Being raised up around trucks and owning many during my working career, I’ve had many memorable trucking experiences. There are none that compare to this two and half days.
I was driving a truck for Nelson Lewis hauling equipment around the state, in the winter of 1970-1971. I was 18 years old.
I had worked on a job-site in Burnet all day, but needed to be in Port Lavaca the following morning. There was an Inley Excavator (or a Trackhoe as we called them back then) there that needed to go up to Lake Jackson, further up the coast toward Galveston.
An Insley, very much like this one
Having a chance to have my old buddy Tommy Houy go along, I decided to wait around until he got off work at the Exxon Station (it may have been branded the Enco Station at that time) at 11:00 PM. He wasn’t due to work again for a couple of days.
Shortly after 11:00 we headed down south. We had to go through north San Antonio and change trailers at Nelson’s yard.
As we got the trailers swapped out I noticed the alternator was out. The lights were getting dimmer. I looked around and found a couple of other batteries, the huge ones that go in big machines and we put them up on the front of the trailer. I figured if we charged up the batteries on the truck and had a couple of spares that would last us through the night. We only needed juice to power the lights. The truck stayed running all the time.
We pulled in to the Texaco Truck Stop at I-35 and O’Conner Rd to get the batteries all charged up so we could make the 3 hour trip to Port Lavaca. It was at least 2:30 AM by that time. We went in the coffee shop to get filled up on caffeine while everything was getting charged up.
We left there and rolled into Port Lavaca and met up with Santiago Espinosa at the appointed time, which was shortly after sun up. He was the operator of that machine and he loaded it and traveled along with us that day. Just a year or so later, Espinosa would become my lead guy and was with me until old age caught up to him in 1990 and he retired. The stories of Espinosa and my many battles with him are epic and I’m sure somewhere along the way, I’ll work a few of those battles into my story telling.
Right before we met up with Espinosa, we dropped our spare batteries off for a charge at a filling station.
Before long the machine was loaded and we headed out for Lake Jackson. Luckily, I had the good sense to carry several spare lowboy tires. I think before the day was out we had four blowouts. Back in those days it was second nature to have extra spare tires, as the tires we ran were always in the best of shape.
As we pulled out that morning I lost my clutch pedal. I still had a clutch, just no pedal. It was hydraulic and had rubbed a hole in the line (like a brake line) so it lost its fluid and finding another was going to be almost impossible. So with the engine at a very low idle, I could jerk it in gear and as long as I was moving I never used the clutch pedal anyway. That problem was solved, as long as I kept my wits about me and didn’t get into a bad situation.
With the tire problems, we spent all day getting to our destination and dropping off our load. Then it was time to head back to Port Lavaca. We got back there and had to load out a trailer full of nothing but absolute junk. We found another big battery in the junk. Having plenty of juice was what we needed so a quick run to an all night service station to get a lot of charging done while we spent hours loading every kind of thing imaginable on the lowboy.
With the loading complete and batteries charged we finally headed out to Marble Falls about 11:00 PM. It sure had been a long day. Or was that almost 2 days? Or how long had we been awake?
With our lights getting dim, the truck needing fuel and 2 growing boys needing food, we stopped at the Big Wheel Truck Stop in Oakhill, just at the western edge of Austin. Only an hour more to Marble Falls. Good ole Marble Falls. I even went in and had a shower and put on clean clothes at the Big Wheel. Tommy, expecting to be home by bedtime the next night hadn’t brought a change of clothes.
All fueled up, our belly’s full and batteries all charged we were ready to head out. The air wouldn’t build up to operate the brakes. We did everything imaginable to get the air going. Finally I backed the brakes all off and we proceeded on the rest of the way without a sign of a brake. It was early, hardly any traffic, so by being careful I really wouldn’t need brakes. I could use the gears to slow down. I didn’t even have my airhorn if I needed to warn someone, but taking another leap of faith we headed on to MF.
When we came off of River Hill the sun was just coming up and people were beginning to stir. I was gearing down slow enough to make the left turn to go by and drop Tommy at home. Suddenly the passenger door flew open and he bailed out. He said he was just fine with walking the mile home. Anything to be away from that truck.
Tommy told me later that he went home and sleep a full 24 hours before he woke up.
I cautiously made my way out north of town to the Truck Stop where I’d leave the truck and drive my pickup to Smithwick for a good long sleep.
I came around the back of the Truck Stop and rounded the corner on the north side. I would needto roll to a stop, then back up into a parking place. I was faced with an unexpected cab over FreightLiner cattle truck parked in the little alleyway getting a flat repaired.
I was only running maybe 5 mph when we collided, but it was a sudden stop. The driver of the cattle truck was asleep in sleeper. It dang near knocked him out of that sleeper. He was one mad hombre when he and I were standing toe to toe by the side of the trucks. The main problem, he was about 6’6″ and weighed about 300 lbs and I was 6′ and weighed about 140.
It was obvious after looking that neither truck had any real damage so we finally resolved our issues without me ever needing to tell him that I had driven all the way from Austin without a sign of a brake.
I made my way home and climbed in bed only to have my mother come in a few minutes later to wake me up. Cec was up town at Meadowlakes installing a inlet pipe out in the lake for Bob McCoy to irrigate his pecan orchard with. Lake Marble Falls had been drained and it had to go in that day before the refilling started the next day. There was no one else to help him. I would have to come give him a hand.
I had a lot of days I didn’t want to get up, but none more than that day. When she walked out of my bedroom I hauled off and punched the wall out of frustration, hitting right on a double stud. So off to town I went, tired beyond belief, with a rag wrapped around my left fist, covering up the knuckles that literally were laid open. (Next time I see you, just ask. I still have those scars to prove it)
By late afternoon we had the intake pipe installed. I’m not sure but I probably went straight home and went to bed. But knowing how those days were, I may have went to party a while before heading home.
That trip closed to book on any further discussions about Tommy and Me getting a big rig and traveling around the country as team drivers.