Delivery & Installation, Operations, V10I1

Of Big Tractors, Loose Wheels, and Icy Hills

(Photo courtesy of Maaark from Pixabay)

“Dad, look out!” I shouted as a tree whizzed by my open window with remarkable speed while the contents of the bouncing pickup dash rapidly sought lower elevations. 

Glancing over in a panic at my father in the driver’s seat, I noted his clenched jaws and blurred hands as he attempted to navigate the snow-covered terrain in reverse. My butt was barely touching the seat as I fought full-blown panic while the old Chevy and dump trailer reversed their normal roles and rapidly descended the icy driveway that led to the street below. 

The year was 1992, and I was a young boy riding along with my dad as he worked long hours in his newly established construction/shed business. The long winter in Upstate New York was just starting as the rising sun found Dad and me heading out for the day’s activities. 

The first order of business was to haul a load of gravel to the job site of Richard Kidron and his planned garage. I clearly remembered the day Richard showed up at our shop and spoke to my father about his much-needed garage. 

“Hey, watcha got that would hold a bunch of safes and my pickup plus the wife’s car?” Richard growled in his smoker’s voice. “I need a place for both vehicles and my gun collection. You build anything like that?”

At 12 years old, I got to tag along with Dad most days, and I always found customer conversations fascinating. Dad had a knack for connecting with people, and in no time, he and Mr. Kidron were swapping hunting stories. 

Eventually, the subject steered back toward the needed structure, and a two-car garage with attached breezeway was added to the build schedule. 

That’s how a few weeks later I was riding along in the passenger seat as we hauled several loads of sand and gravel to the build site in preparation for the block foundation the garage would need. 

Inexperience kept me from feeling much trepidation as we swung off the bare roads and hit the snow-covered driveway that twisted up the tree-lined slope leading to Richard’s house. 

However, the old Chevy 4 by 4 spun out in the first 30 feet, and my dad had to back up to take another run at it. Several more low-speed runs failed to do the trick, so finally Dad backed way up and out onto the street to get a good shot at the increasingly icy hill. 

This was before the days of cell phone cameras. Matter of fact, I had yet to see a cell phone. I’d heard of them, but only the rich and famous had those luxuries. 

Had there been cell phone cameras, I might have video evidence of the next attempt. Instead, I got firsthand experience in the art of panicked, unplanned hill descent.

With an extra 200 feet of dry road to boost the truck’s traction, the old 454 roared its way into the driveway and fairly flew up the snowy tracks from our earlier attempts. All six wheels were spitting snow and gravel, and we shot past the adjoining trees with ease. 

My fists gripped the door handle and seat edge in tension as I leaned forward in a vain attempt to help the upward progress. Despite my best efforts and the truck’s roaring engine, the progression of trees flying past the side windows slowed to a crawl and then stopped. 

Then, to my considerable consternation, they began to run in the opposite direction. 

Somehow, the trees hadn’t seemed nearly as close on the way up as they did now while my craning neck and swiveling head observed the great oak and maple trees reach out hungry branches to nip at the mirrors and fenders. 

I caught a glimpse of Mr. Kidron standing in spraddle-legged shock on the rapidly receding hilltop as he watched our hazardous descent.

My shouted warning from earlier was drowned out by the screeching of fence wires as the trailer took the inevitable treacherous turn and strayed from the path. Snow flew, fence posts snapped, and despite my father’s mad steering skills, the truck followed suit. My butt hit the seat with a thud as the whole sliding rig came to a sudden shuddering stop. 

In the stunned silence that followed, I noticed that it had begun to snow. At least that’s what I thought till I noticed it was only snowing right on our rig. 

Then I saw the swaying tree to my right that had managed to snag the trailer fenders with its trunk and consequently had shaken loose all the snow that had laden the branches a moment earlier. 

I guess I know where I got my sense of humor because as I looked over at my dad in shock, he grinned at me sheepishly. 

“Well now, that was fun, wasn’t it?” he asked with a twinkle in his eyes. 

“Dad, you hit that tree,” I blurted. “Are we stuck?”

“Let me see,” he replied as he turned the key. The stalled truck sputtered a few times before rumbling to life again. 

It took only one try to see that we were hopelessly stuck. The gravel load had shifted a bit, and the wheels of the trailer were buried in the ditch of the driveway while the truck tires had absolutely no purchase on the slick surface.

“Wha—happened?” Richard’s hoarse shout reached us as we climbed out of the truck and surveyed the damage. Looking up the hill, I saw Mr. Kidron running as fast as he dared. 

“Wha—wha—happened? Wha—happened?” he repeated as he neared our rig. 

“Well,” my dad replied, “I thought this was a better place to put the garage, so I decided to unload here.” 

“What?” Richard shouted. “Oh, now you’re funny,” he laughed as he saw my dad’s grin. 

After a bit of digging and scrambling around the buried rig, we concluded that a tractor would be needed to extract the truck. Fortunately, Mr. Kidron’s neighbor was a farmer, and after a walk next door and some explaining, he agreed to bring his tractor over. 

In short order, the buried pickup was tugged out of the ditch and towed to the top of the slippery driveway by a beastly John Deere. 

“Y’all be careful now going back down,” drawled the portly farmer in his dirty overalls. “That hill’s slicker than snot on a raincoat.”  

No kidding, I thought as I stifled a grin at the farmer’s frank humor. 

Crisis over and fixed, Dad and I settled down and got the trailer unloaded. After a few minutes spent chatting with Richard about other close calls and slick roads, we hit the road again for a load of cement blocks.

It was a bit of a drive to the plant where we picked up the blocks for the foundation. By the time we got loaded up and headed back, I fell asleep in the passenger seat like a typical youngster. The slapping of the expansion joints in the highway beat out a steady rhythm, and it was only 30 minutes later as they slowed down at the exit ramp that my eyes opened again. 

As I sat up and looked around, we swung through the intersection to the state highway with only a few more miles to go. 

Suddenly, over the rumble of the tires, I heard six or seven loud popping noises from under the truck. From the corner of my eye, I saw my dad stiffen and turn the wheel to the shoulder. 

“What was that?” I queried. “Did we lose some blocks?”

“I don’t know, son,” he replied. “Let’s take a look.”

Walking around the rig with him, I saw nothing amiss. The blocks were all there, and nothing was hanging loose off the bottom of the truck. Had either of us looked more closely at the rear wheel on the passenger side, we might have noticed the dual wheels were attached by one lone stud and lug nut. 

However, we blithely walked right by and never noticed. On a follow-up trip to the intersection, we later found a handful of lug nuts scattered over the road. 

Ignorance is bliss, and after concluding nothing was amiss, we both crawled back in the pickup. With a twist of the key and a rumble from the dual exhausts, Dad had us on our way again. 

Scarcely a mile passed when we both got a sinking feeling. Of course, it was a little too late to be of any value in predicting problems. With a rattle and pop, the last remaining lug nut and stud parted ways, and the right rear of the heavily loaded truck took a nosedive for the pavement. 

As I grabbed for the dash handle to try and stay upright, from the canted side window I caught a glimpse of a pair of wheels passing us on the shoulder. 

Sparks flew out from under the truck as various portions of the suspension protested their contact with the rough asphalt, and everything from the dash once more made its way to my lap and the floor. 

As Dad braked, fought the wheel, and steered the crippled Chevy to the shoulder, I could see the errant pair of wheels still streaking ahead of us. 

When the road curved to the left, the pair of tires left the pavement and headed off-road. By now they had parted ways, and as they entered the field of uncut corn approximately 10 feet apart, they disappeared from view. Only the shaking of corn stalks showed their progress. 

It must have been 200 feet or more before the shaking corn stalks finally slowed and stopped. By then, Dad had managed to bring the grinding, screeching truck to a stop safely out of the path of traffic. 

This time, humor must have eluded him because his face looked grim as I stared at him in shock. I guess wheels randomly flying off while driving was a bit much for even his healthy dose of humor.

Shakily, we both crawled out and looked around. My step down out of the truck cab was much shorter than usual. The entire truck canted precariously to the right, and the straps holding down the pallet of blocks looked about to give way as they held the skewed stack from falling off. 

“Well, son, looks like we need to walk a bit,” Dad remarked, regaining his humor once more. “I don’t think those tires will come back here by themselves.”

After 10 minutes, we had both tires and wheels back beside the crippled Chevy, but the jack that should have been behind the seat was missing, as were all the studs and lug nuts. 

After a bit of searching, we also realized the spacer plate that fit between the wheels of the duals must have flown into the field as well. No amount of walking around kicking at grass and corn yielded the sight of it. 

That’s when the real walking started. As I mentioned earlier, cell phones were a distant invention that certainly had not reached the lives of poor, hardworking shed builders at that time. On the far hilltop there seemed to be a driveway that might lead to a house, and off we went. 

My short legs took two steps for every one that Dad took, and the road seemed like it stretched out forever. However, sooner than I thought but longer than I wished, we had reached a house and made a few calls. Shortly thereafter, my brother was on his way with jack and tools. 

The shadows were growing longer by the time the needed repairs were made and the truck once more rolled on its own. I don’t remember the explanation made to Mr. Kidron on our prolonged absence, but it was dark before Dad and I rolled into the shop driveway. 

I suppose it was a bit of a wasted day financially for my dad, but to me, it was an adventure. Not only did I get to see my dad overcome significant difficulties and mishaps, but I also got to see him exemplify the resourcefulness and humor that marked his character. 

I might have had a few scares and walked a lot more than usual that day, but being with my hero was worth it.        

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