On a rainswept highway in southern Texas our trip came to a sudden and
On Friday, the 13th of March, 1998 we left Mission TX in route home, after a 70 day
adventure. It was a cool morning with a slight drizzle. US 281 traveling north is
one of those non-descriptive highways that are often pictured in road runner
cartoons. Straight flat and coming to a dot in the far distance. Miles and miles
of nothing on either side.
It had been a good morning, all was well and I was
feeling comfortable. Without much consideration, I settled into a relaxed
position for the pending 360 mile trip to our next stop north of Dallas. I curled
my feet up under the seat, as I locked in the cruise control to 55 mph. Several
minutes later, without reason or warning the cruise control decided to increase
the vehicle speed, and subsequently sent 800 additional rpm to the transmission.
I might as well have done a wheelie.
The rear tires broke traction with the road
surface, which sent the rpm up over 4800, as the wheels spun madly out of
control, and the truck now hydroplaning began itís slow rotation to the right. My
first thought was to disengage the cruise control, as I unfolded my legs from
under the seat and struck out at the break pedal. I accomplished this, but the
side effect was to lock up all 4 tires thus increasing the hydroplaning and I now
found myself at nearly a 45 degree angle to the road while still traveling straight.
There is a device installed with the trailer that is designed to correct this.
dash board just below the wheel is an additional break switch which only
activates the electric brakes on the trailer. To apply this brake would have
slowed the trailer thus pulling the truck back in line. In what I am sure was an
act of desperation, I lunged forward in the seat, reaching for the break switch.
My aggressive action was sufficient to lock the seat belt with my finger only
inches from the switch. It was in that position that the vehicle, having lost itís
cruise control, regained contact with the road and shot off the shoulder and out
into the Texas flatlands.
The truck quickly mired in the mud and steering was
lost, as the truck continued itís slow right turn dragging the trailer behind. The
mud, now reaching the axle as a result of my sideways slide became a large
suction cup locking the tuck in place. The trailer, having for the most part,
traveled in the direction of its wheels, had not yet sunk in, and as such had to go
somewhere. As we came to a stop, the force was too great and the trailer rolled
over on itís side, ripping free from the embedded truck in the process. It must
have been a horrific sight for those following us, as they pulled to a stop along
side the road and waded into the muck , bent on our rescue. But there was
nothing to rescue.
The trailer lay silently on itís side, the truck, still held firmly
in the mud, itís bed looking like the aftermath of some terroristís bomb, and Laura
and I neatly locked in our seat belts with nary so much as a scratch. After about
the second or third repeat of "Are you OK", "Yeah, are you OK", I got out
and walked back away to survey the mess in itís entirety. It was the closest I
would come to crying. The rest of that hour was more or less a blur, as traveler
after traveler would stop and rush over to give aid where needed. I remember
toward the end, as the first of many police cruisers arrived I was repeating the
same expression, "No treatable injuries".
I was unaware of Laura who remained
in the truck, quietly making the necessary phone calls on her cell phone. The
arrival of the police ended the stream of would be rescuers and the traffic
congestion soon cleared, leaving me to face my own feelings for failing to
prevent this devastation. It has now been almost a month since that fateful day
and I am just now willing to write about what happened, although hardly a day
went by over the following weeks that I didnít find myself reliving the incident
and attempting to rationalize my actions. Laura was an absolute champ through
and through, She had taken a towing insurance policy out over my objections,
and had two wreckers on the way before the police arrived.
It would be six
hours before we would get back to Corpus Christi. During that time we stood in
the rain and watched the wrecker crew do an impressive job of righting the
trailer and removing the truck from itís self dug grave. She got into the trailer
just before it was pulled back to the road. I now know what a house trailer
owner feels like after a tornado. It brought a whole new meaning to the word
"trashed". Mayonnaise and cold slaw plastered over every wall and floor.
Broken glasses, mirrors and doors. I just turned away and left. Laura entered
and recovered the basis necessities of life, piling them into the wreckers. The
rest was pretty dull. The ride back was long and lonely, with Laura in one
wrecker and I in the other. We arrived back at the wrecker co. after 6 and the
Dodge dealer was closed. There was nothing else to do. We called a cab, went
to the airport and rented a car, found a room at the Corpus Christi Inn laid down
and fell asleep till morning. Laura was back on the phone as soon as we got up.
Calling insurance companies, as we had one for the truck and another for the
trailer, and getting everything rolling.
I found myself staring at the blank wall
again going over and over in my mind the events leading to the crash as if I
could find some way to change them. The next few days were monotonous as
we traveled from restaurant to hotel room and back again. It was in Corpus
Christi that we had spent the longest time and although we had seen much of it,
we had no desire to visit the rest for fear of marring the memory with the wreck.
As each day passed, Laura would go back to the trailer and salvage the
remaining valuables, placing what could be taken in boxes she had picked up
along the way. I went on the first day, but there was really only room for one or
so I justified and the reminder of the wreck stared me in the face at every turn. I
would return only one more time, leaving most of the salvage operation to Laura
who dauntlessly charged on through, doing what had to be done.
The days passed and finally the trailer insurance co. came through with it
estimate. The trailer had been totaled. The truck would take months to fix as a
new bed was needed and the closest one was in Detroit. At least it was a
direction out of limbo. We rented a truck and made our last trip to the trailer to
clean it out completely. Then we returned the rented car and started the three
day trek back to Cincinnati in the truck.
In the days and weeks that followed there was much thinking and talking as I
slowly threw off the effects of the depression I had been suffering and began
looking at the whole trip as recorded on the web site. It became obvious that the
trip, excluding the disaster was hugely successful and wildly enjoyable, worth
every bit of the effort required. Recently we broke the ice and returned to the
trailer showrooms hunting for a replacement. We hope to be back on the road,
recording our adventures before the end of summer. None the worse for wear,
but wiser in the ways of trailering.
Thatís the story. As to whether or not I will include it on the web-site is not
known yet. But it is now in my past where it shall stay, as another bit of history
in the long story of our adventures on the open road.