Wednesday, 28 December 2016


From Little Rock to Wilkes-Barre with Old Bluey

A sample read from Highway America – the adventures of a Kiwi truck driver.

As I headed for Little Rock, a severe thunderstorm passed over Tennessee and Arkansas. Within minutes the roadside was littered with flooded and wrecked vehicles while others crawled along at ten to fifteen miles an hour in near zero visibility and almost axle deep water. At 9.30am I arrived back at the CalArk depot twelve days after leaving.
Someone from CalArk’s safety department examined the truck and trailer, looked at the photos and concluded that my truck had not been involved in an accident. (But that's a tale for another time)
However, the truck needed servicing so the load of new Honda bikes from East Liberty, Ohio, was taken on to Shreveport, Louisiana, by another driver.
Meanwhile because the work visa was due to expire that day (31 May) I had papers to read and sign regarding an extension.
That night I joined a bunch of Kiwi drivers for a night out at the La Quinta including Ray Paton, Duane Schollitt and Everard Anson, all former Mount Cook Company tour drivers. It was good to meet up with them again after the social isolation of living and working alone in the truck on unfamiliar highways and listening to unfamiliar voices on the CB and radio.
On Friday 1 June I hooked up another trailer going 1,180 miles to Wilkes-Barre in the hills of north-eastern Pennsylvania.  Wilkes-Barre first came to my notice many years earlier when it figured in an Earnest K. Gann novel about some 1930s airline pilots and I had often wondered what Wilkes-Barre was really like. I hoped that it wasn’t going to be like my experience in neighboring Montoursville with narrow lanes leading to riverside dead-ends.
The author in a Boeing simulator
The first night on this trip was spent at a truckstop at West Memphis, Arkansas. Then the route was through states that had become familiar but there was also some new sections of highway to travel; Interstate 40 between Nashville and Knoxville and a couple of new stretches of Interstate 81 in the Appalachian Mountains to provide additional scenic wonders.
It rained early on Saturday morning as Old Bluey ascended the Walker Mountains in southwest Virginia and fog descended on the highway. Suddenly the fog lifted to reveal the Mountain Empire Airport with a line of light aircraft parked close to the interstate at 2,500 feet above sea level. Close by the mountain tops were still shrouded in fog.
That was a long day of 636 miles to an overnight stop at Raphine, Virginia. But on Sunday the going got easier with just 234 miles to be driven to a Pennsylvania truckstop where I met Bruce and Jeff, two Kiwis from the same April intake at CalArk. We had dinner together and compared notes and it was interesting to discover that although our experiences were similar in many ways we had each been to quite different parts of the country.
On Monday morning, only a little over a hundred miles remained to arrive at the customer a day early. Approaching Wilkes-Barre, the interstate climbs the Penobscot Mountains to reveal a compact industrial city sandwiched between the mountains in the scenic Wyoming Valley on the east branch of the Susquehanna River.
The city, named for two British MPs who sympathized with the American revolutionaries, has a turbulent history. Founded in 1769 on America’s largest coal field, it was twice burned to the ground during the Revolutionary War.
Old Bluey
Wilkes-Barre, although not a large city, can be a tricky can of worms for an unsuspecting tractor-trailer driver. The streets are very narrow with tight corners and low bridges in abundance. Being caught up in a road and signage duplication could easily have led to my undoing.
Crossing the Susquehanna was the highway known as the 309, a new dual carriageway with a high modern bridge over the river. It was the road that I needed to be on to find the customer in suburban Exeter. Instead I inadvertently found myself on 309 Bus. Bus, I discovered, means Business and the 309 Bus, built in the days of horses and carts and long before the advent of seventy foot rigs, goes right through the heart of the old city. As I gingerly negotiated my way through the maze it was truly amazing to see the looks on faces going the other way. One could have been forgiven for thinking that the arrival of Old Bluey in Wilkes-Barre was the scariest happening since the Revolution. But it wouldn’t be the last time that yours truly would astound the natives somewhere, all the while expecting that a brief career as an American trucker would come to an abrupt and ignominious end.

Thank you for reading this sample from Highway America. To read more just click the link: HIGHWAY AMERICA