I have had so many close calls I hardly know which ones to mention; I guess the first was when I was a about 4 yrs old, I was bitten by a black widow spider; I swelled up, fortunately the hospital was only a mile or less from our house. The doctors told my parents it was a very close call.
When I was about 22, I started driving trucks; steel trucks at first, then freight trucks; always getting laid off.....anyway, I finally got a nice steady job, driving gasoline tank trucks for Texaco. My regular assigned truck was in the shop for something, so this one day they assigned me this old twin-screw B-61 Mack, which had a 7,500 gallon steel tank trailer, I loaded it with Fire Chief (regular gasoline), and headed for Connersville, Indiana. I should mention, I had driven this spare truck on many occasions, and it never did have decent brakes; everyone who drove it always wrote it up for bad brakes.
About 20 miles west of Cincinnati, on U.S. 52 is Brookville, Indiana; at Brookville, I took the left fork on Indiana Rt. 1; Route 1 was and still is a pretty good road, much better than it had been before they rebuilt it a few years before; anyway, a mile or two out of Brookville, Rt 1 crosses over the Whitewater River, and before they rebuilt the road, there had been a steep hill on both sides of the river; now, there was only a very long, maybe a half mile long, nice and straight, not too steep grade on both sides of the river, as they raised the level of the road hundred feet or so. As I arrived at the top of the long grade, at about 55 mph, I observed a car stopped in my lane, at the bottom of the long grade, about a half mile in front of me; I very gently "eased" on my brakes, and nothing happened; I "eased" a little harder, and still nothing happened; the guy at the bottom of the grade was waiting to make a left turn, but he was waiting for traffic that was a mile away from him ! By this time, I'm STANDING on the damned brakes; back then, (around 1964 or so ) road tractors still had very ineffective mechanical parking brakes, quite unlike today's very effective air operated parking brakes ) anyway, as I was getting closer and closer, I engaged the parking brake, as well as the "no longer working" air brakes on all 18 wheels, and now I'm going faster, rather than slower ! And the idiot in the car is STILL sitting there, in the middle of the road !
I should also mention, at the point where the road crossed over the river, it was about 250 or 300 feet down about a 45 degree hillside, from the road to the river. I could plainly see all the way down the grade that I had absolutely NO CHANCE of stopping, but I praying that the car will move ! When I was about 50 from his car, I had made the decision..........better to turn right, go over the side, rather than run over that car, as we all know what happens to truck drivers who run over cars and kill people ! ( I'm even thinking, maybe they'll even think I was "brave" !) At the exact point that I cut my wheels right, left the road, the damned car turned left, and I suddenly had the thought........I'm too young to die, besides I have a family to support ! ( it's really amazing just how much "stuff" you can think about in less than a second or so ! ) Just as my drive wheels are leaving the road, I made the hardest left hand turn of my whole 41 years of driving trucks, ( or at least I TRIED to ), thinking...........I've changed my mind, and maybe, just maybe I can get this piece of junk back on the road !
At this point, I have to explain something that very few people, even truck drivers are aware of: ( and I have absolutely NO IDEA why this was ) , but back in the 50's and early 60's, a very few of the petroleum companies, like Texaco, had for a brief time, used a different type of fifth wheel on their road tractors, than all other trucks use; on all trucks today, and almost all trucks even then, the fifth wheel jaws engage the king pin on the trailer, and all lateral movement between tractor and trailer is accomplished by the king pin pivoting in the jaws of the fifth wheel, and the "straight line, up, and down movement is made by the fifth wheel axle. O. K. that's how MOST trucks work; but Texaco ( and a very few others ) used a "special" fifth wheel; when you backed up to engage the kingpin, you had to be perfectly straight in line with the trailer; THEN, with the fifth wheel jaws locked, you had to get out, and pull like hell on this big lever, and two big 5 inch wide, by 1 inch thick steel "fingers" went straight up, INTO two matching holes in the fifth wheel plate on the trailer, thereby firmly locking the fifth wheel it's self to the fifth wheel plate of the trailer, and preventing all lateral movement between the tractor and the trailer. THEN, the whole fifth wheel assembly pivoted around on a turntable BELOW the fifth wheel.
Every one who drove tank trucks hated these things, mainly because they were about 3 times as much trouble to hook-up to a trailer, and again when you wanted to drop the trailer. Like all the rest, I always "bitched" about the things.
But what absolutely NO ONE was aware of, was how this seemingly crazy type of fifth wheel was attached the the turntable below it; I mean.......it just all looked like one big ugly piece of machinery; well, when I made that HUGE, HARD, DESPERATE jerk to the left, here's what happened, in about 1/10 of a second; unbeknown to me, or even the guys in our shop, that fifth wheel sat on two great big, about 5 inch dia. ball joints, the balls being engaged by two big sockets; the drive wheels were already at about 45 degrees to the road, the weight and momentum of the trailer and it's load made a huge twisting motion, which separated those big balls from their sockets, thus completely releasing the trailer from the tractor, the trailer then rolled completely either 4 or 5 turns before reaching the river, and as it went over a concrete retaining wall it opened the trailer up, nearly cutting it completely in two, all 7,500 gallons of gasoline went flying through the air and into the river, and meantime, the poor old Mack ( with me in it ) rolled exactly 1/2 turn, the roof of the cab hitting a big oak tree, and my driver's side window now looking STRAIGHT UP
; it helped that the soil in the hill side was PERFECT ! Moist, but not wet ! just perfect to allow the weight of the tractor to "sink in" slightly, and just BARELY, ( together with a little help from the oak tree ), to keep tractor ( and Charley ) from following the trailer and all that gasoline down to the bottom of the hill. What I have never figured out to this day is, when the tank went over that concrete wall that ripped it in two, there surely must have been some sparks; one spark is all it would have taken, and I would not be re-telling this story.
Within a minute or two, some guys came running down the hill, yelling "are you O.K. ? To which I yelled back........so far, I'm still alive, but if anyone tries to light a cigarette, I probably won't be for very long ! ( At that point I was breathing more gasoline fumes than air ) when they could "size up" the way the tractor was laying, they said.......driver....DO
NOT MOVE ! Don't try to climb out ! The thing is ready to roll down the hill; finally, after maybe 10 very :"anxious" minutes, a small tow truck arrived, got a cable secured to the tractor, and I climbed out, WITHOUT a SCRATCH ! Then the real "fun" began; it turns out that there are about 100 head of cows by the river, and they have to keep them from drinking the half-gasoline water, plus get them away from the whole area, and it really took a big effort from a hell of a bunch of people. Finally, a great big wrecker came out and drug the tractor back up and onto the road; it took them about a week to get the wreckage of the tank trailer back up and hauled away.
Now...........the "crazy" fifth wheel every one loves to hate............had it been a "regular" fifth wheel, the tractor would NOT have separated, and you would never have heard about this incident ; I did a lot of reading "up" about this thing afterwards, and that fifth wheel did just exactly what it's designer had intended for it to do, in the unlikely event of just such a roll-over ever occurring ! It saved my life. ( And wouldn't you know, they no longer use them ! )
The "aftermath"...........as everyone knows, truck drivers are ALWAYS at fault; Texaco decided to "take me off the truck"; they impounded the tractor, and did everything they could to prevent anyone from inspecting it; this worked for a few weeks, but finally a court order was issued, all the components of the brake system and air system were examined, and it was determined that the air supply valve on the rear end was "in-op", thereby preventing sufficient air to flow through to operate the drive wheel brakes, or the trailer brakes; actually, about 80% of the brake effort I had came from the two front steering wheels ! I ended up running the loading rack for the next 3 years, and getting tons of overtime every week, pumping barges every six days when our fuel tow boat arrived with our products. Made about half again as much money. Then, I finally got away from that VERY hazardous job, while I was still alive, and went to hauling freight.
Over the next 35 or so years, I had a number of "hairy" things happen, but none closer "to the edge" than this one.
About 5 years ago, I thought I was having a heart attack; went to the ER
, checked me out ( all night long ), they say it's probably muscle spasm, ( but it wouldn't hurt to go see a cardiologist, which I did, he says everything's OK
, but I probably better see the urologist across the hall; I did, he thinks I'm OK
, but decides to "run some tests", which he did, now he says we better do a biopsy to "be sure", which he did; come back next week for the "results"; Next week........Hey Charley, hate to tell you, but you have prostate cancer ! But not to worry...........we have some "options";
I picked "option C", had 96 little seeds of titanium ( with radio-active iodine cores ) implanted in the "offending gland", had to use a hose to "do my thing" for a year or so, every six months my PSA
numbers improve, and as far as he can tell, I'm completely "out of the woods"; then, on a visit last year, he says, "remember when you first walked in the door here ?" Me: Yeah, I remember very clearly, why ? He; "well, the tests we did indicated that; had you not received treatment when you did, you would have been "pushing up daisies" within about two months.................
That's cutting it pretty damned fine folks ! Maybe I should change my "handle" to "LUCKY" ?
Stupidity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result; Albert Einstein