As a parts deliver driver, it is always my hope that when I get in the van every night that there will be no drama. However, it is always in my best interest to be prepared for anything. This job is not for anyone with "panic" in their vocabulary.
One night a few weeks ago, I was making a routine trip to Patterson, Houma and Galliano in Louisiana delivering helicopter parts. We have two major clients. One client has personnel at their bases every night. The other client does not, and working for them proves to be a bit more difficult, and a lot more challenging.
On this particular night, Galliano was my last stop. It just so happened that I had to pick up a 21 foot trailer at this location to bring back to the base. This trailer was loaded with four wooden boxes containing main rotor blades for a helicopter. I wasn't particularly concerned about this. It is a pretty routine load. All I had to do was hook up the trailer to the van and make sure my load was properly secured with straps. I managed to get that done with no drama.
I was rolling along back to the base with my load and feeling pretty good about myself. After all, I had picked up quite a bit of freight, along with a trailer, and I was still making good time. It even looked like I was going to get back in early. Yep, I was feeling pretty smug.
I was headed west bound on Highway 90 and was going over an overpass just past Gibson, Louisiana. At the bottom of the overpass, I hit a huge dip in the road. As soon as I hit that dip, I could feel that something had gone wrong. The trailer was pulling badly and seemed to be swaying all over the place. I looked in my rearview mirror on my driver's side and saw sparks flying everywhere! When you're pulling a trailer, sparks are NOT something you want to see.
Fortunately for me, panic mode is something that doesn't set in until after a disaster has struck. Something told me not to slam my brakes. I just eased on the brakes and got myself over to the side of the road as quickly as I could while praying that the trailer wouldn't decide to come meet me in the front seat.
I put on my hazard flashers, grabbed my flashlight, and got out to inspect the problem. Honestly speaking, I was expecting to see the worst. What I was not expecting to see was the fact that the trailer had popped completely off the hitch. The front end of the trailer was about a foot and a half under my van. Miraculously the chains were still attached to the van, along with my electrical connection for the trailer lights. The sparks I saw had been generated by the trailer stand dragging along the highway when the trailer popped off the hitch on the van. Luckily the trailer stand was still intact, although the bottom half of it appeared somewhat damaged.
My first thought was, "S*&t! I won't get getting home early tonight." Then I got on the phone and called my boss. I take a perverse sort of pleasure in calling my boss at 2 am to give her news. The immediate problem was getting the trailer back on the hitch. The other problem was how to keep the mosquitoes from carrying me off into the woods. I hurriedly jumped back into the van to keep the mosquitoes at bay while my boss called a couple of other drivers who were heading in my direction to see if they could help.
I was so disgusted that my brain wasn't fully in gear. Fortunately, one of the other drivers called me. He was on his way, but in the meantime, we started to brainstorm. At first, we thought that we were going to have to use a jack to get the trailer back up. I got my tail bone chewed up by mosquitoes looking for a jack in my van that I didn't have. Then we determined that because the trailer stand was still in decent shape I could probably get the trailer back up like that. I tested it, and it seemed to be coming up.
I had to disconnect my chains and my electrical cord and move the van up a couple of feet so I could get the trailer back up. I actually got the trailer back up and was able to get it hooked back up to the van. By the time I did all that, I was well mosquito bitten, but much relieved that I would not have to sit on the side of the road all night waiting for rescue. Needless to say, I took off at a much reduced speed. I made all the phone calls I needed to make to let everyone know I was back on the road.
I stopped at Patterson on the way back for fuel and one of the other drivers caught up to me at the station. He inspected the hitch and the trailer, and was kind enough to follow me back to the base.
I love the questions that my boss asks me we have an incident. How did that happen? Well, uh, I really wouldn't know. I wasn't riding on the trailer when it popped off the hitch. Let's see. Would it have something to do with the ball being somewhat worn? How the hell would I know? Hey, I got the trailer back with the freight intact. I didn't kill anybody. I didn't kill myself. It could have been a lot worse!