By BILL ARCHER
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
In the short span of trucking for five years, I experienced more extremes of heat and cold than I did before or since. In the winter of 1976-1977, I was driving a dual axle, single screw International Transtar II cab-over with a 238 Detroit diesel engine and a 13-speed Road Ranger transmission. The truck was clean inside and out, but lacked the character of my old 1965 Freightliner. It also lacked the small rectangular extra radiator coils above the foot compartment in the driver and passenger sides of the cab. As a result, my feet got mighty cold that winter.
I’m old enough now to know better, but on January 18, 1977, I was silly enough to think that I could apply cool temperature rules to operating a tractor-trailer in sub-zero temperatures. I was taking a load of coil wire to Hopkinsville, Ky., and I stopped at a rest area on I-70, a little east of Columbus, Ohio to get a couple hours of sleep. I cut the engine off to let the cold wake me up, but that morning, it was the life flowing out of me that stirred me. My mind and body argued over whether or not I should wake up. Eventually, my mind won out, driven by the fact that I needed to get the load of freight to Kentucky.
That turned out to be a pretty famous morning in Dayton, Ohio where the daytime high was minus 22 degrees, making it the coldest daytime high in 67 years. I remember driving south on I-71, headed to Cincinnati, and praying that what little heat I had would hold up a little while longer. I stopped short of the Queen City to warm up my feet. In those years, truckers wore flimsy black boots that had ankle-high tops. Those boots weren’t made for walking, but they also weren’t made for keeping feet warm.
I pulled my boots off at the rest area and was surprised to learn that my socks were wet where my feet had been sweating. I didn’t know back then that it was customary for feet to sweat in extreme cold, but my toes were as cold as ice cycles. I put my socks over the defroster vent in the Transtar II, and rubbed my toes with the blanket from my bunk. It seemed like it took forever for my feet to warm up.
It also seemed like it took a long time for my socks to dry over the defroster vent. I wrung them out, but they were still pretty soggy when I decided I had been on the side too long already and I needed to get trucking again. Right then it dawned on me that I should have brought another pair of socks with me. I made a mental note to myself that I would remember to bring another pair of socks along with me in the future, but that mental note went the way of “Future” Theodore “Ted” Logan’s reminder to “Present” Ted Logan to wind his watch in “Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure.” I never did remember to bring extra socks.
The rest of my essentially bare-footed truck through Ohio was really cold, especially that part when I crossed the Ohio River on the old bridge there that was well ventilated. It had been cold for a while, and further north and east, the Ohio was frozen solid, but it was still flowing through Cincinnati, as I recall. Even though I experienced several minus-20 degree days in Morgantown in the winter of 1981-1982 and again here in Bluefield in 1985, I don’t think I was ever colder than when I crossed the Ohio that morning in flimsy boots and no socks. I can feel it right now.
By the time I got a little south of Lexington, Ky., where I cut off to Hopkinsville, I actually saw some grass sticking up through the blanket of snow beside the interstate exit ramp. It was such a welcomed sight that I wanted to get out and take a picture, but I knew the only way I could keep warm was to keep the RPMs high in the old Detroit Diesel so the thermostat would keep pumping warm water through the small cab heater cores about lap-high in the cab. I didn’t stop moving until I got where I was going.
I called the Ace Doran dispatch office in Owensboro, Ky., and they told me that nothing was moving out of the Alcoa Plant near Evansville, Ind., so I decided to deadhead on back home. The ride back north wasn’t anything like the ride down south. My socks had dried out by the time I was ready to leave out of Hopkinsville. After I put them back on, I could smell the pine tree-looking air freshener once again.
When I got back, I parked the Transtar II and started driving an R-Model Mack on a series of short hauls between the Wheeling-Pittsburgh Steel mills in eastern Ohio and southwestern Pennsylvania, but that’s a whole different story. Those dry socks held up better in the conventional R-Model than they did in the cab-over, but who am I to judge now? I do, however, recall it being cold.
Bill Archer is the Daily Telegraph’s senior editor. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org