Wagon Master



Part Two in a three part series

“I’ll bet he doesn’t come in here as long as Stella works here, if ever,” said Eddie with a choked laugh.

“He sure made an ass out of himself didn’t he?” laughed Shorty.

“Well, Eddie, it’s been fun but I have a load of flat steel to deliver in Roseville before the sun goes down. I‘m going to find a shower and hit the super slab. See you later!”, Quipped Shorty.

“By the way Shorty, where did you pick up that load of steel? I just might try to see if they have another load for me. I’ve never hauled steel myself, but I don’t intend to wait till my company dispatcher finds me a load. Consolidated goods don’t pay well and my pocket is getting empty sitting here. Gotta keep those 18 wheels Rollin to make the payments on the truck. If I can get a load to make some extra dough I’ll damn well do it. The company won’t know unless I tell them.”

“Check with the broker next to the lot, he has the listing and the phone number. I picked it up just outside Las Vegas yesterday. I don’t like hauling steel but this one pays pretty well. Hauling steel is dangerous, it can shift, and I am a bit leery because I have to go down that twelve percent grade at Donner Pass. There are plenty of sheer drop offs on route 40 and I’ll have to gear down going into the grade. Wish me luck, Eddie!”

“I ain’t worried about you, Shorty, you have been at this a lot more years than I have, and you’ve clocked a lot of miles under that Mack belt buckle of yours. You can handle just about any situation that comes your way, ol’ friend.” Eddie fired back as he smacked Shorty on the shoulder.

“ Maybe I’ll see you on the return trip” said Shorty as he headed for the door.

“Keep your shiny side up, your greasy side down, and the good Lord in your jump seat, ol’ friend, and thanks for the tip,” bellowed Eddie as Shorty swung open the door.

Shorty lingered just long enough to light another cigarette and ponder the long trip ahead of him. He loved being out on the road but sometimes it could get mighty lonely, especially at night when he lay in his sleeper alone. He thought that some day he just might settle down and find a pretty woman to make his wife and have a couple of kids. But for now the road beckoned him more than ever.

Trucking was what he had always wanted to do. It was in his blood and he was afflicted with that white line fever. His father owned several trucks and ran a transfer business. Why, he could remember as a kid, telling his dad that when he grew up that he wanted to be a truck driver, a noble knight of the road. He’d dreamed about it. This is what he wanted and he had pursued his dream as he became a man and made it so. He was proud of his profession and he worked hard to be the best. Shorty was known all across the country in almost every truck stop. Fellow drivers blinked their lights at him as they passed. They all knew that shiny red Mack and who drove it.

Shorty adjusted his hat against the hot sun and clipped on his sunglasses over the thick lenses he wore and headed for his truck. He felt in his pocket for his smokes and realized that he had lit his last one. He remembered it was also his last pack in the truck, so he turned around and headed back into the truck stop to buy a couple packs. He’d need them on this trip for sure, he thought.

Inside he saw Stella coming into the trucker’s store from the restaurant. He couldn’t help but chuckle to himself at the thought of what had happened a short while ago. He motioned to Stella to wait a minute and he walked over to her.

“Hey Stella, I am sorry that had to happen, you’re such an classy gal, and Larry had no right to say that where you could hear it. I don’t blame you for what you did to him. He had it coming.”

“That’s all right Shorty, I just couldn’t let him get away with it. Guys think that all truck stop waitresses are easy. And I just wanted to prove him wrong.” Stella said with a smile.

“Well you sure did just that Stella. I don’t think Larry will be back here for a long time, if ever.”

“Well I hope he has learned his lesson.”

“I know he has Stella. By the way, Stella, I got so flustered I forgot to leave you a tip.
Here’s a couple of bucks, you earned them.”

“Naw, you keep’um Shorty. It was worth all the gold in China to see his face. That was my reward for all I did. Maybe you’ll catch me on the go round, you’re always good about tipping.

“Ok. Stella, be seeing you” said Shorty as he stuffed the bills into her apron pocket anyway and walked off.

Shorty decided to forgo the shower till the return trip and headed back out to his truck chuckling to himself and wondering why Stella didn’t date truckers. We’re not all like Larry, he thought. Maybe later he could change her mind.

Back at his truck, Shorty unlocked the sleeper compartment and rummaged around for his tire thumper. It was actually an ax handle he picked up last week at a hardware store he’d made a delivery to. It would do the job just fine, he thought to himself the day he bought it. He walked along the length of the tractor checking the tires and checking the bindings on the trailer tarp. He thumped the trailer tires on each of the tandem axles. The sound that met his ear was the right one. Then he squatted down under the end of the trailer to check the pancakes. No leaks anywhere that he could see. Shorty then walked the length of the trailer along the other side checking it as he went. At the back of the tractor he paused and climbed up on the fuel tanks to check the glad hands and made they were connected properly. Don’t dare loose air pressure on this trip, he said to himself.

Finally he jumped down from the fifth wheel housing confident that everything was in order. He piled into the cab and fired up the Mack. She snorted to life with both stacks blowing black as coal. He adjusted his side mirror and checked behind him as he pulled out of the parking spot. Just as he reached the edge of the road he spotted Larry who was just leaving the lot in his old Peterbilt. Shorty reached for the cord and let out a long blast on the air horns as Larry passed. Shorty began to laugh all over again because Larry looked the other way then turned in the opposite direction.

Shorty grabbed a pack of smokes and lit one as he waited for the traffic to clear before he pulled out onto the road. He had a couple of hours before he hit route 40 so he settled in for the long haul. The sun was right overhead as he headed northward up route 95 toward Reno Nevada.

The heat had only become more intense with the sun beating down and reflecting off the Mack’s hood. Shorty became lulled into a half conscious state of highway hypnosis. He shook his head to try to keep alert and when that didn’t help he reached in his pocket for a small tin he carried. "My friend ‘benny’ here will keep me awake", he thought as he popped two in his mouth and downed them with some day old cold coffee from his thermos.

It only took a few minutes before he came fully back to consciousness. Shorty wiped the sweat from his forehead with his arm and tucked the tin back into his pocket. He kept a constant vigil in his side mirrors to make sure nothing was coming loose on the flat bed trailer. Shorty had decided he’d take route 40 because going that way he didn’t have to go through the Port of Entry and the scales at Truckee. He was familiar with the old route and knew he’d save time by going this way. But first, he’d stop just the other side of Reno and recheck his load, the fifth wheel, and the tires just to be sure before he had to start the downgrade on Donner Road (route 40).

Shorty hoped that it would be a bit cooler in the mountains so that the truck wouldn’t over heat going upgrade. The load he carried weighed 44,000 pounds and climbing hills made the old Mack labor a bit in the heat. The temperature gauge had already climbed a bit even though he was traveling on a somewhat level grade. Shorty kept an eye on the temp as he sweltered in the mid afternoon sun. It won’t be long now and I’ll be in Reno. Maybe I’ll stop and grab a cold one before I start out for Truckee and the turnoff, he thought to himself. There’s a Petro just the other side of Reno and I can check things out on the truck at the same time.

When he reached Reno the traffic was light for the middle of the day and Shorty breezed through without much trouble. He pulled into the lot at Petro and found an empty spot close to the end. His Mack breathed a sigh of relief as he backed her in and shut her down. As he walked up to the store he noticed an old black Marmon parked at the front of the lot. Eddie must have gotten a load. I wonder how he got here so fast. Anyway, maybe we can run together. He’s probably hanging out inside waiting for me, Shorty said to himself as he stepped through the door.

Eddie was standing next to the phones leaning on the wall as Shorty walked up.

“Hey, Eddie, I thought you didn’t have a load yet and how’d you get here so fast?”

“I took your suggestion and went out to see the broker. He had a double load going into
LA and I jumped on it. I only had another 15 miles from Injun Joe's to get the load. So after I got hooked up I hotfooted it on that back road we use for a shortcut near Injun Joe's. You know, the one we sometimes take to avoid the highway patrol? I took it so I could run top end to catch up with you, and well, here I am.” Grinned Eddie as he puffed on a cigar.

“Which way you headed, Eddie?”

“Why, the same way you’re going, Shorty!”

“Good we can run together and keep an eye out on each other. I’ll just get a cool one, check out my load, and we can be on our way. We don’t make money when the wheels ain’t rolling.”

“You got that right, Shorty. So lets get trucking,” Eddie said as he moved toward the door.

“Be right with you, Eddie,” said Shorty as he plunked some coins into a machine and pulled out a ‘Coke’ and popped the top off it with the opener on his key chain. “Ahhhh! That’s good and cold,” he said out loud after he gulped it down. With a loud burp Shorty put the bottle in the rack beside the machine, turned and headed back to his truck. He pulled out the tire thumper and checked the tires, looked under the trailer at the pancakes, and again he checked the glad hands. He was more edgy about this trip than other times going down the mountain. Something was gnawing at his gut. And he just couldn’t put a finger on it.

Eddie popped his head around the back of the cab, as Shorty was about to jump down.

"You ready to head out, Shorty?”

“Hell, Eddie, do you have to sneak up on people like that? You almost caused me to have
a coronary!”

“Sorry ol’ friend, I guess you didn’t hear me coming.”

“No, I was just about to come find you.”

“Ok, well, I’ll head back up to my truck and wait for you there and we’ll pull out.” Eddie said as he shuffled away toward where his truck was parked.

“ I’m finished here so I’ll see you up front,” said Shorty as he pulled a red bandana from his back pocket and wiped his face. Then tied the bandana around his head and plopped the hat over it. “This should keep the sweat from rolling down in my eyes,” Shorty said to the air as he climbed up into the cab.

Back on the road again Shorty and Eddie started for California and old route 40. The trip began without a hitch and Shorty felt at ease since he had checked everything and Eddie was behind him to keep an eye on his load as they started up the mountain pass. It was only fifteen or twenty miles to the top and from there on it was down hill to Roseville, dump this load, and on to a good night’s sleep. Seems easy enough! He thought. We’ll be there before the sun goes down and Eddie and I can head for a nightspot and unwind before we hit the sack. That sounded like a great idea and when he could he’d mention it to Eddie.

The ol’ Mack settled into a low whine as she climbed to the summit and Shorty sang along to his favorite country music on the radio. He didn’t have a good singing voice but that didn’t matter to him. It helped him concentrate on his driving and kept his mind off the “what ifs.” There was still that little gnawing feeling in the back of his mind that he just couldn’t get rid of.

Every now and then Eddie would pull up beside him in the other lane and grin and wave a thumbs up as they ran down the road. Shorty slowly began to feel more confident and settled down again and lit another Camel. The smoke whirled around his head and out the open window as if a tornado had pulled it away. Shorty looked at his watch for the umpteenth time. It seemed as if they were just crawling along instead of pushing the speed limit up hill. Shorty always said his ultimate excitement was to get a speeding ticket going up Snow Shoe Mountain’s 8% grade. The ol’ Mack could probably do it too because he’d blocked the governor open. He could make his ol’ Mack scream when he
wanted to and she would take it. With this thought Shorty smiled at himself and grabbed another gear to make the truck climb a little easier.

Not long after, the two trucks reached the top of the mountain and were about to start on the down hill grade, Shorty took a moment to visually capture the breathtaking view ahead of him and drew in a deep breath. His enjoyment didn’t last long because just as he looked out the window the road began to dip downward. He sat up straight in his seat and grabbed the wheel with both hands. This was the time that needed all of his attention. The Mack began to pick up speed and the long 12% grade loomed out ahead of him like a serpent ready to strike. He looked in the mirror and Eddie was climbing down on his tail.

Shorty tapped the brakes and nothing happened. The truck just kept on picking up speed and the fear choked his throat. His next thought was that he had “bought the farm” because there was no stopping this truck. No matter what he’d have to ride her out and do his best to keep her under control. He flashed a danger signal at Eddie with his taillights and Eddie dropped in beside him. At this point his speedometer was bouncing on about fifty or sixty when Eddie pulled up beside him. Shorty signaled frantically to Eddie to get on the horn and call his dispatcher to let the people know in Donner that a runaway truck headed their way. Eddie’s truck was the only one he knew of that had a company phone in it. He was instantly glad that Eddie was along and if he lived through this he’d take the time to thank his ol’ friend properly.

It was a good thing that the roadway was smooth; a rough road would make it more perilous than it was now, thought Shorty. If I can just keep her straight and no one gets in my way I just might be able to ride it out. Shorty’s hands gripped the wheel tighter and he prayed harder than he ever had before.

“Just let me get off this mountain in one piece, please, Lord.”

His worst fear was at the bottom in Donner. Would a school bus cross his path or would he hit some innocent people as he screamed through town? Did Eddie get the call in on time? Would he be able to get stopped once he got to the other side? God only knew the answers to these questions.

Next issue, the final part to the story. So don't forget to catch the next issue in January.



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