Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Winter Driving

When I was a kid, we had a flatbed truck for use at the farm and sawmill, but our family vehicle was a station wagon. During the summer, it took us on picnics, weekends in the mountains, visits to distant relatives, up the road to Granddad’s house and “to town.” Going to town was an important consideration, for even back then, there were some foods that we didn’t grow or raise on the farm, plus, when both my sister and I were old enough to be in school, Mom got a job in town.

We hauled groceries, umpteen kids, cattle feed, barbed wire and lumber in our old wagons, along with many other things. If you ran out of room inside, there was always the luggage rack on top! As anyone who’s had both knows, the only thing as handy as a station wagon is a pickup truck, and the truck is limited in comfortable seating. Four-wheel drives hadn’t become all that popular yet, because of the comparative expense. If you weren’t a farmer, you might not need a pickup and, empty, wagons had better traction anyway, so a LOT of country folks had station wagons back then.

It was in a station wagon that I learned to drive, including bad-weather driving. On slick winter roads, accelerate slowly, brake gingerly, turn slowly, get a run for going up a hill, but creep down the other side, plus, DON’T tailgate. With the old sawdust tread, those wagons did surprisingly well, even on ice. The more weight that you piled in the back, the better they went; chains would make them almost unstoppable, IF you didn’t bottom out (high-center). We often kept 200-300 pounds of cattle feed in the back, just for traction. The car always smelled great during the winter! Sadly, many of today’s “station wagons” are front wheel drive, putting the weight in a LOADED vehicle over the NON-DRIVING tires, making those vehicles almost useless, unless empty.

Going to work today, I left early to allow for slower traveling. As I crept down the first hill, some idiot came flying over the brink of the hill, headed for my rear bumper. I was close enough to the bottom that I could speed up a bit and still make it around the left turn at the foot of the grade. He realized that he couldn’t push me, I guess, so he backed off a little. Driving carefully along the winding valley road, I clicked on the four-wheel drive and got a bit of a run for the grade up out of the valley. Unfortunately, just around the bend, and half-way up the hill, sat a small car in the middle of the road.
I had no choice but to stop. The guy got out of his car and apologized, telling me that he was sure that his front-wheel drive would make it through the five inches of powdery snow on the hill. I asked if he had winter treads, and he said that he didn’t. He also said that he’d try to get to one side to let me around, so, I started backing down the slick hill, NOT one of my favorite things to do. The idiots right behind me (another tail-gaiter had appeared) had no choice but to back down also. Thinking that it was too slick to be on the road, I decided to turn around in a driveway and return home. However, two more cars had pulled cross-wise of the two normally open driveways, leaving me no place to turn. It appeared that the only option was up and out.

Seeing that the first guy had managed to get a good ways down the hill, and to the outside of the bend, I gave it my truck as much gas as I thought prudent. I’m not sure the four-wheel had caught, for I fish-tailed all the way up, but I kept moving. Glancing in my rear-view mirror, I saw four more vehicles tail-gaiting up the hill right behind me. The five us looked like some giant glow-worm wiggling through the white darkness. In the old days, each would have waited to be sure the one in front made it, or at least followed at a safe distance, but that was then.

When I reached the four-lane, it was obvious that it hadn’t been graded or salted. One lane was worn down in the very center, packed like ice. I tried going toward town at a safe 30 MPH, but everyone was piled up behind me, so I eased to the right, barely keeping my driver’s side tires in the worn area, while my passenger side tires were actually in the fresh snow on the paved berm. In rapid succession, the cars behind me passed and soon appeared to be going not far below the 65 MPH legal there. I was thrilled to be rid of them.

I drove the rest of the way to work without incident. I was only a couple minutes late, but it didn’t matter, as they’d told the guys not to start their trucks anyway. I told my bosses about the crazies on the road and we chatted a few minutes. Soon, the young dispatcher (the younger boss’s son) came in, only a few minutes late. Asked what the roads were like in his area, he commented that they weren’t all that bad, if everyone would just quit poking along! I smiled and left to join my coworkers in the waiting area. © 2015


Mamahen said...

Ah youth lol...Hubby's grandmother always told her grandkids they wouldn't get a lick of sense till they were 40... Sounds like he hasn't made it yet :))

Sixbears said...

If I can do it, I'll pull off to the side and let the tailgaters pass. Often I'll see them further up the road in a ditch.

Used to drive Rt 2 in VT almost daily. Twists, hills, and very little passing. On a good day I could do my run in an hour and 15 minutes. Always allowed 2 hours. Never felt rushed and if I was early I'd have time for another coffee.

Gorges Smythe said...

He's not 40 yet, either, Mh. lol

Yeah, I pull over a lot on two-lanes, also, Sixbears.

Ralph Goff said...

Gorges, we learned how to drive in the days when you actually needed a brain and developed a "feel" for your vehicle. Not relying on anti lock brakes and traction control 4wd to do the job for you. Mostly 4 wd and SUVs around here it seems. Some seem to think it means they can drive anywhere anytime in whatever weather as fast as they want. Once in a while reality jumps up and bites them.

Gorges Smythe said...

Yes, and I try my best not to wish it on them Ralph. lol

Sunnybrook Farm said...

I get paid so little that it would take many months of work to replace the car if I tore it up so it is cheaper to stay home. I used to poke around like you back in the old days, back when everyone had chains if they had to get out.

Chickenmom said...

We used to have station wagon when the boys were young. They could hold a lot of stuff! Good driving there, Gorges. Would rater be late for work then never get to show up again.

Gorges Smythe said...

Do you mean that you're a speed demon now, SF? lol

That's the way I figure, Cm.