Mark takes a load of steel rebar from Hamilton to Sudbury. It’s very heavy and he takes it slow, and that encourages drivers to take risks getting by him. After one particularly close call, he’s forced onto the shoulder…
When Mark ran out of hours in his log, he stopped at a truck stop outside of Sudbury for the night. Once he was parked, he did another circle check, inspecting everything closely – more closely than he might normally – and everything appeared to be in order.
The load was still secure, but a few of the straps had loosened up slightly. That was to be expected, he thought. As the load shifted during transport things settled and straps stretched, that’s why it was a good idea to check the load often.
Mark made his way around the trailer, trying all the straps from back to front, first one side, then the other. He was able to give two of the straps a couple of clicks to tighten them up, but no other adjustments were required. With the straps all buttoned up tight, Mark was convinced everything was safe and secure.
In the morning, after yet another circle check, Mark had a decision to make. There were two routes between Sudbury and Winnipeg, each one different than the other. Highway 17 had a lot of twists and curves, while Highway 11 was straighter. However, Highway 17 was the shorter of the two and there was fuel savings to consider. Initially Mark had liked Highway 11, but when he checked the weather forecast and saw it was going to be a perfect day, he figured he’d be okay taking Highway 17 so he could be in Winnipeg before the day was out.
While everything started out well, it wasn’t long before he regretted his decision. As he glided through each curve and rounded each bend in the roadway, he could feel the trailer behind him wanting to swing left or right. Every once in a while he could feel a slight shudder and wondered if there was something going on with the load that he hadn’t noticed.
Mark kept his speed slow and even and hoped for a straight stretch of highway that had room enough on the shoulder for him to pull over and check his load. There was something wrong with his load, but what?
Despite his best intentions, despite having a plan, Mark was unable to execute it.
That’s because the moment he came upon a straight stretch of highway he suddenly had his hands full trying to avoid another collision.
A car in the oncoming lane was passing a tractor-trailer. The car had no doubt been trailing the rig for kilometres and now that the road had opened up, there was no way the driver was going to pass up his chance to get around the truck.
But the Ministry of Transportation had decided that this particular stretch of highway – although straight – was NOT a good place for vehicles to pass one another. That’s why they had put a solid yellow line down the center of the highway.
But the driver of the oncoming car, a late model minivan, didn’t seem to care. He was hell-bent on getting by no matter how crazy the move might seem to everyone else on the road.
Yesterday, Mark had kept Mother Load’s speed slow and steady, even when drivers risked their necks to pass him. Today, he decided to ease up on the gas a bit to give this maniac a better chance. If he didn’t, the guy probably wouldn’t make it.
But the further the minivan got into the pass, the more Mark was convinced that he wasn’t going to overtake the rig in front of him in time. Mark knew he should probably slow down further, but with the weight of his load he was sure something bad would happen if he hit the brakes too hard.
Several scenarios ran through Mark’s mind, from shifting the load to losing it entirely. He could even envision several of the heavy steel bars breaking free and crashing through the trailer’s steel protection plate and piercing the cab all the way to the engine block.
Not a pretty picture.
And the minivan kept coming, the vehicle short on the power needed for such a pass and the driver short on the common sense that would convince most others to abort the attempt and wait for a better time.
Mark got on the horn and let it blast.
But the minivan didn’t slow down or change course. It was committed to passing now because there was no longer any time to back off and slip back in behind the truck.
Mark touched the brakes and hardly felt any deceleration at all. He was so heavy, and so full of inertia that he’d need to hit the brakes hard to slow down even a little. He pressed more firmly on the brake pedal and felt the trailer shudder slightly.
The car was upon him. No room. The minivan driver was going to die.
Mark slammed on the brakes and turned right to avoid a collision.
The minivan wooshed past him and cut back into the oncoming lane. The oncoming big rig swerved to its right. Mark’s trailer fishtailed behind him.
SNAP! PING! SHHHHHHH!
It was a sound like none he’d ever heard before. It was as if it were raining down reams of sheet metal…as if a hundred heavy-duty springs were suddenly bouncing across the roadway… as if steel was shattering like glass all around him.
Mark kept on the brakes, fighting the wheel left and right until he’d managed to shudder to a stop.
He slumped over the wheel and took a few moments to collect his breath. His heart raced, his knuckles burned white and his body was soaked with sweat.
After the loud crash only the sound of Mother Load’s Cummins remained, idling dutifully by the side of the road. It was a sound so familiar and comforting to Mark that it almost sounded like silence.
Mark checked the highway in front of him and behind.
The minivan that had forced him off the road was long gone. And so was the truck it had been passing. In fact, there was nothing on the road except for Mark and his load, half of which had broken free from the trailer and spilled into the ditch.
“At least no one was hurt,” he said aloud.
But Mark knew that would only be true for a short while. Someone always got hurt when things like this happened. And this time that someone was going to be Mark.
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