It was about 9:30 at night when my wife looked out the window as I backed into the driveway. She was shaking her head when I walked in the front door. I told her, “ You go to bed. I need to sit and pray for a while”. Without a word, she went off to bed.
My friend Jack and I had many “adventures” together, mostly because the word “impossible” was not in his vocabulary. We served in Appalachia Service Project (ASP) work missions for a few years, and helped them out in other ways from time to time. This time, ASP needed trucks to haul materials from their central warehouses to the various work centers throughout the Appalachian region. Jack and I and a couple of representatives from the Project went to a truck auction in Chicago to buy four used trucks that would suit the need and fit the limited budget. We found just what we were looking for in four used U-Haul trucks. Two of them were driven immediately to Johnson City, Tennessee, while we took the remaining two back to Racine, Wisconsin.
The plan was two remove the cargo boxes, and then drive the two bare framed trucks back south where they would be fitted with flatbeds for hauling lumber and building supplies. Jack had it all figured out. His driver would drive one truck, Jack would drive the other, and I would follow in a chase car to bring us all back home again, about an eleven hundred mile round trip. That was the plan. God chuckled.
First, Jack’s driver quit. On to Plan B. It consisted of Jack and me each driving a truck with one of us towing a car for the return trip. God giggled.
Then, Jack had a work obligation that could not wait. That left me. We had gone from a three man task, to two guys, to one lone ranger; 3, 2, 1, you’re it! Belly laughs were heard in heaven.
We conjured up Plan C. It called for me to drive both trucks to Corbin, Kentucky and leave them at the truck stop. People from ASP would come out the next day and take the trucks from there. Then, from the bus station in Corbin, I could catch a ride back to Racine.
Jack obtained a saddle from somewhere. It’s a thing that allows you to piggyback one truck onto another. The guy who owned the saddle told Jack “If anything goes wrong, you didn’t get that thing from me.” One afternoon, Jack and I removed the truck boxes, installed the saddle, hoisted one truck atop the other with a forklift, and cobbled together some wiring for brake lights on the towed vehicle. I remember Jack drove the rig in circles over rough ground to test the integrity of the saddle.
So it was that I came home that night, driving a rig that looked perilously unstable, and told my wife I would be leaving at four AM the next morning. Then I prayed, “Lord, these are your trucks, intended to serve poor people in Appalachia. Please help me get them there safely. In Jesus’ name, amen.”
Leaving at four AM would to get me through Chicago before the morning rush, to arrive in Corbin while it was still daylight, and to get there before the next bus departed at about seven PM. I threw a change of clothes and a big crescent wrench into a small bag and headed out the door. These Ford trucks were about twenty years old, and they were made for city driving. Equipped with a V-8 engine and a four-speed manual transmission, the trucks were stripped-down basic vehicles, noisy and under-powered. Pulling out of my driveway, I headed west to the interstate, then took I-94 south toward Chicago.
There were five or six toll stations going around Chicago. After paying the first toll, I pulled off to the side of the road, grabbed the big crescent wrench, and gave each and every nut on the saddle a good tightening twist. After that, I felt better. By now, however, the sun was up. And every time I looked in the rearview mirror all I could see was the big letters D-R-O-F. The backwards Ford name was tilting gently from side-to-side. It was unnerving! Why was that truck tailgating? Oh, yeah, that’s my other truck.
So, other than the roaring of the engine, the spooky mirror image and the heat, it was a nice trip. I did pull into an open weigh station, unsure if it was necessary, but they waved me through. I drove in to a truck stop for fuel, but couldn’t use the big-rig pumps and had to settle for gassing up with the cars and RVs. Later that afternoon, the Corbin exit came into view and I pulled off the interstate and rolled into the truck stop. I found a parking spot way in the back, grabbed my bag and locked up the truck. At the desk inside, I handed the keys to the clerk, and told her about the pickup the next day. Then I asked, “Could you tell me how to get to the Greyhound bus station?” Since I had plenty of time, I planned to walk there. She looked at me and said, “Oh, the bus station is at the next exit off the interstate.” And it was not in walking distance. You could not get there any way except to get back on the interstate. Apparently, Plan C was somewhat flawed. (I think I heard a little chortle from above.)
“Don’t you worry honey,” she said, “I’ll get you a ride.” Then she picked up the mic and announced to one and all, “I got a trucker here who needs a ride south!” She called me a trucker! I felt like I’d just been promoted. Up walked an amiable guy who said he was headed south, and we walked out to his tanker truck and boarded. We traded small talk about the relative merits of conventional cab versus cab-over-engine, and in no time flat we got off at Corbin exit number two and he drove me right up to the bus station. Which was actually a gas station. With a little window on the side of the building labeled “Greyhound”. Which was closed. The guy at the gas station assured me that the window would be open later, and that the bus was due about seven PM.
Across the road was a small diner. I ambled over and ordered the fried chicken which as I recall was mediocre at best. And greasy. For which I suffered on the ensuing ride back to Racine. Just a side note. Corbin is the home of the first Colonel Sander’s Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant. That diner I ate in was not his.
The bus came on time. Hot, sweaty, and now, queasy, I found an aisle seat next to (what else?) a very large woman. Neither of us had any desire to experience the other, which worked fine as long as we could maintain the appropriate tilt. But when sleep overtook us, well….
Anyway, this bus was not on the express route. We visited towns with bus stations even smaller than the one we just left. Every last tiny town between Corbin Kentucky and Chicago Illinois! I began to loathe the sound of air brakes – it meant another stop.
Around the crack of dawn, we pulled in to Chicago, where I had to change buses to get home. During the wait, I tried to wash up and change in the restroom so I’d look and smell a little better. It was a wasted effort. I boarded the bus, and two hours later, it pulled up in front of the Racine bus station. I called my wife and asked her to pick me up. She arrived shortly and I got in the car. She never said a word. I don’t think she was impressed with our plan…..or me.
Nevertheless, the trucks were now in the hands of the Appalachia Service Project. And that summer they were put to work hauling needed building supplies to eager volunteers who applied their skills to make homes “warmer, safer, and drier” for poor folks in Appalachia. Thanks be to God!