I already did a couple of those, so I was thinking this was a free ride back to base. The instructor pilot told me to ask for clearance directly back to the flight line. I did and was immediately granted said clearance. That meant I could point my nose straight at the place where my bird parked, and go. There was no need to bother with the designated lanes.
What a great day!
I was good at piloting a helicopter. So much so that my instructors usually let me hover a little faster than my stick buddies, or fly a little lower. But part of being a good pilot meant being careful, and I was.
I kicked the left peddle, turning the nose of the helicopter towards the operations building. As I then leaned it over, I was doing something I should never have done. I was relaxing. I was crossing runways and as I crossed the second one my instructor cut the throttle!
The sound of the engine unspooling and the sensation of the aircraft settling caught me completely off guard. I over reacted, over compensated.
The Huey yawed way too much to the right and nosed up, not a good position to be in less than three feet off the ground.
At this point time slowed down considerably. I was about to wad up one of the Army’s old Vietnam veterans, and end my career.
I saw in my peripheral as my instructor realized I was in trouble and his hands and feet shot out to the controls. They were still mine, but he was ready.
I got the aircraft level, but we were still yawed too much to the right. My biggest concern was getting the nose straight, if our skids buried into the ground with us sideways, we would probably roll.
My left fool kicked the peddle, and the nose slowly came around, I pulled pitch, but it was so late in the aircrafts descent, all it did was keep us from hitting real hard. We still hit the hard Alabama clay with enough force to bounce once. Hard enough to make the helicopter rock up on the curve of the skids, as it settled down a second time.
“It almost looked like you panicked there Bill” My instructor said as the Huey rocked back to level.
I let out a breath, felt time come back to normal, and keyed the mike. “I screwed up sir; you completely caught me off guard. My final thought was getting the skids straight.”
“Well, you did that. Let’s go home.” He said as if it was just another day at the office.
I never relaxed again in a helicopter after that day.
Moment of Chaos #3
When I graduated from truck driving school, I scoffed at all the ads looking for truck drivers with “experience”. What did a driver with a little experience know that I didn’t? I graduated in the top ten in my class! (Would have been #1 but that is a different story).
I later learned that experience teaches you to avoid situations that the unexperienced never see. Unfortunately, that experience usually means bent metal and busted fiberglass. Both of which are super expensive when it comes to semi-trucks.
My first truck driving job was with a company that would finance a truck for you. If you wanted to be an owner operator, all you had to do was sign a piece of paper, and that truck was yours.
I started with North Star Transportation in October 1988 and by June of 1989; I was the proud owner of a 1989 Freightliner FLD 120. It was a sweet truck! It had dual exhaust, polished aluminum front wheels, full fairings, a big bunk, and a four hundred horsepower Caterpillar engine. It was way more truck than I deserved.
This was a rare purchase for North Star, and only a handful of drivers were able to glob onto one these trucks. Prior to these nice rigs, we were offered the old white cab overs, and afterwards, you were stuck with single exhaust stand up double bunks at best. While others signed contracts for red single bunk Freightliners without fairings.
Yup, I was one of the few, the proud, the FLD 120, dual exhaust elite!
Shortly after scoring that sweet ride and the big payment that went with it, I snagged a Pennsylvania beauty! She was a strawberry blonde with calico eyes full of devilishness, and a great body. Life was almost as good as flying helicopters at fifty feet off the trees. Ok, not even close, but we need to move on.
So, here I was, middle of the night, cruise control set, listening to the latest and greatest in glam metal when it occurs to me.
I am fricken tired!
I don’t remember the events that led up to me leaving the cities late. But I wanted to get home to Pennsylvania hotness and I was going to drive all night to get there. I have this hot strawberry blonde waiting for me in PA. I may have left later than I planned, but it was not a problem to drive thirteen hours straight through…right. It is only thirteen hours.
But I was so tired.
I so badly wanted to make it home to my strawberry blonde sweetheart, with those devilish eyes. But I was struggling.
Looking for anything to keep my mind in the game.
Then I saw it.
The cassette holder was in the wrong place!
Why wasn’t it under the dashboard where that great expanse of black plastic lay?
Then, all I had to do was look down. Eyes off the road for just a moment. Find the cassette that would hold my attention in just a couple of seconds, and boom, music blaring and attention focused on the road.
All I needed to do was move the cassette holder from its place beside the seat to the barren space below the dashboard. Easier said than done. The move went almost flawlessly. But the positioning and final arrangement not so well.
Its new position showed a flaw in my thinking. The front to back vibration that was acute to truck driving had the cassettes ejecting themselves from the cassette holder. I pondered the problem for a moment. After some thought, I decided I would screw some eyelets into the wood and hold the cassettes in place with the small bungee cords you could buy at any truck stop. But until then…
I can lean it back a few degrees, and that will get me to Pennsylvania.
I grabbed the cassette holder making sure that none of the cassettes spilled. Moved it a few inches from the plastic panel, the base against the shift lever, and leaned it back.
Yea, that will do the trick.
As I was finishing the move, I was coming into Wisconsin Dells, and on ramps were much more frequent than most of Wisconsin before now. The next on ramp was a blind entrance that hid behind a beautiful rock outcropping.
I abandoned monkeying around with the cassette holder and focused on the road…for the moment. I saw a compact pickup just coming onto the freeway about a mile ahead of me. Based on the distance, and the speed the pickup should be going, I had time to make one more quick adjustment.
I reached down, and did some tinkering, but it was taking longer than I thought it would. My internal clock knew I was getting close to the pickup that just entered the freeway. I sat up and felt my heart stop as my body experienced that all too familiar injection of adrenaline.
My truck drifted a little into the left lane and I was only a car length from that little pickup and closing fast.
I slammed on the brakes hard, and pulled the wheel to the left. Both actions were enough to cause an immediate change in speed and direction without throwing sixty thousand pounds out of control.
Neither was enough!
I hit the compact pickup square in the center of the tailgate with my right front tire. My right headlight and fender shattered. The steer tire smashed down the tailgate and landed in the bed of the pickup. The weight of my truck pushed his little truck down on to its frame rails. I saw an orange glow out of my peripheral and looked in the passenger side mirror. A shower of sparks thirty feet long rooster tailed off the pinned trucks undercarriage.
I had no control of my truck. Milliseconds ticked by, my foot searched for the brake pedal. His vehicle was pulling me towards the ditch. I struggled with the wheel, but no matter how hard I pulled left, the two entwined vehicles continued toward the ditch.
The sounds of scraping metal and screeching rubber filled the world with sounds of chaos. Somewhere in the din, I still heard David Lee Roth lament Jamie’s woes.
In my mind I knew if I went in the ditch on top of that little pickup, the driver was dead. If he wasn’t already.
As we careened out of control towards the shoulder, I was certain of the little pickups fate. Then his right tires hit the soft Wisconsin soil just off the shoulder. I felt as well as saw his truck ripped out from under mine. My inertia propelling me forward as his debilitated pickup came to a near stop in the grass and dirt. I saw it spin once in my mirror and come to a rest, headlights shining in my passenger mirror.
Relieved I didn’t crush the poor guy, I turned back to wresting control of my crippled truck. As the turf pulled the pickup from under my right steer tire, my tie rod bent and now my tires pointed in two different directions. The truck was following the left steer tires lead, toward the opposite ditch.
I resigned myself to the fact that I was done; there was no hope of regaining control. Then I decided to try something else, I applied more pressure on the brake pedal, trying to regain control, the trucks weight shifted. Now I had some control, pulled the truck off the narrow left shoulder, and sent it back towards the right.
The truck was more responsive to my inputs; most of my speed was gone now. I had to pull hard on the steering wheel to keep the now slow moving truck from dropping off the shoulder.
With the truck at a stop, I looked in the passenger side mirror and saw the little pickup about a hundred feet back, headlights shining.
“Fuck! I probably killed someone!” I said into a cab, now eerily silent compared to the ruckus of the last few seconds.
All this took place in just a few seconds. After the chaos was over, I marveled at how many times I gave up on controlling the truck, only to reverse my thinking and try something new. Going in the ditch meant more injury, possibly death and much more damage to my truck and the load. I also was amazed at how much I saw and heard in those few long seconds.
Did my mind actually go into hyper-speed, or are the articles that I cite earlier correct. Is it just my recall that is hyper-clear. I did a lot of mental processing in the seconds that followed me hitting that pickup. More thinking than I think I can do in a normal couple of seconds.
At least that is how it seemed.
The guy was standing next to another truck driver when I got back to him. He survived the single biggest fuck up of my truck driving career.
I think I ended up paying off the guys house once the lawyers were done.