Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Death by Cabover

Because I used to be a power forward for the Portland Trailblazers, I am still a pretty big deal in the NBA community, and as such, I was given an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the Sacramento Kings’ Golden 1 Center last night. One of the neat features of the arena is a series of air vents located under the seats, spaced every so often in each section. You can text the arena during a game and ask them to heat up or cool down your section as needed.

We had a chuckle when someone asked if they could look at the data of the text requests and graph them by gender. Everyone on the tour, both male and female, agreed that it would probably be roughly 99.95% women requesting a temperature change.

It brought to mind one of my very first columns ever, titled “Hot Chicks and Cool Dudes,” where I explored my Universal Truth that men are comfy in a thirty-degree temperature range, which is the same for all men, and women are only comfortable in a three-degree range that is different for each woman, and can vary wildly throughout the day.

That got me thinking about one of my other Universal Truths – Times You Almost Died. Us men are far, far dumber creatures than women, and that Universal Truth shines brightly when you ask someone to tell you about a time they almost died. Most women will be hard-pressed to come up with one or two stories, but every guy in the world will have ten stories right off the top of his head, and two of them happened last week.

And THAT got me thinking about one of my stories: The Old Ford Cabover Incident.

In college I worked for a landscape products company called JJ’s. It was owned by Jack and Joanne Lord, but it was named JJ’s prior to them buying it. No kidding. Anyhow, they were fantastic folks, and over the course of my first year working there, I trained to become a delivery driver and got my Class B driver’s license so I could drive the big dump trucks. We had two main deliver trucks – a newer International truck and an old Ford cabover.

A “cabover” truck gets its name from having the entire cab of the truck sit directly over the top of the engine, instead of having the engine out in front like we’re used to. The mark of the cabover design is the fact that the driver’s windshield is basically the very front of the whole truck. When you want to access the engine to do any maintenance, you unlock the cab release and the entire cab – seats, steering wheel, dashboard, pedals - everything – tilts forward on a big hinge located just behind the front bumper, exposing the engine underneath. Needless to say, you don’t leave your coffee sitting on the dashboard when you need to tilt the cab, unless you really like cleaning coffee off the inside of the windshield. Anything loose in the cab – maps, empty soda cans, sunflower seeds, etc. – ends up on the windshield when you tilt the cab up to get to the engine. (Note to millennials – “maps” are what we used to get ourselves lost before Waze was invented.)

One fine, sunny day I loaded up the old Ford cabover with six tons of decorative river rock, and headed out to make the delivery. JJ’s was set back off a two-lane highway on the outskirts of San Luis Obispo, and a long sloping gravel driveway went down one side of the property and teed into the highway. I bounced down the driveway in the old Ford, whistling a happy tune, and pressed on the brakes at the start of the downhill run about twenty or thirty yards prior to reaching the highway tee.

Seat belts are an amazing invention, and I highly recommend to all my young male readers that you always wear yours, even when inside your own home. My seatbelt was the only thing that prevented me from crashing headfirst through the windshield of that old truck and being ground to a messy pulp on the gravel driveway that day, as I realized halfway through my exciting semi-circular ride around the hinge axis that some idiot had forgotten to lock the cab latch.

My seatbelt kept me attached to the driver’s seat, but try to imagine everything in the cab of your truck staying in the same place relative to you, but having the entire cab lift up and try to do a front somersault. While you’re driving.

Braking down the hill caused the entire truck cab to flip to its full-open position, so if a truck mechanic happened to be running alongside, he would have had excellent access to the engine. As the driver, I was left hanging upside-down from my lap belt, chest being compressed into the steering wheel, with my face inches from the windshield, watching the gravel driveway race by less than six inches away from the glass. It was exciting.

My feet were now behind me and above my head, and even though the pedals were still there, I really didn’t have a good way to press them anymore. As my truck picked up speed downhill toward the busy highway, I hung upside-down watching the road go by my face and wondering just what to do about this little predicament, and also wondering if I was the idiot who forgot to lock the cab latch.

I might also have been screaming.

Prior to making it all the way into oncoming traffic, enough blood was forced into my brain due to gravity to kick-start an idea. The air brake button was located in the center of the dashboard, which, in my current cab configuration, meant it was off to the right, out away and slightly below my right ear.

I found it and pulled it out as fast as I could. By the grace of God and the Ford engineers of the 1960s, the air brakes can still be controlled from the dashboard, even if the dashboard isn’t where it’s supposed to be.

With the high-pitched squeal of beautiful, life-saving compressed air, all the tires instantly stopped rolling and started sliding on the gravel road. I was probably only going fifteen or twenty miles an hour at that point, and my seatbelt held fast, but the weight of the big truck combined with the twelve thousand pounds of rock in the back trying to come to an abrupt halt managed to stretch my torso and elongate my spine enough that my face was able to be completely pressed against the windshield as the old Ford C-Series beast slid to a stop. I was two inches taller when I finally got my heart restarted and rolled my way off the door and back onto solid ground.

Men die from heart attacks far more often than women, but I don’t think that’s because our hearts are weaker, or even because of all the extra bacon. I think we simply do quite a bit of preliminary damage to them over our lifetimes with all the minor heart attacks along the way.

See you soon,


Copyright © 2018 Marc Schmatjen

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