Special thanks to Phil Gorman 2015 for his expertise in editing and proofing.
It was early in September of 2009 when I become a hero to Ennis Rogers.
I've been driving an eighteen-wheeler for the last fourteen years as an owner/operator; hell, to be truthful, I live in my truck! I maintain a room at a boarding house in Calhoun, Tennessee so that I can have a mailing address. I've an arrangement with my landlord: he places any boxes or large envelops in a container on my small bureau in the room when I am on the road. For the last few years I have been driving a 2013 Kenworth. It has a large Cummins ISX15, it generates up to 600 horsepower. It gives me the freedom to pick loads of any size or weight; I have a reputation for hauling anything, anywhere, and on time, if the money is right!
On the day I became a reluctant hero. I was hauling a heavy load on I-24 just outside of Shelbyville; there is one section of the highway that gets a bit dicey when the conditions are a bit unsettled. There had been a surprise snowfall, and the road was slippery in places; it was taking all of my concentration to keep the drive wheels from spinning. As I approached a curve in the road, which I knew could be a bastard, I saw, on my right, a transport, which appeared to have lost control; the tractor had mounted the guardrail and seemed to be hanging in space. The only thing holding the tractor from dropping into the abyss below, a good one hundred feet or more of rock face, was the connection between the tractor and the trailer, the kingpin and the fifth wheel. I pulled over, tight to the left shoulder, turned on my four-ways and locked the brakes. Upon opening the door, and looking both ways, I saw, fortunately, that it was clear, and made my way to the scene. I saw a face in the driver's window, full of fear. There was nothing I could do; there was no way in hell I could get to the cab without risking life and limb. Then an idea came to mind: I always extra carry ropes and chains; at times, it is necessary to re-secure a load. Grabbing a length of rope from my truck, I headed back to the driver in trouble. It took some creative work, on my part, but I finally secured the rope to a solid post in the guardrail. I gave myself thirty feet of slack tied around my waist. With ten feet of loose rope hanging from my waist area, I carefully edged my way down the side of the truck, using the handles on the cab, and worked my way to the driver's door. All this time the driver was watching my every move. Finally, when I reached the driver's door, he opened it.
"Undo your seat belt, and tie this rope around your waist. Carefully!"
He looked like he was about to toss his cookies, but he fought the urge and did what he was told.
"Slowly get out of the truck cab, and watch my hand and foot holds. When I remove my hand or foot from a hold position, you put your hand or foot there; don't look down, just look at me."
Just then, I felt a slight tremor run through my body; the tractor had moved, ever so slightly, not a good sign. Our shifting weight could have had something to do with it. Moving slowly, I watched as the rescued driver grabbed each handhold that my hand had left. Finally, we were behind the cab, but we weren't out of the woods yet. We had ten more feet to go until we reached the roadway. The trailer had a wide lip at the bottom and metal reinforcing straps running from front to back. As I slowly moved my feet down to the lower lip of the trailer, closely shadowed by the recued driver, I jumped to the roadway, immediately followed by my rescued friend. Then we heard it: the tearing of metal as gravity had its way with the tractor; the kingpin and the fifth wheel parted. There was a helluva snap as the kingpin surrendered; then, a sickening 'whoosh' as the tractor fell into the abyss of the valley below. Both the driver and I watched as the tractor bounced off the rock face, tearing it apart. Finally, at the bottom, the diesel fuel started to burn; no explosion yet, but when it heats the reserve tanks to boiling and the pressure splits the metal tanks, there will be a bloom of flames.
That is how I met Ennis Rogers.
Ennis and I became good friends; we stayed in contact, via email and text. When our paths crossed, we would arrange to stay over at the same truck stop and have a meal together. Each time he would thank me, on behalf of himself and family, for saving his life and swore he would be at my side if I ever needed anything. It was actually embarrassing, at times; I never considered it anything heroic; in his case, I just did what had to be done!
My name is Don Cassidy, 'Cowboy, ' as in 'Hopalong Cassidy.' At age thirty-seven, I am still single; I have never been married and I have no desire to get married. I've had a few female friends, but it never developed into anything serious. One of my driver friends, Madison Greer, usually provides both of us an opportunity to blow off some steam when we meet at a truck stop; we get relief with no commitment. I have no family living locally, and have not seen or heard from any of them in years. Hell, I don't even know if they are still alive!
When I do get an infrequent couple of days off, I prospect. I'm a very unsuccessful prospector. I pan for gold; I have, over the last four years, accumulated twelve noticeable flakes of gold, which I keep in a used prescription container. I won't even guess what it has cost me to recover those flakes, but I enjoy the solitude that the hills and mountains give me. I use my truck as a base and then tromp around known gold bearing areas. When I say known, they are areas that have been mined, many times, and are now open to the public.
As a broker, I have my name, and type of truck I own, listed with a number of dispatching firms. Most of my jobs are a result of Reo Dispatching; one of the dispatchers, Nick Adams, and I hit it off when I received the first load via his firm. For whatever the reason, he keeps tabs on my truck, the deliveries, etc. Usually, within three hours of unloading, Nick would contact me with an offer of another load close by. As all owner/operators know, an empty trailer is a losing trip. Many of my loads were what I call 'extra hazard;' that, in turn, increased my rate. Loads that are a bit off balance, due to the item being hauled; extra-long loads, with an item protruding fifteen feet or more from the back of the trailer; that type of load wasn't welcomed by many drivers, but I would take them and charge accordingly. In some cases, I would charge a combination of hourly rate plus mileage. If the client said no, his load would be somebody else's problem. I owed very little on my rig, so that gave me some latitude. In three cases, over the last three months, Nick called me and asked if I would reconsider doing a load which the consignor had rejected my original fee. I would counter but my fee was automatically fifty percent higher than the original quote. Not all brokers were interested in irregular loads.
Over the last couple of months, many of my loads were liquor from the various distilleries in the area. These loads paid well, with many of them escorted; I couldn't leave the truck under any circumstances and could only stop for fuel, if needed. Fortunately, I had great bladder control. On occasion, my services were contracted by unsavoury types. The only good thing is they paid my very large fee, on time, and usually in cash. Those loads were few and far between.
Over the years, I've met many other drivers, usually at truck stops. I got to know many by their first name, nickname or their CB handle. Many of the conversations centered about personal security, as a number of the drivers had been hi-jacked or someone had tried to force their trucks off the road when they were carrying booze or high tech equipment, usually loads that can be disposed of very quickly.
At a truck stop, just north of Knoxville, I spotted a rig driven by Jake Chambers; he, like me, enjoys the outdoors. He likes to fish, while I like prospecting; he likely does a helluva lot better fishing than I do prospecting. After picking up a large platter of heart attack food, I located him at a table.
"Hi, Jake! How they hanging?"
"Hi, Dipshit, what are you doing in this part of the country?"
"I have a load of motor oil, for a drop tomorrow morning. I saw your rig and wondered where are you headed?"
"To pick up a load in Huntsville, AL ... auto parts."
Our conversation was of nothing important, but it got both of us through the evening. Then, out of nowhere, the subject of self-preservation came up.
"Don, are you carrying?"
I looked at him wondering what the hell he was talking about. He gathered, by my stupid look, that I didn't have a clue.
"Do you carry a weapon in your cab?"
"Just my iron bar to check tires."
"I can assure you that won't help against a perp who is carrying a Glock or a shotgun."
"So, what are you suggesting?"
"When I was in the services, the powers to be thought it would be wise to train me in the use of an AA-12 combat shotgun using FRAG-12 ammo. It can empty a 20 round drum of 12ga shells in 4 seconds. I carry one behind my seat with two extra drums of ammo."
"Shit! What the hell are you expecting?"
"Whatever it is, they are in for one helluva surprise when that AA-12 starts answering the perp that attempts to pull me over."
"Where in the hell would you get one of those? Are they legal?"
"Currently they are only available for sale to Law Enforcement Agencies and Combat Pistol Instructors, but one of my army buddies has access to them. If you are interested, I will give him a call."
.... There is more of this story ...