Daddy & I and the Big Truck
I raced across the porch and jumped up into the big truck. Daddy and I headed up through Harrisburg past the street where sometimes we picked up big farm equipment like a tractor or combine. Today the truck pointed north toward the mountains in coal country.
We climbed the last big mountain. Daddy backed the truck bed right up under the coal chute. He hopped out while I knelt backward on the truck seat to look out the back window. Then down came the chute and with it the loud rumble of coal. The hard dark black kind that looked almost wet.
Soon we eased out onto the road again heading back down the steep, winding mountain road. I heard the metal brake pedal hit the floorboards. Suddenly daddy grabbed me, sat me on his lap and said, “Steer.”
Tons of coal pushed us down the mountain, faster and faster. Daddy used both hands to pull up on the emergency brake to slow us down, then release. And so we went fast down the mountain. Me steer, steer, steering while daddy pull, pull, pulling up on the brake – then release.
We finally sailed off onto the emergency road, tires kicking up stones before we came to a stop at the bottom of the mountain.
All was quiet. I don’t remember a word spoken, but I did have a big smile on my face. My little 7-year-old hands helped daddy bring the big truck safely down off the high mountain. The truck crawled back through Harrisburg, past the Dairy Queen. No 10c ice cream cone with a curl on top for me this time.
At home, I watched daddy from behind the front porch door. He bent over the coal mountain on top of the truck scooping one shovel full at a time down the chute, through a square hole in the porch floor and into the cellar coal bin below.
We would be toasty warm in the cold months ahead.
My sister, Jean Longenecker Fairfield, told this tale to her grandchildren not long ago. This served as a rehearsal for the post you are reading today.
Thank you, Jean, for prompting readers to recall scary times in their own childhood,
When driving in the mountains, I always glance at each runaway truck ramp and envision situations in which it would be needed. Wow. Your sister Jean was too young to understand the peril, but I know your Daddy’s heart must have been racing. They were both very lucky that day.
Welcome, first commenter, Lynn. You are right, Jean was very young but though she couldn’t articulate it the way an adult would, she did know they were in danger. Yes, I thank God for Daddy’s presence of mind and strength to pull hard on that emergency brake. Thanks!
Good morning, Marian. Great story by your sister Jean! What did the grandchildren think?
Jean told me one of them said, “When I grow up, I won’t have exciting stories like these to tell!” But of course she will. They’ll just be different stories. (Maybe Jean can add to this.)
What a frightening experience. I’m happy both your father and sister kept their cool. Although the scenery is often beautiful, sometimes driving through the mountains can be scary. I remember when I was in the third grade, my family took a trip to Colorado. While driving up Pikes Peak, my uncle enjoyed pointing out the areas where there were no guardrails. Yikes!
Did you actually drive on some of these scary roads, Jill?
On our trip West, Uncle John had to navigate Beartooth Pass in Montana and Wyoming. Yes, Yikes! This was decades ago. I wonder if now guardrails have been installed.
Ditto what Lynn said. I too rarely miss seeing those emergency pull off ramps and wondering if they are ever used.
On my 16 Birthday we drove down Cadillac mountain in Maine using the emergency brake in the same way, to slow us down after the main brakes failed. I didn’t really appreciate what was going on at the time. I was squeezed in the backseat of a Volkswagen Beetle
You may have had better luck in a Cadillac than in a Volkswagen Beetle. Fortunately, you didn’t have to find out. I wonder if you didn’t appreciate what was going on then because you didn’t realize the danger or because you felt safe squeeze in.
Either way, thanks for adding to the story here, Janet. 🙂
That’s a good question, Marian. Mostly the driver didn’t let on there was an issue until we were off the mountain and back on level ground for the hour or so trip home to Bangor. Except for his initial crash into the mountain (the road wound around the perimeter).
Do you know the Jim Croce ballad “31000 tons of ripe bananas”? Do look it up when you can listen with pleasure to the lyrics. Your sister’s story reminded me of that. That load of coal made all the difference!
I found the ripe bananas song on YouTube by Harry Chapin. You can hear it again: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OGldNpngDws
Thanks for the tip!
Isn’t it interesting how a young[er] mind sees a scary situation! So glad there was a good outcome to this tale. I grew up learning to drive on the side of a mountain, in a stick shift car. Parts of the road were not cambered right. It made for goose pimple-raising times if you came into a curve too fast. But I credit that education in physics for no accidents in the 50+ years since!
If you learned to drive on the side of a mountain in a stick shift car you have had a great drivers’ ed. class. Congratulations on an accident-free 50+ years, Ginger!
Wow, what a story. Amazing that a 7 year old could keep her cool to steer. I imagine that she felt honored along with scared witless. It brought tears to my eyes.
Nicely remembered and told. I could identify with the lovely telling detail: “I knelt backward on the truck seat to look out the back window.” I could feel myself doing the same thing in Daddy’s truck taking wheat to be sold and weighed. Great memories but glad I didn’t have to steer down a mountain with coal behind!
I’m glad Jean’s story elicited a pleasant memory. I remember looking out the back window sitting in Aunt Ruthie’s car, seeing the road whiz by in reverse.
Jean will read your comment and maybe tear up too, I suppose! Very touching. Thank you, Melodie!
Oh my goodness! You had me on the edge of my seat! Wow! What an experience! I also want to know what the grandkids thought of that scary experience.
I mentioned one response in my reply to Merril. One of her grand-daughters said, “When I grow up, I won’t have exciting stories like these to tell!”
Maybe my sister can other thoughts add to this.
A wonderful memory!
Welcome, and thanks for reading and reacting here, Andy. Much appreciated!
An amazing story. I also was allowed to steer the truck when dad was delivering grain to the elevator in town or herding cattle. But we never had a problem with steep hills as on the flat prairies, there were no hills!!
That’s one advantage of farming on Canadian prairie land. But some areas of Alberta and British Columbia are mountainous. I remember enjoying Banff and the Canadian Rockies on a trip once. Thanks, Darlene!
Marian — We’re Jean’s grandchildren’s eyes wide like saucers as she relayed this story? I can well imagine that they were. That was a scary experience!
I think that would be a good description, Laurie. Maybe their moms will read this story and they can enjoy it all over again.
This is quite an experience not to be forgotten for as long as one lives. Jean must have been an extremely brave little girl with nerves of steel. She deserved that ice-cream and more! Hope she got it after all. 👍❤
It is unforgettable. For a while, I thought it happened to me because her description when she got back home was so vivid. Now it’s part of our family lore. That’s for sure!
No surprise there!
Your story inspired memories of sitting on my father’s lap so I could steer on a straight stretch of “230” near Middletown, PA.
You probably felt very BIG and your dad felt PROUD, as proud as a Mennonite minister would have allowed himself to be. Yes? Thanks for checking in today, Conrad. Always good to hear from you.
It sounds like a frightening experience which has clearly provided some vivid memories. Thanks for sharing.
And thank you for visiting today, Robert. I enjoyed getting acquainted with you and your blog too.
My heart is pounding! I just came down the mountain from the Blue Ridge Parkway last weekend. I saw the runaway truck ramps and, as always, am glad they are there for those times when they are needed. I can imagine Jean telling this story to her beautiful grandchildren. Sweet picture of sister Jean.
Thank you, Jane. Jean will see this and smile. 🙂
This may be surprising but I don’t remember telling my grandchildren this particular story. There were many “Stinky Joe” stories about our favorite tramp that the grand kids still want repeated.
But next time the grand kids & I are all together and the night is dark…….
It would be a good Hallowe’en story, all the more scary because it is true! Thanks for your contribution. I have a feeling there’s more where that came from. 🙂
Wow, what an experience; the stuff that memoirs are made of 🙂 Nice to learn about your sister through her writing a guest post. 🙂
She is a good writer with memory for details. Maybe she will appear here again soon. Thanks for your observation, Debby!
Amazing story. My guess is that Jean has drawn on the miracle and her participation in it all through her life.
Welcome home! Memories are the best souvenirs from our travels and I know you and Stuart have many. I wonder if you saw the Book of Kells at Trinity College, one of the highlights of our trip years ago.
You are perceptive about Jean. From my observation, she has seen many miracles since the runaway truck incident. Thank you for checking in today, Shirley.
I like the way Jean wrote this in her child’s voice. When I teach my writing classes I stress to my students that if they’re going to write about a time when they were young to try to bring themselves back to that time and the way their child’s mind worked. This was done perfectly because from Jean’s point of view at that age it wasn’t as much fear as it was of pride of helping her dad steer that truck!
Also, I think it’s so important that we share our stories with our grandchildren. Well done!
The scariest thing I’ve shared with my grandson on a trip the two of us were taking in my car was when I explained to him why it was important for him to wear a seatbelt. I explained to him then that when I was his age we didn’t wear seatbelts and we just kind of flung ourselves anywhere in the car. His response at five years old was, “but that was a time that you drove in a horse and buggy, right Madre?” ACK!! 😆
Yes, Ms. Writing Coach, the child’s voice adds to the charm of the story here, innocent and proud.
Your grandson’s response was endearing too in a different way. He had the era wrong, and in time he will learn that he was at least two generations off base with his history. But I’m sure his five-year-old mind obviously appreciated his Madre’s reminiscence. Thanks, Pam!
Well, grandson may have appreciated my memories, but he was shocked when I shouted, “I am not THAT old!!!” 🙂 xo
What a fabulous childhood memory. A bit scary, for sure, but I loved reading about that big smile. My scariest childhood memory was from when I learned to bike without training wheels (I must have been six or so) and my handle bars steering me straight into a ditch. Body and bike into the little stream it went. My mom jumped behind me and saved me from drowning. A hot bath in the tub downstairs followed. My baby brother was crying on his tiny bike with training wheels as he saw it happen.
Now that would make for a scary home video: your baby brother mirroring fear on his tiny bike your catastrophe about to happen. Thank God that your mother came to the rescue in the nick of time.
I’m glad this story evoked one of your own to share. Thanks, Liesbet!
Wow – that is quite a story! Glad it ended well.
Thank you, Fiona!
Wow! Scary. That’s a huge job for a little girl and Jean did it so well. Jean, I imagine you can always go back to that scene from your girlhood to say to yourself, “I can do this. Yes, I can. I know I can.” I hope you got an ice cream cone later. I always loved going to Dairy Queen.
When I was about 10, I rode a horse loaned to my family with my parents permission but without their supervision. I’d ridden her before and took care of her, but I was naive and she knew it. She inhaled a huge amount of air while I saddled her and pulled the straps into place. She exhaled as she ran with me in the saddle. The saddle slowly slipped to her side with me clinging to the pommel withone foot caught in a stirrup. She refused to slow down. I was dragged and scared. I wasn’t hurt in a serious way, but never trusted that horse again. It was not a confidence builder. I hope my dad took me to Dairy Queen.
I certainly feel the fear in your story. You deserved a cone with TWO curls on top for enduring that performance. Ever after that, you could always say, “This isn’t my first rodeo!”
Only one horse story from my childhood: As I sat on the fence separating two properties, a horse I had no reason to distrust come up to me close and took a bite out of my chest. The teeth marks drew blood. I too never trusted THAT horse again.
Thanks for your entertaining story, Elaine. Butterflies are a safer bet in the animal kingdom. I am thrilled that you are enjoying yours so much these days!
Relieved there was good outcome! Like Elaine, my story involved a horse when we lived in Zimbabwe. The horse took off with me, jumped a fence and sent me flying. I’m still jittery around horses and their horsepower – but there are clearly times when horse power came to the rescue as in your sister’s story Marian.
Clever use of the word “horsepower,” Susan. It works both ways, positive and negative. The scariest thing about a horse taking off with you on its back is lack of control I would imagine. One never knows when or how the ride will end!
Thanks for checking in today … always happy for your visits.