In the Truck’s Clutches

Dave Elniski : Dave Elinski lives in Lethbridge, Alberta.
Posted By Dave Elniski : Dave Elinski lives in Lethbridge, Alberta. On 2021-07-13 15:44:01

once had a job working for an Alberta
trucking company pulling super-b flat
deck trailers. Most of the work was in
Alberta and British Columbia, and since
this was before the 2016 slowdown, I
was busy hauling oilfield products from
southern Alberta up to reload yards in
the north.

My assigned unit was one of a fleet
of Peterbilt 389s. The late-model square
hooded Petes were head-turners, and
while they lacked adequate power for
the weights we were hauling and were
light on bunk space, the classic looks felt
like a bit of a non-taxable benefit.

The Petes were all equipped with
18-speed transmissions and had
mechanical clutches. I always felt the
mechanical clutch was strange compared
to hydraulic clutches found on most
other trucks, but I had little interaction
with it other than starting and stopping
since I didn’t use the clutch to shift.

The clutch pedal always had a little
bit of free play before you could feel it
press against the spring. The play was
so light, and the sensor for the cruise
control disconnect so sensitive that I had
the habit of lightly tapping the clutch
to turn off the cruise. When I needed to
shut off the cruise control, a quick tap on
the clutch pedal with the toe of my left
boot would put the throttle back under
my control.

Well, one day, the mechanical clutch
gave me some trouble. With both
trailers fully loaded, I headed north on
Highway 2 and about 20 kilometres
south of Red Deer, I needed to kill the
cruise, so I did my usual light tap on the
clutch. The cruise stopped like always,
but something in the pedal didn’t feel
right. I pressed the pedal with a bit more
force a second time, and to my surprise,
the pedal travelled all the way through
its range of motion with barely any
resistance and without disengaging the
clutch. Something had failed, and I now
had no control over the clutch.

With this realization, my trip started
to feel more complicated. Since I float
the gears, driving the truck down the
highway wasn’t an immediate concern.
What was a concern, though, was how
I was going to stop. Or, more precisely,
how I would get started again from a
dead stop with no clutch.

I called my company and explained
the situation. They told me that they had
a shop in Red Deer that could get me in
tonight. The problem was that this shop
was well within the city limits and there
were several sets of lights between the
shop and me.

I started to make my way to the shop.
The merge off of the highway was easy
enough, but the traffic lights were going
to be challenging. The last thing I wanted
was to end up blocking an intersection.
Looking back, simply stopping at the
first available pullout would have been
the best thing to do, but at this point
in my career, I was far too much of a
super trucker to consider doing anything
other than attempting to get that truck
right into the first available service bay
without stopping.

The first set of lights was a
complicated intersection where I needed
to make a left turn. Traffic was fairly
heavy as it was around 4:30 pm. The
light was red up ahead, and it looked like
I would have to wait for the advanced
left turn signal. I slowed the truck to a
crawl as I entered the left turn lane, and
fortunately, my lane got the green signal
while I was about a truck length behind
the car in front of me, so I was able to
make the turn.

After three more sets of lights and
one right turn on a red at a deserted
intersection where I did not come to a
full stop, the shop was in sight. I turned
into their yard in bull low and gave
a strong pull on the air horn cord as I
passed through their gate.

Thankfully their yard was big enough
for me to enter into a holding pattern, so
I just kept the truck in low gear and made
some circles. A technician walked out to
me and said I needed to park against the
fence while they cleared out a bay. I told
him that my clutch was out, and unless
he wanted to work on it outside or drag
the truck into the bay later, I needed to
keep circling until the bay was ready.

This is where the excitement ends.
After a few laps around their yard, I was
motioned inside a bay where the clutch
was quickly repaired with a new bolt in
the linkage. I was back on the road, in
about as much time as it took me to get
a coffee, and with a deeper appreciation
for each of those 18 speeds.

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