I have a story about a trip that very few truck drivers have taken, and it is not for a rookie or the faint of heart.
In February of 2018, a friend that I was working for,phoned me and asked if I would be interested in taking a load of bridge timbers to Bella Coola. He said he and I would be taking two B–trains and the third truck would be a tri-dem 53-foot trailer. Right away I felt an adventure coming on. The trailers were loaded and sitting in the yard in Chilliwack. The three of us met in the yard and hooked up and checked everything out. We left around 6:00 am and everything went smooth until Williams Lake. My friends B-train had a flat tire that we discovered while fueling. No problem, just call a tire shop, and they would send out a truck. Three hours later, we were on our way again. I thought to myself, February, short chilly days, and we may have a chance of a snow storm.
Bella Coola is 280 miles or 451km west of Williams Lake.I had a feeling that I was going to be up past my bedtime.We headed west on highway 20 and were about an hour out of Williams Lake when we came upon a mudslide. The highway crew was already on-site digging through the mud,so we were only held up for about half an hour or so. The road got a little bit worse from there with snow and ice covering it in places all the way to Anahim Lake, but it was just normal winter driving.
After Anahim Lake, the road got even worse as we climbed to the top of the “Hill.” The pavement had ended a while back, so now we were on gravel, which gave us better footing, but it was full of washboards and holes. The last hour we were ripping along at 45 – 50 miles per hour. At the top of the “Hill,” there were three or four big signs –no flashing lights, just a feeble light and a pole with a camera on it. The first sign said brake check, the second said chains on all axles mandatory. The third said 5000 feet altitude and the last sign said 18% grade.
By now it was starting to snow and vision was reduced, so we all stopped and put on triple rail chains. My boss told us that up ahead we would have three 360 degree corners on a one-lane road and the first corner goes left and is not level.“Be sure to have your right steer tire right on the edge of the road,” he said, “If your back trailer wants to come around just pull the trailer brake a bit and step on the throttle, this should straighten yourself out. Oh, another thing, don’t go over the side, we will be on a rock face, and it is 3200 feet straight down”.
He asked if we were ready and I said yes, but I felt my voice was a little bit high, and my pulse was right up there also. I jumped in, put it into second gear, and away we went.We came to the corner and he was not exaggerating. We were on solid rock, snow and ice and the road leaned left like a speed curve. As I got halfway around the curve I looked in the mirror and saw that my back trailer was right sideways.Being the old pro that I thought I was, I thought, don’t panic!
My boss told me that if the back trailer comes around to just pull on the trailer brakes and give it throttle. I guessed this was the time he was talking about. I did what he said and sure enough, it all straightened out and on down I went, with the Jake brake roaring, tire chains slapping and Red
Simpson singing “Diesel Smoke and Dangerous Curves” on the stereo! How much better can this get!!
After everything straightened out, the rest of the way down was fine. The corners were all flat and the gravel gave us better footing. We stopped at the bottom and took the chains off, the road was still one lane, but there was no traffic at all. We kept going after midnight until we came to the small town of Hagensborg, which is about 15 miles short of Bella Coola.
As we entered the town, we saw the sign of the company where we had to drop the bridge timbers so we pulled over and parked in an abandoned service station. There was lots of room for our three trucks and it was right off the highway.
Early in the morning, we went across the street to a small gas station and convenience store. We had no cell service but the clerk said if we go just two more blocks into town, there is cell service for 2 or 3 blocks then no more service until you reach Bella Coola.
Just then a pickup truck from the company pulled up and the drivers said, “You’re in the right spot, just follow me.”We followed him to the company’s yard and unloaded by crane. We had the operator load our back trailers onto the front trailers to give us more weight on the tractors and to shorten our length for cornering. When we were ready to leave, we saw 4 old fellows walking toward us. One guy was the owner of the company and was 72 years old, next the crane operator was 68 years old, the helper for the crane was 70 years old, and a younger fellow from forestry was 58 years old. As they walked, all four were limping. In conversation they said all the young people leave town to go to work in other places and that just leaves us old-timers,here to work. We thanked them and headed home.
The road on the way out was much easier to drive because it was daylight and we were empty. In the two days that we were in and out, we met two vehicles, one each day and they both had to stop and back up to a wide spot so we could get by. That was a trip I’ll always remember, and I was glad to have the chance to take it.