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A while back I had the chance to revisit an area I went to originally in 1986, when I first started trucking over the road. In the process I learned a couple things. First get a new map. Especially if the one you are using is almost 20 years old. Things change. The Atlas I had on this trip was new in 1997. Add to that the couple years it takes to put a map together and this map was probably at least 18 years old. The cause of this adventure was to see if a road I went down way back when I started trucking was as bad as I remembered it. It was, and maybe even worse than I remember it. The sign below is the one on the road today. When I did it back in 1986 it was a different sign. Back then the sign said, "Not recommended for vehicles over 42 feet in length." My truck was right at 60 feet in length, but the trailer just happened to be 42 feet.
Well first let me tell how I got to this point so you can understand my dilemma. I was driving a flatbed and had emptied out near Winston-Salem, North Carolina. My dispatcher told me to go to Spruce Pine, North Carolina and get loaded. He did not give me directions and that should have been my first tip off that I was being set up. My company was a union company and paid on percentage of revenue. Because of that the company reserved the right to route our trips to make sure we did not waste money. They did not route me so I took out my trusty map and saw that U.S.421 seemed to be the shortest way to Spruce Pine. It was, and is till you get to Boone, NC. Then you take 321 south to Blowing Rock, North Carolina. There you have to change to highway 221. When you do, the first thing you see as you turn onto the road is the sign pictured below. At least today that is what it says. That is not what it said 26 years ago. Back then it said what I said earlier. The maximum recommended length was 42 feet, which just happened to be the length of my trailer. That did not include the tractor.
As most truckers would I consulted my Atlas. That is when it got interesting. Via 221 the distance to my destination was 37 miles. If I did not take route 221 I had to go down to Hickory, NC. Then you had to go across I -40 to Asheville, NC. Finally the detour went from Asheville to Spruce Pine. The total distance was almost a 160 miles instead of 37 miles. After considering all the facts I used some good ol' trucker logic. It said not recommended. It did not say you couldn’t go that way, like it does now. I figured if I moved my trailer axles all the way forward I would not be that much over what they recommended. So I slid the axles. Surely it could not be that bad?
And off I went. A couple of miles into the trip, after meeting myself coming and going, I started pondering the wisdom of my decision. It was extremely curvy. I came to a sharp right hand curve. I made several attempts to make the corner but every time I did my trailer tandems kept hitting a rock. It was not that big of a rock but I could not take the corner any wider. It was several hundred feet down on the left side and several hundred feet up on the right. I was at a point where I had an option. Either back up around all the curves for 2 or 3 miles or drag the trailer over the rock. Initially I tried to back up, but it was not going well. Soon my frustration level reached its peak and I pulled the trailer till it went up over the rock. As soon as I did two thoughts ran through my mind in quick succession. If there was another or worse situation ahead I could not back over that rock. The second was that short of using a crane there was no way to turn my truck around. At this point I was committed for better or for worse. If I did get stuck out here it was going to be a long, long walk to a telephone to call my company and admit my stupidity.
My next exciting event was meeting a car full of site seeing tourists. The last thing they expected to see on that stretch of road was a big truck. One car almost ran off the road trying to avoid me. Because of the blind curves to the right I had to get in the left lane to get around them. This generated quite a bit of excitement both for them and me. This road goes around the side of Grand Father Mountain. Today this road can be avoided in a car by taking the Blue Ridge Parkway. While that is a good idea in most situations as it is a very is a pretty road. It is a scenic drive with many lookouts and small waterfalls and off limits to trucks.
There were a few places where the cliff hangs out over the road like the one above, which I used for a fulcrum. Had I been pulling a van trailer I would not have been able to get through the 30 some miles. As it was, it was bad enough with a flatbed trailer. Several miles into the trip I came to a point in the road pictured above. There was no way to get wide enough to make the corner and after several attempts and getting my trailer only three quarters of the way through I did the only thing I could do at that point. I used the side of the boulder for a pivot point to literally drag the trailer around the corner by making the tires slide on the pavement. Not a normally accepted method of turning sharp corners.
It took over three hours to go the 37 miles. It was not much of a time savings and I doubt it saved much fuel either. When I called dispatch after loading I started venting. Soon I realized the dispatcher had the phone on intercom so the whole office could hear. They were getting a great laugh at my expense. Later I learned I was not the first and probably not the last driver that the dispatchers had played their little game with. However I did learn something from it all. When I see a sign I know it is there for a reason. Also when I see a sign for trucks in North Carolina I take it to heart.
If you found this funny or interesting I have a couple more funnies on "how not to go down a hill" One is my 11/7/11 and happened in Arizona. The other 4/12/12 happened in Vietnam with a load of bombs on my truck. Thanks for taking the time to read it. The links to these stories are now on my home page. You can find many of my other trucking stories by simply typing truck or trucking on the search bar on my home page.