The Patricks Low Cost Housing Adventures travel blog

I will attempt to get caught up on our travels over the next few days, even if a quick note is all I write. We had our first good nights sleep in over 11 days due to being so busy running back and forth across the country from east to west, ASAP.

We loaded Sierra Nevada beer in California to take to Greensboro, North Carolina. They are always very heavy loads of almost 80,000 lbs. which pay really well. The most challenging part is navigating down hills. When I first began driving, I only drove from Atlanta to Dallas, TX., no major mountains on that route. When we began heading west, I had to learn mountain driving. It was explained that if you use your brakes too much going down mountains they will begin to fade/fail and you won't HAVE any brakes. All that did was get me quite frightened and wonder how the heck I was suppose to go down a mountain if I couldn't use my brakes!!!! My first mountain was Tehachapi in California. It was my turn to drive and Jim assured me there were no grades ahead to worry about. WRONG! About an hour into my drive time, I had to downshift to climb a mountain. Trying to wake Jim and explain I would be going downhill was useless. "There are no mountains this way" he said and went back to sleep. Well, the signs were saying otherwise. And while this was not the worst mountain in California, it had steep "steps" to it. So I just paced myself a safe distance from the truck in front of me and followed his lead. I watched his brake lights, and copied him exactly. It never occurred to me that his weight may not be the same as mine.........but it worked anyway, and I made it safely down my first mountain. Jim was a little white faced when I told him the next morning what I had done.

Engine brakes are on most all OTR trucks now, but the truck we were using did not have one. It was an East Coast truck and the company was just getting into coast to coast freight. Not long after, taking this same truck over a much worse mountain pass called "Grapevine" had the brakes on fire by the time I stopped at the bottom. It wasn't very long before the owner bought a better truck with a engine brake.

Before engine brakes, mountain passes were created with escape ramps, just for those trucks who had brake fade. These ramps were full of deep sand or pea stone, meant to slow down a loaded truck, maybe even taking out their suspension depending on how hard and fast they hit it. While heading to North Carolina we went over Black Mountain. Trucks are made to stop at the summit, examine the mountain pass which has 3....THREE....escape ramps and told to downshift, taking the mountain at a much slower speed. I think it was 35 mph. That's a pretty good mountain for the east coast. The engine brake on this Peterbilt is awesome. Drop it down 3 gears and you don't even have to touch the brakes going even a steep, long grade. I read that in the 70's, as many as 30 trucks a month used the 3 ramps on this mountain, while now it may be a handful. Mostly due to inexperience.

If you ever are driving in the mountains, never, ever park in front of these ramps. They are needed to save lives. (Yes, I have seen this) Glad truck engineering has come such a long way!

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