MAN Down on Shap (Nearly!)

  

Back when I were a lad and a fairly infant owner driver, I remember a time that certainly put hairs on my chest if nothing else. When we all start out as young drivers we are entrusted with a truck and asked to set out on our own across the UK or where ever. Naturally there is a learning process, somethings are common sense, some things are taught by others, some taught by making mistakes and some taught by Mother Nature! I’ve always been one to listen to older drivers as in my experience what they have to say is worth listening too. Most older drivers have been there and done it and I think they have nearly always been in a situation that the younger generation will learn from. I’m all for learning and all for taking advice and it’s only natural that as inquisitive beingswe might not always make the right decision when faced with a situation we have not encounter before. It’s called thinking on your feet. 

 

Having delivered another load of new sunbeds to Larkhall, Scotland there was a single unpacked, salon ready sunbed to return to Braintree. I strapped it against the headboard and headed south. Just enough time to get back Penrith Truckstop for the night. Overnight the wind got up. When I say it got up I mean it was howling! The buzz around the Truckstop was a couple of trucks had gone over on the A66 and drivers were trying to decide whether to wait it out or head off into the wind. Now here’s the decision for a 19 year old owner driver. I had to get back to Braintree that day to get my next job loaded, but I had to go via Manchester to collect some parts. Penrith to Manchester is a beautiful drive on a lovely day but for those who don’t know the UK, driving the M6 motorway between these two places involved probably the windiest section of motorway in the UK. Near the town of Shap the motorway claims no end of trucks during the year, with high winds, ice, snow and what ever else comes out of mother natures purse! So I had on an expensive piece of electrical machinery that couldn’t get wet, I had to get back to base to load, I also had to go over Shap to get my second collection on. Should I go or should I stay?? I decided I’d give it a go.   

If my curtains had been like this and I wasn’t loaded, the worst would have been losing the fibreglass sheet roof, but as I was loaded the curtains were shut. Off I set out of Penrith Truckstop and south onto the M6. A mile or two south and I was already thinking I had made the wrong decision, the wind was strong, stronger than I’d felt before and it seemed to be directly side on. A 7.5 tonner with closed curtains might as well be described as a kite. A couple more miles passed and I passed some over turned trucks. I have to say not many vehicles were on the motorway at all, I slowed right down and was struggling along at 20-30 mph at most. I caught up with another 7.5 tonner that had lost its roof and was taking shelter under a large bridge over the motorway. Perhaps that’s were experience should have taken over. I carried on and was virtually at Shap and the worst weather I had encountered, howling wind and rain straight from my right had side. A few gusts really knocked my sideways and I was on the hard shoulder, managing to get back to the main carriageway another strong gust caught me so I eased off the throttle and then a second huge huge gust hit and put me up on just two wheels. You know the saying “time stands still”, that must have been the longest few seconds of my life!! Luckily for me the gust passed and I managed to get the little MAN back on all fours, so close to being blown over is a feeling I won’t forget and in someways I don’t like to think would could have happened. Anyway there was no shelter what so ever, so I carried on trying to get my heart rate back down to normalish and work out what I should do. Just then I noticed in my mirrors a truck catching me up. It turned out to be a couple of Irish fridges. Known for running at full legal weight these two were obviously not as affected by the wind as I was in m my little German kite. I grabbed my CB in the hope these two may be on channel 19. My luck was in, truck 2 replied and asked if I was alright. I noticed when they were passing I was clearly in the safe zone and taking the brunt of wind, lightbulb moment!! “Can you stay in the middle lane and I stay on your inside until we get further south?” I asked. The reply was “of course” so off we went. Me in my little truck being chaperoned by these two big Irish fridge trucks taking the wind on my behalf. I stayed there for the 35 miles or so to Lancaster and I was more than grateful to the two Irish drivers whose names I can’t remember. Thank you. 

Anyway it just goes to show that driving trucks is a permanent learning curve no matter what your age. Yes I was young at the time and perhaps a few years later I would have made the other decision and stayed put at Penrith for a few hours til the wind dropped, but without a bit of comradeship the job can be a lot harder. It saddens me to think that  my friends who still drive say there is no comradeship in the UK anymore. Just remember if you see a driver struggling and your thinking “what a plonker why doesn’t he/she just do that?” Perhaps take five minutes to help them or pass on what you probably learned from someone else. There are enough pressures and deadlines to make the job of driving trucks theses days hard enough, perhaps if more drivers helped in other out it would make your day or there just that little bit easier. 

Oh look a step down off this soapbox…..

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