Posted by: fringe62 | August 17, 2013

Bridge Freezes Before Road Surface

Bridge May Be Icy

“What now” I thought as a whole line of brake lights started flashing on in front of me as I rounded a bend on Route 322 West in Pennsylvania. As I geared down to a stop I reached up and flipped on my CB radio. “Great” I said to myself as the chatter on the radio told me the road was closed due to flooding and ice on the bridge over the Susquehanna into Duncannon. I was a little more than an hour from the house and now I was stuck.

The last half of this trip from California had been the longest. I had been chasing a snowstorm all the way from Eastern Tennessee and then the whole way up Interstate 81, through Virginia and on into Pennsylvania. Earlier that day I had sat in my cab waiting and finally unloading, at Giant Foods in Carlisle, and watched the snow turn to a steady downpour of rain. I finally finished unloading around 4pm and noticed within about 1/2 hour into my drive home that my CB antennae was waving hard side to side instead of a gentle pushing back. That meant the temperature was dropping and ice was building up on my antennae – and the roads. I had also noticed very little spray coming from my tires which meant the water was turning to ice. It was going to be a long, slow drive home and now it looked like it was going to take even longer than I expected.

I could see the lights flashing on a State Trooper car and noticed there were no vehicles going over the bridge. “Oh boy, let the rodeo begin” said the truck driver several cars in front of me. The CB lit up with chatter as we watched a car slog slowly through a good foot of water over the road and start up the approach to the bridge. As water dripped from the car, it hit the elevated road surface and froze. The car fishtailed it onto the bridge and made it safely across. As each successive car pulled water further and further up the bridge approach, I could see the frozen path growing longer and wider. Each car seemed to be having a more difficult time than the last one, slipping and sliding up the ramp. I couldn’t believe the trooper was letting traffic go without a salt truck coming through first.

Then the truck in front of me pulled up to the trooper and after a short conversation, reported on the CB, “The bear says it’s our call if we want to try it or pull over and wait for the salt shaker. I’m almost home so I’m going for it.” A chorus of “good luck” and “go for it” followed him as he eased around the cars that had decided to wait . I watched as the water rose to almost the middle of his tires and his bumper pushed a rolling wave in front of his cab as he started up the ramp. He made a beeline for the right wall, since the ramp curved up and to the left.  The whole ramp and the first few feet of the bridge had a slight downward slope to the left.  The left lane and most of the right lane glowed a weird orange as the bridge lights reflected off of the shiny, icy path.

I watched as he started to round the bend up onto the bridge and his trailer started sliding sideways. It looked like the back end was trying to outrun the cab. “Whoa, WHOA!” somebody yelled on the CB as the trailer started pulling the cab down the slope and the whole unit slowly slid towards the left wall. As he rounded the bend almost sideways, he must have found dry road because the cab suddenly bolted forward. Smoke rolled from his stacks as he downshifted to gain speed and his trailer suddenly jerked back into line behind his cab.

There was a long silence on the CB and as I watched the next few cars in front of me slip and slide up the ramp I lifted the mike. “Driver, how much weight you haulin’?” I asked.

“I’ve got near a full load darlin’ and that was a bit more excitement than an old man needs this late at night.”

The last few cars ahead of me nudged forward, spoke to the trooper and either pulled over or fishtailed up across the ramp, almost sliding down into that left wall. I pulled up to the trooper and rolled down my window. “When is the salt truck supposed to get here?” I asked him.

“I have no idea” he said. They’re very busy. There’s messes like this all over the state. Try it at your own risk or pull over and wait”. I inhaled deeply and then let out a long whoosh of breath. After a moment of hesitation I decided to go for it. Even though I was empty, I just wanted to get home. The roads weren’t going to get any better if I sat here and waited on a salt truck.

I put my truck in gear and drove slowly through the small pond of water across the roadway. I could hear and feel it sloshing and banging against the floor of my cab. As I started up the ramp I geared up one – I didn’t want too much power to the wheels or I’d just start spinning and be stuck.  Like the truck before me, I aimed my wheels for the upper right lane and decided to hug the jersey barrier as close as I could.

Then, I felt it – a pull on the rear of my cab.  I glanced in my left mirror only to see my trailer sliding slowly toward the left wall of the ramp.  By instinct I grabbed the trolley valve but laughed as I quickly realized trailer brakes weren’t going to keep me from sliding on ice.  I tried a bit more fuel pedal and felt the tires spin.  There was not going to be any way of pulling out of this to straighten my trailer.  I looked out my left mirror again and as if in slow motion, and to a chorus of “whoa” and “oh shit” on the CB, the back corner of my trailer slammed into the jersey barrier in the left lane.  I kept lightly feathering the fuel pedal, hoping to feel dry pavement.  I could feel the whole rig pulling and sliding into the left lane as now the side of my trailer was dragging along the wall.  I had a death grip on the steering wheel as I kept turning it to the right, to no avail.

“I’m sunk” I said out loud to myself as images flashed through my head of my whole rig slamming into the wall, sliding and scraping backwards down the ramp.  I could hear guys yelling advice and groaning over the CB as I kept working the clutch and gears and fuel pedal trying to feel some grip on my tires.

Almost without warning, the wheels started stuttering on the half dry – half ice pavement.  I was jerked back into my seat as I geared down and caught all dry pavement.  I turned the steering wheel back to the left and with a sudden jerk, my trailer gave one last slam into the wall and then pulled in line behind me.  A cheer went up on the radio as I lined everything up in the right lane.  I pulled well up onto the dry pavement of the bridge and edged off onto the shoulder under a streetlight.  I put on my jacket, grabbed my flashlight and hopped down out of the cab to inspect the damage.  My legs were shaking so badly I used the side of the rig to steady myself.  I sucked in several head-clearing breaths of the winter air as I walked the length of my trailer.

A bunch of deep gouges in the aluminum surrounding my taillights, and the bottom edge of the back few feet of my trailer had some scrapes on it.  I was lucky.  Most of them would buff out.  As I walked back up to the cab I was shivering and not totally from the cold wind blowing across the bridge.  “That could’ve very easily been a real mess” I said to myself, picturing chewed up fiberglass on the side of my new truck.  “You were really stupid to try that.  Really, really dumb.”

I jumped into the cab and cranked the heat up as high as it would go and turned the CB off.  They had all seen what happened.  I didn’t feel like talking.  I tried steadying my hands in front of the heater vent and looked out my left window.  I hadn’t seen any more cars come by me while I sat on the bridge.  “Guess that trooper thought I almost caused a real mess too” I said to myself as I realized he had pulled his car across all lanes and shut down the road.  As I looked at the long line of headlights that snaked beside the river I thought I saw a flash of yellow.  Then another flash reflected on the side of the mountain that rose up on the right side of the highway.

“Figures” I said out loud.  “Here comes the salt truck!”

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Responses

  1. Wow, you are one brave driver and woman. I don’t live far from that area. I would have left the door open for you. I’ve done a few ‘oh s^it’ moves when driving too. They remind us how short our lives are. Be careful out there

    • Don’t know how brave I was. More like incredibly stupid but looking back now it makes a good story. I’ve done more than my share of “oh sh-t” moves too, in a car and in a truck. Thanks for reading along on my rides.


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