One bright sunshiny afternoon decades ago in southwest Idaho, I observed an incident ahead of me on the I-84 freeway. All lanes were still open, but there was a truck tractor and its two trailers lying on its side near an exit from the road. Being the naturally helpful sort that I am, I stopped. (My wife says it’s actually because I never outgrew my “toddler” curiosity.)

It was a single-vehicle incident and there were no injuries. I asked another bystander what happened.

“Driver said he blew a front tire.”

Then he pointed to the front tires on the truck which were now facing us, and added, “I told him that if he was going to stick with that story, that he really needed to do something about one of these.”

I don’t know the outcome, but it’s a rare day that a single-vehicle incident is not simple driver error.


A friend pointed out a section of road at the base of a hill, with just a slight curve to it. He said one of his drivers had dumped the rear trailer of baled hay there the previous year. When he asked what happened, the driver said that it looked like just a gentle slope and not much of a curve at the bottom, so he just coasted down the hill.

When he realized that the century mark on the speedometer was too fast to take the curve, he applied all the brakes he had and honestly thought all was well. About a mile farther, by looking at his shadow in the side-view mirror, he realized that his rear trailer was empty.

The correct procedure is to start down at a speed you will be able to maintain without getting the brakes so hot that they smoke and then lose their stopping power. Most trucks have some form of engine brake; the Jake brake is one. It opens the exhaust valve on the engine at the top of the compression stroke. This changes the engine into a giant air compressor and can develop a retarding force adequate to hold a truck combination to a safe speed with only a minor application of the brakes. No matter how a truck, bus or pickup and trailer is configured, the speed downhill must be controlled all the way down. The signs posted at the top of serious downgrades will sometimes list a maximum speed for that stretch of road. That translates into, “An inexperienced driver with only the service brakes (no Jake brake) may be safe IF these speeds are not exceeded.”

My first time at college, my wheels were a 1959 VW bug. One day while driving up the freeway, it just quit. Acted like it was out of gas. I had recently filled the tank.

After several frustrating minutes, I noticed that the pin in the fuel pump that the inner workings pivoted on was protruding outside the housing about a quarter of an inch. I was already in the habit of having at least some tools with me. I carefully tapped the pin back in place and then peened the alloy housing to hinder the recalcitrant pin from leaving again.

I was amazed that after cranking it and cussing it, I still had enough 6-volt battery left to spin the little engine fast enough to start it. When I sold the car, I showed the next owner the pin, which had never moved.

Leo once commented that when you’re following a rig on a curvy road, and the rig is meticulously following the posted warning signs for reduced speed on the curve, that you are probably following someone experienced at hauling baled hay.

I worked for Joe Larrea of Meridian, Idaho, a few weeks. Using an early 1960s 2-ton Chevy truck, we used a field loader to pick up baled hay from the field and hand stack it. This was the era when the Harrowbed was still seen as experimental. Occasionally we’d deliver a few loads some distance from the field it was grown on. That truck was soft sprung and felt top heavy; the “overshot” deck over the top of the cab and hood didn’t help.

One day as the truck was swaying from one dip in the road when we hit the next dip in the road …

We met a driver education car coming uphill on the road we were going downhill on. The student driver was doing her level best to find safe haven from the swaying truck in the bar ditch. The instructor, with a look of terror on his face, was leaned over with his hands on the steering wheel trying to keep his student from running off the road. My helper beside me had the same look on his face.