January, 2009. Hauling water on Colorado’s Roan Plateau is a great gig in the summertime. Slick roads and subzero temperatures make a winter night shift something else altogether. To add to the fun, the natural gas drilling boom had gone bust during the past few months. Mine was the only tanker navigating several frozen dirt trails in search of the location assigned by dispatch. If my International truck tractor spun out this night, with no other gas field traffic out and about, it would not be a pretty picture.
Especially since my formerly golden reputation as a tough and capable mountain night shift driver had taken a couple of hits in recent weeks. I could not afford another.
Don’t get me wrong. The job I’d held for the past two years was the best I’d ever had–and at age 65, with more than 100 jobs under my belt during my adult working life, that was saying something. I loved the night shift with its exponentially greater privacy than a typical day shift provided, the cover of darkness providing a protective blanket whenever nature called, the greater self reliance with far fewer bosses out and about…all of it. Day shift was a job. Night shift was, as often as not, a pure dee pleasure. Even my bouncing around, trying to find the frac tanks that would provide my tanker with 130 barrels of water to haul off to a disposal site in Utah, was not overly troublesome.
Until I blew it. Again.
There were three possible junctions, all frozen dirt roads, that might go where I needed to go. I’d eliminated one of them by trial and error. And then, a couple of miles into option number two, I suddenly realized I knew this road.
“Twenty-six!” I exclaimed aloud, talking to myself as usual. “This is the road that goes to twenty-six!”
That, I decided immediately, was both good and bad. My rig was chained up all around, but I was already heading down a steep grade that I knew could be nasty-slick for an empty tanker. In fact, the first time I’d ever run this route–though I’d accessed it from another angle–I’d spun out on the way back up the grade. Had to be towed to make it to the top. Scary, that, since the man camp housing the road grader ready to tow unfortunate truckers…was no longer in the area. Twenty-six had long since been drilled and fracked; all of the heavy equipment had moved elsewhere, to another hole.
If I spun out on this grade on this night…well, the boss might not fire me, but I’d be considered a loser and laid off shortly. Guaranteed. It would be a third strike, and we all know how that works in baseball.
Ah, but the good news: Tight and tricky as the road to twenty-six was, I knew it like the back of my hand. Down, curve left, power right and charge up the far side, hook left, plenty of room to turn around on location. Yeah, two more miles to get there, so four extra wasted miles, but better than getting caught with my stupid showing.
Back to the bad news. “What–?!” Braking as hard as I dared without jackknifing on the steep grade, pulling in alongside the production tanks. “Oh, no!”
There was no road to twenty-six. Oh, there had to be, somewhere…but not by this route. Not any more. Now the road just…stopped. There was a tiny location with several production tanks and very little room to turn around, cliff-steep drop-off banks around the edges. Without a doubt, botail trucks–not long tractor-trailer units–serviced this location now.
But I had to turn around. There was no other option. If I had to climb out of this hole and hike until I had cell service to call dispatch–which would take most of the rest of the night under subzero conditions–I might as well treat for frostbite and kiss my job goodbye at the same time.
So…let’s do it.
It got done, but barely, the tractor turned back tight against the trailer and one outside tire on the trailer hanging out over the edge of the bank to make it happen. Okay, Phase One complete.
That was the easy part. There was simply no way I could get this beast up that grade without slipping…at least, not by myself, I couldn’t. I needed help. Seriously. “Mahanta!” I yelled at the top of my lungs, pedal to the metal, jamming gears in the 18-speed Eaton as fast as I could get the rpm’s up, “I need your help! HU-U-U-U-U-U-U-U-U!”
It takes a lot to surprise me even a little…but I was astounded. The big rig sailed
up the icy-slick ultra-steep grade like the proverbial rocket sled on rails. Any serious driver knows when his rig’s wheels are slipping, and they did not slip one bit. Over the top we went, no black marks on my record this time, “Thank you, Mahanta! Thank you! Thank you!” Attitude of gratitude? Oh yeah! That’s all I was at that moment, and for some time thereafter.
By the time my adrenaline had settled down, I was back at the wrong turn I’d taken, heading on to option number three. That trail did indeed lead to the location I’d been seeking. There were two red frac tanks, both nearly full of water, frozen from the top down but enough liquid in the lower reaches of Tank #2 to make pulling a load no big deal. I paced, watching the hose as the trailer’s vacuum pump pulled what would turn out to be the last load I ever hauled from the Roan Plateau. At the end of March, with hours down and too little overtime left to make staying in Colorado feasible, I tendered my notice and began packing to move to Arizona, no frostbite and my reputation as a driver still more or less intact.
For our readers who may not recognize terms like Hu or Mahanta, the definitions can be found in A Glossary of Eck Terms at Eckankar.org.