seeing as how I didn’t have anything broken or bleeding profusely, I refused.

About 15-20 minutes later, the first cop finally showed up. He was a sheriff’s deputy from the local county office. He took my basic information, but my wallet and paperwork was all in the truck and I couldn’t find any of it at the moment, so he was going to have to wait until they got the truck upright before he could actually see any of that.

Another sheriff showed up shortly after and they basically made sure the scene was as secure as it could be while they directed the occasional vehicle through. Luckily this was a sparsely used mountain road in a low-population area, so the traffic was minimal. The lack of traffic on that road was a blessing, since there was no one around me when I crashed and thus no one else was involved or hurt in any way.

The lumber yard sent a representative out to survey the damage, and he called out a crew of about 6 guys to start salvaging the lumber. They pulled out what they could and started stacking it back together in preparation for a forklift to come out and reload it. Thankfully there were very few broken boards.

After about an hour, the wrecker finally showed up. For those who don’t know, Jack Buell runs a large logging truck company in the local area, and they handle all the cleanups along the roads out there, which are apparently quite frequent. They said there’s probably a wreck every few weeks, and just in the last month or two there had been three different fatalities. That was one of the other blessings: not only am I still alive to tell the tale, but I walked away from the wreck virtually unscathed.

Over The Road:

Over The Road

OTR driving normally means you'll be hauling freight to various customers throughout your company's hauling region. It often entails being gone from home for two to three weeks at a time.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

EPU:

Electric Auxiliary Power Units

Electric APUs have started gaining acceptance. These electric APUs use battery packs instead of the diesel engine on traditional APUs as a source of power. The APU's battery pack is charged when the truck is in motion. When the truck is idle, the stored energy in the battery pack is then used to power an air conditioner, heater, and other devices

The Persian Conversion's Comment
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So Jack Buell himself, who must be 70 or 80 years old, came out to operate the crane. I guess he just loves doing stuff like that. It took the crane and another truck with a winch to first pull the tractor loose from the trailer and then get it up on its wheels. Once they did, I could see that most of my personal belongings had fallen through the giant hole in the top of the sleeper and were laying in the ditch on the side of the road. Some of them were under the trailer and the lumber too.

I started to salvage what I could while they worked on getting the trailer over. One of the guys on the crew backed his pickup over and I loaded what I could into the bed. Pretty much everything was either covered in dirt, crushed or otherwise damaged in some way, but I was still able to recover a lot of my stuff. I found my wallet and paperwork and the officer took pictures of everything. Thankfully, he decided not to cite me for anything. He said I was lucky to just be walking away from this thing, and he wasn’t going to make it any worse for me. He wished me luck and sent me on my way.

So once it became clear that the crash site was getting close to being cleaned up, the safety officer from Jack Buell’s company came and got me. He had been in contact with my company and was going to take me to St. Maries where I would go get a drug and alcohol test and then wait at their shop for the rest of my belongings and for a ride home. Just before leaving, I saw the corner of my personal cell phone sticking out the dirt and I grabbed it. It was filthy and I could hardly see the screen, but it was still working.

I took one last look at my poor truck before I got in the pickup and headed out. The crew stayed behind and continued working on getting everything cleaned up. On the way to St. Maries, I had a nice conversation with the safety officer. He was a former Idaho State Patrol officer who had retired from the force and then took this job with Jack Buell. I asked him the most pressing question in my head: “In your experience, someone like me who’s only been driving for 2 months and has something like this happen… what are the chances they’ll keep their job?” He said he couldn’t say, seeing as how he didn’t know my company, but if I was working for Jack Buell I’d probably be okay. He actually made me feel a little better, since at that point I was almost positive I was going to be out of a job pretty soon, and the way he talked, he made it seem like I might have an opportunity if I applied there. He even gave me his business card.

We finally got to St. Maries and I did the drug and alcohol tests. Obviously I passed those with no problems. While I was there, I got a call from my own safety director. I was absolutely dreading answering that phone, but I knew I had to. He basically asked what had happened, and I explained as best as I could. He said it was really a shame this had happened, because everyone thought I had been doing a great job until that point. He also said I was the last person he would have expected this to happen to so soon after training, and that I was the first person to flip a truck at that company in over 10 years. I felt about 2 inches tall at that point. He asked if I had been cited for anything, and when I said no, he told me I wasn’t required to do a drug test. By this time however, I had already done the urine test and was about to do the alcohol test, so I said it’s ok, I have nothing to hide. He told me to get some rest while they figured out what they were going to do, and to call him in a day or two.

After the alcohol test we drove over to Jack Buell’s shop and I finally called my wife about 4 hours after everything had happened. I didn’t know if my company had called her or anything, so when she answered, the first thing I said was, “Has anyone from my company contacted you yet?” Well that got her suspicious and she almost immediately started freaking out. She asked what happened (in a nearly hysterical voice), and when I said, “What do you think happened?” she said even more hysterically, “You got in an accident?!” I said yes and she burst into tears over the phone. I told her not to worry, that I was okay, I wasn’t in the hospital, no one else was hurt, etc. But we both knew we were probably looking at rough times ahead financially.

St. Maries is about 45 minutes from my house, but she was babysitting at the time and couldn’t come down to pick me up. So she made some calls for me and was able to get in touch with one of our friends who lives down there. By the time he was able to pick me up and take me home with all my stuff, it was late in the evening. I had never been more happy to see my family and my house than at that moment. My wife came out and we just hugged and cried together for a minute while my kids hugged us both. It was an emotional moment.

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.

OOS:

When a violation by either a driver or company is confirmed, an out-of-service order removes either the driver or the vehicle from the roadway until the violation is corrected.

The Persian Conversion's Comment
member avatar

I grabbed all my stuff from my friend’s car and just threw it all on the front porch. I realized then that truck crashes involve a lot more personal items than a regular vehicle. It’s like crashing a small apartment. Anyway, I was going to have to sort through everything and clean it all off, so I didn’t want to bring it into the house just yet. I took a much-needed shower and examined the cuts and bruises on my body. There was some significant bruising around my neck and chest from the seat belt, and the cut just above my foot was actually worse than I thought it was, but all in all I was okay. The shock was starting to wear off and the reality of the situation was starting to sink in:

I just wrecked a fully loaded semi and walked away with hardly a scratch. Yes, this was probably going to cost my company a lot as far as insurance deductibles and premium rate hikes, but no one was hurt, and the load was basically salvaged. When you look at the big picture, it could have been a lot worse. A LOT worse.

So the next day I called back into work and they said they’d like me to come in the next day (Thursday) to sit down with the safety director and the president to have a discussion. They gave me a glimmer of hope by saying they weren’t necessarily going to terminate me at that point, but this was still a serious situation and they wanted to get to the bottom of it. I think they just wanted to see if I was going to make excuses or face what happened like a big boy.

Well, on Thursday my family and I made the 2 1/2 hour drive to Missoula. We had to all go together because my car was still parked at the yard. My wife was going to drop me off and I’d drive my own car back when I was done.

I cannot express the shame, the embarrassment, the humiliation, the sheer mortification I felt walking up the stairs to my safety director’s office. I was dreading the moment where I would have to look into his face. But up I went anyway, knowing I had to face the music.

The conversation actually went surprisingly well. They asked me what I thought had happened. I said I honestly wasn’t really sure. I said at the time, I didn’t feel like I was driving at an unsafe speed, but in retrospect, I obviously must have been or this wouldn’t have happened. Then they gave me their interpretation of what had happened based on their experience, the photos and the details of the crash.

What it came down to was that the load has most likely settled and shifted on me. See, I had tightened the straps as much as I could before I left, but the fact that this was rough-cut lumber, combined with the fact that I was taking turn after turn after turn going up and down that mountain right out of the gate, combined with the force of the straps pushing in on the load, meant that as the trailer flexed and bounced, the lumber was finding every possible way to squeeze itself tighter and tighter. And as the load became tighter, it effectively shrank, resulting in the straps getting looser around the load.

This will normally happen with most loads at the beginning of a trip, but it is especially pronounced with lumber, and even more so with rough-cut lumber, and even more so again when you take the kind of road I was taking. On a straight highway, it may take a hundred or more miles before the load settles that much, but on a road with lots of tight corners, curves and grades, it will happen much quicker. And that’s what it really came down to. I just wasn’t experienced enough to realize that the load could have settled that much that quickly. I was driving under the impression that my load was still nearly as tight as when I had tightened it just a few minutes earlier.

When I took that last turn, the load (which was now basically free to slide around) followed its own momentum to the outside of the turn, and the force of 48,000 lbs of lumber sliding in that direction and pulling on the trailer was absolutely mind-blowing. They say that once your load starts to go there’s nothing you can do, and that couldn’t be more true. I can’t think of anything I could have done to stop the tipping once it started. I can think of plenty I could have done to prevent it in the first place, but nothing to reverse it once it was in motion.

As we continued talking, it became clear that I was probably going to keep my job. While they were very disappointed and upset with me for what had happened (particularly the safety director, because he had personally trained me), I got the feeling that they kind of understood that I didn’t really do it on purpose and that I was doing my rookie-level best to be as safe as I knew how to be—but for a couple of honest mistakes. I wasn’t speeding (even though I was probably coming close to the edge for the given conditions), I was’t distracted, I wasn’t rushing, I wasn’t fatigued, I wasn’t on anything, etc. I had spent the last two months driving safely, always on time or early for all appointments, always with a cheerful and professional disposition when I talked to dispatch (even when my miles slowed down for a few days), and running just as hard or harder than most other drivers in the company. I had been repeatedly complimented by dispatch for doing such a great job and by the office staff for my exceptionally neat and orderly paperwork. I was well-liked simply because I did my job without complaining and did it to the best of my ability.

SAP:

Substance Abuse Professional

The Substance Abuse Professional (SAP) is a person who evaluates employees who have violated a DOT drug and alcohol program regulation and makes recommendations concerning education, treatment, follow-up testing, and aftercare.

OWI:

Operating While Intoxicated

OOS:

When a violation by either a driver or company is confirmed, an out-of-service order removes either the driver or the vehicle from the roadway until the violation is corrected.

The Persian Conversion's Comment
member avatar

At the conclusion of our meeting, I thanked them profusely, and assured them they were going to see a new driver from now on. I told them I had become too confident after having just 2 months of uneventful driving under my belt, and in a way I was glad I had been humbled in such a brutal (but unfortunately expensive) way. I needed that. I know that the feeling of that truck starting to tip, the sight of the dirt pouring through the shattered windshield, and the sound of the truck scraping across the road will be forever etched in my mind, and I’m glad for it. I want it to be there constantly, to remind me of the reality of this business, that it isn’t a piece of cake, that you can’t sit there and think, “Nothing will ever happen to me.” The dangers are always present, and I just didn’t realize it, or at least I didn’t think I was so vulnerable. For me, it was one thing to hear stories about other wrecks and the stupid mistakes other driver’s have made in the past, but it was quite another to actually experience it. It made it all real for me. Last Tuesday could very easily have been my last day of life, but by the grace of God I am still here.

There was something else they mentioned during the meeting which I’d like to share. They told me about their theory on the “terrible 2’s of trucking.” The theory is that right around the 2-month, 2-year and 20-year marks of a driver’s career, they will usually have something happen that will knock some sense into them. Whether it’s something as minor as bumping into another truck in a truck stop or something major like what happened to me, it seems those are the times when a driver becomes either too comfortable, too complacent, or too confident. I was all three that day.

So anyway, they told me to go home for the weekend and call back on Monday. They were going to try to figure out which truck they would put me in and I would be back on the road again early next week. I called my wife and told her I still had a job, and then I drove home. We had a great 4th of July, I washed all my clothes and re-organized all my gear, spent some great quality time with the kids (I started watching The Lord of the Rings with my 10-year-old daughter who was watching it for the first time, but we didn’t get to Return of the King—she has to wait until I get home to finish the series!), and I called in on Monday. They said they had a truck lined up for me and to come in tomorrow morning.

So one week after I wrecked my truck, I was put into an identical Kenworth T660 (which somehow feels different from the other one for some reason) and I was sent to Texas with a load of… lumber At least this wasn’t rough-cut, but I still made sure to tighten and re-tighten the straps frequently and drive as easy as I could. It was a little nerve-racking at first hitting the road again. I was nauseous and uneasy; even feeling the slightest g-force from turns gave me flashbacks. I think I was suffering from some sort of temporary PTSD. But after the first day or two, I started to feel a little more comfortable. I am now super-cautious going around turns. I try go slow enough to not even feel myself turning if possible. I am on a year-long probation period now, so I know that if I have one more screw-up, I’m finished as a driver. So I’m being as cautious and conservative as I can reasonably be (keeping in mind that I still need to turn those miles!).

Looking back on what happened, I think of it this way: on the first day, my career died. On the second day, my life was a living hell of confusion and fear. And on the third day, my career rose from the dead... get it? I think that is so fitting. I am so grateful that I have been given this second chance. I know that with almost any other company, if this had happened I would be looking for a totally new career path right now. I don’t really know why I got so lucky, but I know there is a plan and a reason for everything, so I’m just trying to make the most of this situation and learn from it while moving forward. Forgive but never forget. Live and let live. Don’t run with scissors. A penny saved is a penny earned. You get the idea.

To everyone who actually took the time to read this whole thing, thanks. I really hope my story can be a wake-up call for any drivers who might be starting to fall into the same trap I was. Be as safe as possible out there, because safety is not just a buzz-word, it’s for real. And out here, the stakes are high. It’s life or death. Don’t take anything for granted, and don’t ever make the mistake of being over-confident in your own abilities or the capabilities of your truck. Keep them wheels rolling… on the pavement, not in the air!

HOS:

Hours Of Service

HOS refers to the logbook hours of service regulations.
Sami's Comment
member avatar

Wow. I'm so glad you're OK!

I'm still 2 months from starting school, but I know your story will stay with me for a long, long time. Thanks for sharing, and again, glad you're alive (and employed) still.

Goodness . . .

Brian M.'s Comment
member avatar

PC your story bought tears to another rookie driver. I am calling my children right after I write this and tell them how much I miss them and love them. Sometimes we get so wrapped up in the moments of the job we neglect what's truly important. My family wishes you and yours the best of health, love and happiness. I am sure this is a humbling experience and one that will remain with you forever. Your attitude and commitment shine through your words and see a glimmer of a true safe professional driver for the rest of his career. If there is anything I can do to help ever don't hesitate to pm. Hug your love ones tighter every time you leave from hometime folks.

Old School's Comment
member avatar
Be as safe as possible out there, because safety is not just a buzz-word, it’s for real. And out here, the stakes are high. It’s life or death. Don’t take anything for granted, and don’t ever make the mistake of being over-confident in your own abilities or the capabilities of your truck. Keep them wheels rolling… on the pavement, not in the air!

Persian Conversion (by the way I love that name - Iranian Christians are a unique minority) That was a great statement you made at the end of that incredibly sobering post and experience. I'm going to re-read this thing several times. You shared some really great insights throughout that post. I'm really glad to hear that you are okay, and of course that you were able to keep your job.

Some of these flat-bed loads have to be taken extremely seriously. I am so relieved to know that you came through this basically unscathed. Keep on moving forward, with caution and confidence - but not too much confidence.

Wow, it's all I know to say.

Gary J.'s Comment
member avatar
because everyone thought I had been doing a great job until that point

You still are. Glad your ok and that's one hell of a learning experience. It's all about the experience and what you learn from it. See you on the road sometime.

Scott D's Comment
member avatar

It took a lot of courage to post this. God has surely been watching over you. So humbling and so praise-worthy at the same time! Thanks for posting your experience - so many valuable lessons to be learned from it. Thank God you are okay. Stay safe and best of luck with all of your endeavors. See you out there some day.

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