Phantom 309 and the Rookie

by VincentMoore

If you ever thought of leaving your present career and getting into the trucking industry this may or may not change your mind.

This is a true story, not fiction. Phantom and his rookie driver Marcel actually lived this awful night in the Canadian Rockies. Phantom continued trucking, but the rookie decided it wasn't for him and chose another profession. The Phantom still drives the highways of Canada and the USA as trucking is a way of life for him. Both male and female truckers risk their lives every day to get everything delivered on time. If every truck stopped for one hour on the side of the road, it would shut the economy down. A trucker's life is tough but they choose to be out there. I tip my cap to all the truckers on the highways today in all countries of our world. Keep trucking, keep the shiny side up and will catch ya'll on the flip side. 10-4 good buddies.

Part One: Mountain Pass


It's raining lightly as Phantom 309 turns the wheel over to the rookie he was set up with at the terminal back home in Prairie City, Manitoba. "Okay, rookie get your ass out of the slip seat and take over the wheel. This here phantom is dog tired and heading to slumbersville in the sleeper. Don't wake me unless this rain turns into freezing ice pellets. If you have any problems on the road give me a holler, understand?" "Sure Phantom, don't worry about me, I am a good driver even though I am a newbie." Phantom pulls over the big Kenworth as the Cummings engine bellows to a halt at a safe log truck turn out. Phantom slips it into neutral, sets the idle and pulls out the tractor and trailer air brake plungers to bring the big rig and loaded trailer to a safe stop. He drops the air seat a little to let his big-framed muscular body slide out and over to the walk in sleeper berth. It's just turned midnight and it's as dark as the dark side of the moon.It's time for some long awaited shut eye, after his 5 hour shift of driving through the Canadian Rockies. It's now the rookie's turn to pull his shift and head on down the road for the next five hours of driving.

The rookie adjusts the air in the seat to his comfort level as well as his west coast mirrors, picks his favorite country CD and slips it into the player. Before pulling out safely, he must first do a walk around the unit and trailer to assure all is safe to go and one of the most important check points are the trailer brakes. He has to ensure that they are set properly, otherwise he knows he could be in dire straits should they let go on any one of the many steep hills ahead. Many a trucker has kissed his ass goodbye for not checking and adjusting his trailer brakes before descending a steep grade. He puts all the necessary check marks on his inspection sheet, draws his lines on his swindle sheet (logs) and is satisfied that should DOT (Department Of Transport) ever pull him over, his logs are in order and his inspection sheets are too. He flicks on his left turning signal and slowly rolls his hammer into gear and starts to pull out slowly from the turn-out. It's still gently raining and he says a silent prayer to the rain gods to please quit or at best don't turn into the killer black ice that is feared by all the road kings on this highway. He was on the way now, and it felt good. It had been about an hour. Phantom was deep in sleep and snoring lightly. The rookie decided to drown out the snore by turning on his music and a country trucking ballad begins to twang. He quickly slips his right hand behind him to pull across the vinyl curtain to give Phantom more privacy and to act as a buffer between him and the music. Little did he know the quiet would be broken in seconds. "Phantom! Get up! What am I going to do? I'm on black ice and going down a steep grade. I'm losing control!"

Long slide down

A truckers nightmare
Ice Road Truckers
Ice Road Truckers

Part Two: Black Ice

Keeping your cool?

What had been a peaceful sleep for Phantom was cut short with that sudden call for help from the rookie. He quickly shot upright in the bunk, whipped open the curtain and what did he see in front of him through the rigs huge windshield? Rain combined with sleet, and the rookie's right leg and foot on the fuel pedal, shaking like a rattlers tail. Phantom earnestly says, calm down boy, calm down, relax. I will get you through this. Keep it straight and don't give it any fuel, just let it roll. Keep it straight. Phantom takes a glimpse through the slip-seat driver's side mirror to see the trailer fishtailing somewhat. "Good boy, you have it under control. Be gentle and let it roll. Ease up on the brake and don't touch your Jake brake." (Jake brake is an engine brake - very noisy and dangerous if used on ice.)

Their payload in the trailer was a full load of paper products, grossing out at around 78,000 lbs and that weight was helping them stay straight. The grade was steep and the ice was building up faster than they expected. It was getting difficult to see through the windshield. Phantom had been down this long, steep, winding mountain road hundreds of times and pretty well knew each and every turn on this highway. He was considered a wise old gearjammer. This was the first trip out for the rookie and he was not expecting to end up his first run out on the side of a highway turned over and in the ditch or dead. Phantom had made sure the rookie had the hammer in a lower gear. As the 18 wheeler lumbered down the mountainside, it was sliding somewhat but still under control. Panic set in when they saw what was turned over at the bottom of the hill.

Their high-beams clearly picked up a tractor turned on it's side, with it's fifth wheel snapped off and lying on the ground beside a 53-foot trailer sprawled across the highway. Phantom hollered to the rookie, "Hey, try to slow it down a little at a time. Go very easy on the fuel pedal. Phantom grabbed his radio mike and hollered across to anyone who could hear. "Breaker, breaker this is the Phantom 309 and we have an emergency situation down below this here mountain road. Everyone behind me slow down or else you're going to take out my trailer and everyone in front of it. There is an 18-wheeler flipped over in front of me. Slow down, slow down or hit the ditch." He hoped that anyone behind them would hear his message. Suddenly the radio kicked in and fellow truckers were chirping, "10-4 good buddy we hear you loud and clear Phantom 309 , we're hammering on down to low gear and braking behind you. Help is on the way, stay safe and see you at the bottom".

The rookie knew that unless he could stop the shaking of his leg he would have difficulty slowing down. He was scared to death. Phantom comforted him by assuring him he he was doing just fine. As the rookie approached the overturned trailer, his tractor brakes finally caught and he stopped two feet in front of the torn open side wall of the trailer. Freight was all over the highway, boxes broken open, furniture, luggage, food stuffs, split open bags of rice and dozens of jars of mayonnaise smashed on the black ice and walls of the trailer. The only reason the rookie was able to stop was because of the diesel fuel from the overturned tractor. The saddle tanks had split open releasing enough fuel to melt the black ice across a path in front of the open trailer. This allowed the rookie's tandem wheels to stop on a dry surface. This was a very lucky moment for Phantom and the rookie, otherwise they would have driven right into the sidewall of the trailer and pushed it even further, damaging their unit in the process and who knows what else?

Part Three: The Rescue

Husband and Wife

The first thing that the rookie did when he came to a grinding stop was to jump out of his seat and run across to the overturned tractor to help whoever was alive inside. The driver's side window was the only way to get in. The rookie jumped up quickly and started to kick in the window because he was unable to open the door. It had become jammed on impact. Phantom was on the radio still trying to divert the rolling rigs coming down the pass behind him. He was successful as no other rigs and trailers came down behind him. He was to find out later what actually happened. In the meantime, he jumped out of the rig and went to help the rookie with the driver. When he got to the window, the rookie was helping a woman pull herself out through the window. She was pretty shaken up, but without any serious injuries. However, her husband had been in the sleeper and was tossed around pretty badly. One arm and leg were busted up. They were both pulled from the rig and carried to Phantom's tractor where he and the rookie managed to put them both in his double unit sleeper.

The lady driver was hysterical and cried and screamed. It took some time to calm her down. Her husband was in pain and he knew he had some broken bones so laid very still. Phantom asked the lady driver, after she had calmed down a little, what had happened. She said a deer jumped out in front of her as she was turning a bend in the road and because of the black ice on the road she lost control of the wheel. They were both new to Canada and it was their first time driving in the Rockies. They'd never experienced black ice. Her wheels locked and she felt the unit bolt upwards and start to turn over, there was nothing she could do but roll with it and pray. This is the case for many foreign drivers who come to North America. They are not familiar with driving in our winters and as a result, get caught up in serious road situations.

Phantom knew that he had to get the man to a hospital. It would be impossible as the highway was blocked with the rig and trailer lying in front of them. The only thing they could do is comfort him and assure them both that help would be on the way. The words weren't out of his mouth when a helicopter appeared overhead and Phantom grabbed his CB radio mike, the chopper pilot spoke to Phantom and told him help was on the way. An ambulance, highway patrol and a crane to move the damaged equipment in front of them off the road. Phantom also had to calm the rookie down. He nervously vowed to Phantom that when he got back to the city he was quitting. He was not going to go through this again. Phantom assured the rookie that this was not the time or place to make that decision. He would feel better once he was back at home and had some rest and quiet time to think things over. After all, if policeman, firemen, ambulance drivers, pilots were to walk off the job because of what they see in their line of work, we wouldn't have any help from anyone. All the rookie needed was some kind assurance and time to reconsider. He was inexperienced and needed to gain more over the road experiences.

Choppers and Medics arrive

On the scene
R24 Truck Accident
R24 Truck Accident

Conclusion: Medics and Highway Patrol

To the rescue

Phantom assured the rookie that when he first started out he had some reservations and fears too, but he stuck with it and things got better with each run. Within the hour, highway patrol cars and ambulances appeared on the scene. Phantom approached their vehicles to guide them to the incident. He first told the officers of the two people in his rig and they then went to the ambulance driver and let them know. They put a blanket around the woman to comfort her and one attendant took her to the medic truck. Her husband was first prepared inside the rig before attempting to carry him out. They put a stabilizer brace around his neck first, then a brace on his broken arm and leg. They brought in a slip-board to slide him on as they slowly lowered him down out of the rig. He was taken to the awaiting ambulance.

Phantom and the rookie both felt relieved that the couple were taken care of and on their way to the local hospital for treatment. Now they both were questioned by the highway patrol and they explained what they had experienced. The two patrol officers were very polite and understanding. They took a report from both of them and now the rookie had a name. It was Marcel. If it wasn't for Phantom getting on the radio to warn about the conditions at the bottom of the pass, two other 18-wheelers would have crashed into them. Instead they forced themselves off the road with minor damage to their equipment. Phantom looked at Marcel with a sigh of relief and under his breath said "Thank you, God for the rookie you sent me. He did himself proud." It was now time to wait and wait they did. It took another eight hours to clear the mess in front of them before they were able to get on their way,Phantom had seen some lovely black sets of mens luggage ejected on the side of the highway. He asked one of the patrol officers if by chance they could each take a set, kind of like a gesture for helping out other drivers on this scary and brutal night. The patrol officer looked Phantom in the eye and with a grin on his face said, " I didn't hear what you said or see what your going to do and walked away". Phantom jumped from the rig, grabbed two sets of mens matching luggage and tossed them up to Marcel for storage in their bunk.

Phantom asked Marcel if he was good to go or did he want him to take over the driving, even though he had only one hour of sleep and his nerves were a little stressed. Marcel gathered his thoughts and adjusted his cap. He looked ahead at the highway, did the Holy cross benediction with his fingers across his chest, turned to Phantom and said,"No, go off to bed. I will be okay. This is something I have to do. I need to shake this off now, not in the city. If I don't, I will never be able to continue in this profession." Phantom gave him a wink and a high five and said you are no longer a rookie in my eyes, but one of us. Have a good drive, good-night and see you at daybreak. He headed off for a much deserved sleep amid his shiny, new luggage.

© Copyright by Vincent Moore 2012. All rights reserved

My first two published books of poetry

In Absinthia

In Absinthia is a collection of poetry. Vincent Moore pens his thoughts about many things and has a style all his own. Sometimes, he parties with words excessively and it become...

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Updated: 09/08/2012, VincentMoore
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EnelleLamb on 07/20/2012

Great article Vincent. A good friend of mine was a long hauler for many years, and each time he rolled into town he always had a story to tell about his many trips.

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